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Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Friday, 15 October 2010 18:47 UK

The context behind Serbia's football hooligan problem

Trouble at Italy v Serbia
Serbia's game against Italy in Genoa had to be abandoned because of violence

By Feodor Nincic
BBC Serbian Service

The identity of the perpetrators of the violence in Genoa which led to the suspension of Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier between Italy and Serbia has largely been established.

But there is much speculation in Serbia as to their motives.

There is talk of a cocktail of right-wing extremism and organised crime and of the deep hatred Red Star football fans feel for the president of the Serbian Football Association Tomislav Karadzic.

Members of the 'Ultras Boys', the most violent supporters of the Belgrade team, don't normally travel to the national team's matches in such numbers and their conduct before the match and at the stadium can be explained by their desire to create trouble and problems for Mr Karadzic and the SFA.

Indeed, their ringleader Ivan Bogdanov has said that they had nothing against Genoa and the Italian team, but that their wrath was directed against the SFA and the national team's goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, whom he branded "a traitor" for defecting from Red Star to Partizan (two rival Belgrade clubs).

Vladimir Stojkovic
Serbia keeper Stojkovic has been branded a traitor by the Ultra Boys

Of course, there are also those who believe that such violent behaviour is perpetrated by people bent on tarnishing Serbia's image in the world and preventing democratic change in the country.

There are strong links between between violent football fan clubs and far-right organisations which, in turn, have ties with nationalist politicians and organised crime. The leaders of such groups have little difficulty in recruiting foot soldiers.

Serbia's football hooligans are mostly bitter young men who grew up in Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, an isolated and destitute country plagued by a repressive regime, isolation, poverty and an uncertain future

After Milosevic was toppled in 2000, hopes were high and Serbia entered a period of democratization and transition.

However, the changes carried out since then have been slow, the economic situation remains dire and a number of unresolved issues (relations with Kosovo, co-operation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague) remain a significant obstacle on Serbia's road to membership in the EU.

Psychologist Miklos Biro from the University of Novi Sad says Serbian hooligans are no different from their counterparts in other parts of the world: "Al Qaeda recruits people like that in Pakistan, neo-Nazis do the same in western Europe.

We are dealing with disadvantaged young people whose numbers are growing because of rising unemployment and poverty

Psychologist Miklos Biro

"We are dealing with disadvantaged young people whose numbers are growing because of rising unemployment and poverty.

"What sets Serbia apart is the ideological context in which extreme right wing groups flourish. The events of the 1990s certainly played an important role but the ineffectiveness of the Serbian authorities after October 2000 [when Milosevic was toppled] is also to blame."

It is estimated that there are 2,500-3,000 violent football fans ready to do their leaders' bidding. Their weapons of choice are baseball bats, pyrotechnics, knives and guns.

Some people may still remember the horrific death of the Toulouse football fan, Brice Taton, who was brutally beaten to death in Belgrade in September 2009.

Judging by the statements of Serbian government officials in the aftermath of the events in Genoa, the violence there and in Belgrade during the Gay Pride parade on 10 October will be taken extremely seriously.

The Constituional Court has already held a preparatory session paving the way for the banning of 14 extremist football fan clubs, some of them bearing ominous names like 'Ultra Boys', 'Alcatraz' and 'Head hunters'.

Italy v Serbia
A flare lands on the pitch during the Euro 2012 qualifier

A number of hooligans have been arrested upon their return to Serbia and the authorities have promised to deal with them firmly (according to the existing laws, participants in violent public disorder offences can be sentenced to up to eight years in jail and their ringleaders up to 12 years).

The Serbian government plans legislation which will allow authorities to try football hooliganism as organised crime. The new rules will allow courts to seize property from hooligan gang leaders, extend investigative detention to more than six months and introduce turncoat witnesses.

Those measures are currently possible only in special courts for organized crime figures.

In the meantime, the Serbian police are still busy identifying the hooligans from video footage and the minister of the interior, Ivica Dacic, has said that many of those who have been identified have police records. The Serbian Football association held an emergency session on Friday.

The next big test for the Serbian authorities in their fight against hooliganism will be the forthcoming derby between Belgrade rivals Red Star and Partizan, due to be played on 23 October.

It is still not certain that the match will take place, but officials at Red Star's stadium have already started removing seats from the stands usually occupied by the most fervent Red Star fans to prevent them being used as missiles in a showdown with rival fans.

Genuine football fans in Serbia are wondering what fate awaits the national team.

Uefa will decide what punishment it will hand out on 28 October. Many Serbs are resigned to the game being registered as a 0-3 loss to Italy, the more pessimistic ones fear a disqualification from Euro 2012.

However Serbia are set to ask Uefa for the game to be replayed so the outcome remains uncertain.



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see also
Serbia set to ask Uefa for replay
15 Oct 10 |  Football
Uefa probes Serbia fan violence
13 Oct 10 |  Football
IFA awaits Uefa verdict on Serbia
13 Oct 10 |  Football
Italy v Serbia photos
13 Oct 10 |  Football
Scores held for Serbia Pride riot
11 Oct 10 |  Europe
French fan dies after Serb attack
29 Sep 09 |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia
21 May 12 |  Country profiles


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