In the early 1990s, the former Balkan country of Yugoslavia fell apart and a series of wars ensued which saw ethnic cleansing and the horrors of genocide. The driving forces were ethnic tensions, religious intolerance, and distinct modern nationalisms all of which were fanned by the media and driven by figurehead politicians.
As propaganda increased so the diverse nationalities became armed and people were stirred into actions which degenerated into a series of wars. While the situation historically has been portrayed as Serb v Croats v Bosnian Muslims, many smaller civil wars erupted leading to independence being declared from Slovenia to Macedonia. On a wider level what occurred was a big argument over centralism – a strong central government under Serbs – versus federalism – and the six republics having greater individual powers.
Football clubs, of course, were not immune to the dynamic social forces at work with many clubs linked to the identity of a land and flag. Dinamo Zagreb in 1991 became ‘Croatia Zagreb’ a name change widely seen as a political move by the leadership of then newly independent Croatia. And, while Red Star Belgrade never became ‘Red Star Serbia’ the fan riot between Dinamo and Red Star on May 13th, 1990 is widely seen as a milestone on the road to Serbian paramilitary activities and the break-up of Yugoslavia.
With the disbanding of the larger Yugoslavian league and the growth of separate football federations – as well as individual league set ups in Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Kosovo – so the different fan cultures in the separate nations have grown in name, stock and influence. These groups are often strengthened by the struggles of the past, regionalism, local identity and nationalistic feelings.
Chanting, banners, flags and of course fan art in and around stadiums can often pay reference to the near past, militaristic figures and national flags particularly so in the large cities of Belgrade, Bosnia, and Croatia.