Let’s define couple of things first. On the one side, we have a murder of a young person from Serbia in Istanbul, Turkey. A young man was killed – according to one source (we heard other sources subsequently, but more about that later) – in a fight between two football fan groups in front of a sports arena where a basketball match between Galatasaray and Red Star was taking place. That is indeed a tragedy. The culprit must be brought to justice. Even a step further should be taken, if possible. This step would require a serious analysis of football fan subculture which regularly destroys lives in Turkey, Serbia and many other countries. All of this is on the one side.

On the other side, we have reactions of our officials to what happened in Istanbul. One fact should be noted immediately: these reactions have almost nothing to do with the murder itself. The murder is merely a cause for sending political massages. The content of these messages is troubling. The Serbian consul in Istanbul used the murder to warn of the fact that “everyone keeps stabbing Serbia in the back”. The consul said: “This is a hostile gesture in a time when everyone is stabbing Serbia in the back, a football fan from Serbia is stabbed in the heart in Turkey”.

“The heart of a football fan from Serbia” is just a metonymy which should strengthen the basic image of the backstabbed Serbia. This shows just how important the life of the murdered youth is for the consul. Even though he said that he was shaken up, the consul was, nevertheless, aware of what he was saying. Among those who keep “stabbing Serbia”, he unequivocally included Turkey. Pressed by the weight of his own statement, the consul hastened to soften it: “I want to emphasize that Turkish doctors fought for his life like lions”. But, the proverbial “pitcher” (let’s leave the “lions” to the consul) is already broken and the “milk” is spilt.

The consul’s statement was promptly followed by a statement from his boss, the minister of foreign affairs. If there ever was hope that the boss would reprimand his official and fix the impression of diplomatic incompetence of his service, the minister dispelled it. It turned out that the consul’s statements are in accordance with the current guidelines of Serbian foreign policy. The minister had to stop at “we demand that the truth about this criminal act be found”, but he couldn’t stop at that and directly addressed the coach of the Istanbul basketball team: “Our goal is not to pander to people in the world. Nobody is allowed to humiliate Serbia and call its citizens terrorists, not even the coach of Galatasaray”. And therefore, the minister concluded, Galatasaray coach “is no longer welcome in Serbia.”

Of course, no matter how dumb the statement of Galatasaray coach about Red Star fans being terrorists was, to understand it as “humiliating Serbia” is even dumber. We should really wonder about the status of Serbia and its dignity in the minds of its leaders, if it can be so easily humiliated. I already wrote about the humiliation of Serbia and the culture of humiliation, which the current government has embraced, on the occasion of another sports events and another visit. Let’s turn to the exclusion order for the basketball coach. Why did the minister prohibit the Galatasaray coach from entering Serbia? Has the coach violated some law? Is the procedure to forbid someone from entering the country already implemented? Is the minister’s personal impression that someone has humiliated Serbia enough for a decision to issue an exclusion order? And why is the minister of a state addressing a coach of a basketball club?

Then the office of the minister’s boss stepped up. If someone hoped that the boss would reprimand his subordinate for not reprimanding his subordinate, but instead merely repeating the same neurotic statements made by his subordinate, the hope proved in vain. Instead of withdrawing a verbal ban of entry for the Turkish coach, the Office of the prime minister, which speaks on behalf of the prime minister himself, confirmed the ban, as if it was afraid that the minister would not be taken seriously. Thus, the office said that the prime minister told the Turkish prime minister that “the head coach of the basketball club Galatasaray Ergin Ataman is not welcome in Serbia after the statement in which he accused the murdered youth and other Red Star fans of terrorism”.

To tell the Office to explain to the prime minister that the Turkish coach has already apologized and explained that he wasn’t talking about the murdered youth, because he made the statements before he learned about the murder, would be pointless. Because, neither the Office, nor the prime minister care about the murdered youth; on the contrary, they care about the connection between that insult which is horrible if it was addressed to the murdered young person, representing “other Red Start fans”, which in turn represent the whole of Serbia. Ergo: Serbia is most horribly insulted. And we are not punishing the basketball coach, we are punishing Turkey, which, together with the others, keeps stabbing Serbia in the back. This is why the two prime ministers talked about the Turkish coach.

As is customary in a regulated country, every boss has a boss, there is legislative power above the executive power, so the president of Serbian parliament stepped up. And no, she didn’t say that the consul, minister and the prime minister, shaken by the tragic event, were hasty and overreacted in their statements. She joined them and hammered the last nail in the coffin of common sense. The president of the parliament said: “We can’t build a relationship of cooperation and trust while Turkish hooligans stab a man from Serbia just because he likes a different football club”. Why can’t we? This is not about the Turkish state, but about hooligans, which, as we know, also exist in Serbia. The young man was not murdered because he is Serbian, as the president said herself, but because he likes a different football club. So, neither has any immediate connection with the two states. But, still the president said – “we can’t build a relationship of cooperation and trust”.

Finally, there is a higher power above the earthly government. A Serbian Orthodox Church priest stepped up. Of course, the priest didn’t remind the earthly government of reason, compassion and forgiveness in the name of a higher law and moral (not to mention the scriptural, Christian humility and “turning the other cheek”). This is not the tradition of his church. He rushed to call the unfortunate young man a new martyr, “a new Milos Obilic”. According to this priest, football fans didn’t go to Istanbul to see a football match and cheer their team. No, the priest said, on the contrary: they went in the name of Serbia to fight the war against the vile Turks. And if you start from this highest position and move down the hierarchy, everything suddenly becomes eerily logical.

This logic would be twisted even if the first information that Turkish football fans murdered the young man from Serbia was true. However, another piece of information shortly followed it. The Turkish police said that the young man from Serbia was actually murdered in a fight among Serbian fans. If this is true, is the young man’s murder less tragic? From the point of view of common sense, the answer is obvious. From the point of view of our secular and religious authorities, this fact – otherwise irrelevant to the awareness about the value of a life – completely changes the perspective. Because, “a Serb” killing “a Serb” has no (foreign) political value for them.

Only in this context can the demonstrations in front of the Turkish embassy in Belgrade be explained. Only this explains the decision of Serbian football association to postpone the match between Vozdovac and Novi Pazar, despite the desperate and sensible cries of the management of FC Novi Pazar: “…what does our football club have to do with events in another state”. And more: “Does this mean that everything that happens in Turkey in the future will be linked to us?” Serbian authorities are unable to coherently answer these questions. This is why “the fans” speak for them, and why politics is once again moving to the stadiums.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 02.12.2014.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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