Observing Balkan relations through the World Cup

I’m actually fascinated how international relations play out on stages other than, well the international relations and diplomacy one. Eurovision voting blocs, for example, are an interesting display of historical rivalries and geographical familiarities.

This time however, I’ve observed it through the lens of “the world game” – which somewhat ironically, can’t find a consensus on even its name in the English-speaking world. It’s soccer, by the way 😉 (don’t @ me about this).

For the quarter final of Croatia vs Russia, I found myself crossing between the former Yugoslavia’s complex border relations. Let me explain.

It was Day 1 of a whirlwind five day Travel Talk tour through the Balkans. We’d met the group in Dubrovnik, Croatia and clambered in our mini-bus for a 30km journey to a town called Trebinje for the night.

Now, coming from Australia, 30km is but a drop in a drought-stricken river. But here, we’ll turns out we’re going to Bosnia & Herzegovina. And despite their proximity, it is not a pro-Croatia crowd at all.

The (current) borders were where much of the fighting was concentrated on during the 1990’s war, causing unspeakable pain and fear (I am not knowledgeable enough to explain the war appropriately, but there are plenty of resources out there to help oí. Or better yet, come to visit and discover first-hand)

Video above – celebrations for Croatia’s win in Macedonia

So it turns out we were not just in Bosnia, but in Republika Srpska, one of two constitutional and legal entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a majority Serb population. As the game dragged on into overtime, this group of barely-interested Australians and Kiwis took off to a nearby lib, pulsing with bodies on the edge of a fortress. But as I ducked from the dance floor to the bar, I caught a glimpse of the TV. Croatia had prevailed in the penalty shootout and there were no cheers from the Trebinje locals. After a shake of the head, the TV is off and so is my glimpse into Balkan relations through the “beautiful game”.

Disclaimer – this is not intended to b a comment on the war, but rather an recount of my time in the area and watching football with the locals.

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