Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Politicization of Everything

This Saturday I woke up a little before noon. Even here in Serbia, I'm maintaining a teenager's sleeping schedule. It was a particularly warm day, and from my window I saw Sandra, my host mom, watching over Nikola and Dusan as they rollerbladed up and down the street.

When I went downstairs and had a late breakfast, I noticed a new map of Telep, our neighborhood, spread out across the table. Two packs of colored pencils were beside it; all were marked with Демократска странка (Demokratska stranka, Democratic Party), the current leading political party in Serbia. As Ivan came inside, he explained to me that campaigners for the May election were already going door-to-door promoting their party. The map of Telep highlighted all the new road construction and other projects around our neighborhood and the city itself. Most of this construction I was familiar with-- it's still going on! I never thought of the North Carolina Department of Transport as efficient, but the difference between the NCDOT and construction here is like the difference between a Corvette and a Yugo. Still, the Democratic Party's flyers were bragging that the Yugo is running at all, which should not be taken for granted.

Nikola had wanted to bring the colored pencils with him to school, but Ivan forbade this. It's wrong, he explained, for kids to be displaying political propaganda before they can truly understand and form opinions on what they're showing.

Later in the day, most of BYP Serbia met up and went to watch a football game. No, I don't mean American football, the sport that's played with almost no foot-to-ball contact, I mean what the rest of the world calls football, and what we call soccer.

I had been warned to stay away from football matches, which, of course, only made me want to attend one even more. Fortunately, I found a way to safely satisfy my curiosity. The game this weekend was between the local team, FK Vojvodina (ranked 3rd in the Serbian "Superliga") and a relatively unknown team, FK Borac Čačak (ranked second from last). Since Čačak is so crappy and not very close, hardly any fans from the opposing team showed up. Occasionally football games get violent here, but generally only when Partizan or Crvena Zvezda, the two Belgrade teams that top the league, shows up. As we were walking toward the game, a group of young men (the youngest, I guessed, was 14 or younger) blocked off a small side road and marched, shouting some sort of chant that we couldn't understand. Remembering the warnings, we ducked off to the side and waited for them to pass. There was no danger; they were far more interested in getting to the stadium than anyone in their path.

As a reward to the Vojvodina fans for their support during a strong season, the club made the game free to all! The Karađorđe Stadium can hold over 15,000 fans, but on this occasion, it was far from full. Though it was free, the fact that the game was pretty much a given win for Vojvodina probably turned a lot of people off.

On the advice of my coworker, we sat on the long side of the stadium, not the North where the more intense football fans gather. During the beginning of the game, they seemed to be more intense versions of American Football fans back in the states: chants, songs, waving flags, and taunts. Since universities in Serbia don't have associated sports teams, the professional teams like FK Vojvodina are the focus of all sports enthusiasm.

The North end of the stadium, with the most avid football fans. Almost visible: a Serbian flag in the shape of Kosovo.
Photo credit: Dominique
The flags, for the most part, were in Vojvodina red and white, with the names of various fan clubs printed across them. Also displayed was a Serbian tricolor with the cross and four cyrillic "s"s (explained at the bottom of this post). Next to another flag of Serbia, right in the middle of the crowd, was an outline of Kosovo with the Serbian flag superimposed on it. Football and patriotism (or nationalism, depending on who you ask) have been tied together closely, and the Vojvodina fans are no exception.

Around halftime the fans in the North broke out flares and torches, a common occurrence here but completely unheard of back in the States. A firetruck was parked in the corner of the stadium, but apparently the flares were not cause for concern, even when one ended up on the track.

The final score was 3-1, with Vojvodina on top. The one Čačak goal was completely avoidable and caused by goalkeeper error, which caused the Vojvodina fans to start heckling their own goalie. He redeemed himself soon enough, and the fans were satisfied with their win.