Krisztina Rácz On October 14, the Serbia-Albania football game made it to the news worldwide. The reason was not the excellent game but rather the fact that during the match a drone, or more precisely a banner with a map attached to a drone, was flown around in the stadium. It is a matter of dispute whether the map represents merely territories where Albanians live, or the politically charged Greater Albania; one would assume though that it is the latter because for instance Italy, a country with a large Albanian emigrant population, is missing from it, but it does include Kosovo, among other territories. With the flying of the drone in the stadium things got out of control: one of the Serbian players caught the banner, some of the Albanians players tried to take it away him, and then football fans (or hooligans, depending on the interpretation) joined the fight on the pitch. Very few Albanian football supporters were involved in the incident since they were banned from entering the stadium in the first place, due to security risks. When the referee instructed the players to leave the pitch, the police did not secure the Albanian players’ exit, so they literally escaped from the stadium amidst Serbian hooligans shouting “Kill, slaughter, so that Albanians don’t exist!” at them (in Serbian this scansion rhymes, and instead of ‘Albanian’ other ethnic denotations can be inserted, most often ‘Croats’). The person accused of flying the drone was held up for interrogation, but eventually released. The reason why he was not even officially detained for questioning is unclear: Serbian media report that it was because upon the request to identify himself he presented his passport, which was of the USA instead of Albania. It is not clear why this would prevent detention, but what is known is that the person in question, who allegedly controlled the drone from the VIP box, is Olsi Rama, brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić characterized the incident as a provocation. Serbian law has no provisions against taking drones into stadiums, however. Several days later the UEFA ruled that the official result of the match was 3:0 for Serbia, but Serbia was punished by having its 3 points taken away. Neither of the countries is satisfied with the result. Mr Rama’s official visit to Belgrade, planned for 22 October, was cancelled until further notice.
On 10 November the Albanian PM eventually visited Serbia and was received by Mr Vučič. It was the first visit of an Albanian Prime Minister to Serbia since 68 years ago, when Enver Hoxha was in Belgrade. The meeting was highly politicized even before it took place, and was announced in Serbian media as a historic one. While there are no explicit diplomatic conflicts between the two countries, their official stances on Kosovo, a (former) Serbian province with an Albanian majority – recognized as an independent state by more than a hundred countries – differ diametrically. In Serbian media the meeting was described as tense, tough, a provocation and a scandal. The visit was not broadcasted in its totality, only the press conference after the meeting. Due to technical problems there was no interpreting of Mr Rama’s words. Near the end of his speech, what Serbian viewers could notice, even if not understanding a single word of the Albanian PM’s address, was the Serbian’s PM’s ironic smile while listening to the interpreting available only to him. Immediately after, Mr Vučić’s speech followed, in which he condemned Mr Rama’s calling for Serbia’s acceptance of the undeniable reality of Kosovo’s independence, and characterized it as a provocation. All the more was Mr Vučić indignant since not only was there allegedly no prior agreement that the issue of Kosovo was going to be raised during the visit, but also since the Albanian PM expressed his views on an “away game”. Despite Mr Vučić’s body language not being able to hide his agitation, he used the incident to emphasize the true nature of Serbian hospitality, which to him means treating one’s guests with respect even when they offend the host. While listening to the reply, Mr Rama smiled ironically at the Serbian PM, assuring the citizens that he was not going to allow Serbia to be humiliated in Belgrade. One cannot help but wonder if anywhere else in the country (for instance in the southern Serbian town of Preševo, a town with a majority of ethnic Albanians that Mr Rama visited the following day) or abroad, speaking about Kosovo’s independence is as great a taboo as it seems to be in the Serbian capital. At the end of the event, the Albanian PM addressed his Serbian colleague by his first name. The meeting ended without a handshake.
On September 28, the second successful Gay Pride was held in Belgrade. It was different from the first one, held in September 2010, when participants walked a short route in the Serbian capital. They then were protected by several thousand police officers, watched over from rooftops by gunmen, and afterwards had to literally be evacuated to locations outside the city center, away from the violent clashes of the police with the anti-gay (pride) hooligans (probably the same ones who fought on the stadium during the Serbia-Albania match four years later). Prime Minister Vučić and his government seemed to be committed for Serbia, an EU candidate country, to show the international community that it can and will guarantee the freedom of assembly and security of all its citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation. It was a show for the foreigners, not a march for the citizens; the Serbian mainstream discourse on LGBT people is still, if not blatant hate speech and violence, a diplomatic “I have nothing against them, but…” The only incident that happened during the Pride was a few police officers “overstepping their authority,” as Mr Vučić put it, and beating up a person and his two bodyguards who – as seen in a widely circulated video – refuse to follow their orders and stop at the police cordon protecting the Pride. The person in question was Andrej Vučić, Aleksandar Vučić’s brother, who was allegedly going for lunch at their parents’ place but found the cordon to be in his way. It is not clear why a PM’s brother has security guards paid from the state budget, on what grounds is he entitled to them, and whether the security guards were invited for lunch as well.
Krisztina Rácz is a PhD candidate at the Balkan Studies program of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Her research focuses on ethnic relations among young people in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Her areas of interest are ethnicity and nationalism, minorities, social memory and border studies.