Vida’s Curse: Now Croatia is Stuck with Ukraine

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On July 7, Russia and Croatia went head to head in a match of the ¼ finals of the World Cup. The match ended in a draw (1:1), followed by another draw in overtime (both teams scored, bringing the total score to 2:2). Only in the penalty shootout did the Croatian team achieve victory – a well-fought victory. A week before, in just as bitter of a struggle, Russia’s team defeated the formidable Spaniards. Now fortune turned to the Croats.

However, this vivid sporting event came to have political implications. I expected some political trouble from this match in advance, and it happened. Immediately after the match, Domagoj Vida and Ognjen Vukojevic recorded a video in which they repeated the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” and dedicated their victory to Ukraine.

The effect of this video was something stronger than the victory. A fierce scandal erupted and Vida rushed to say that his video was merely a tribute to the Kiev Dynamo club (where Vida and Vukojevic played for several years in the past), and claimed that the slogan he uttered was only a bad joke. The same position was taken by the Football Federation of Croatia, which demanded that Vida’s words not be pulled out of context.

This explanation is very unconvincing and insincere. The slogan “Glory To Ukraine!” is nothing more than a greeting of the militants of the pro-Nazi Ukrainian Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Anyone who has lived in Ukraine for several years, like Vida, knows this very well.

What’s more, the Kiev’s Dynamo has long been infamous for the Nazi moods of its fans, among whom the cults of Bandera and Shukhevych (OUN-UPA commanders) have long been established. Ultras of the Kiev club are some of the main propagators of this cult. It is no coincidence that Ukraine took Vida’s words literally — and correctly. Vida and Vukojevic were thanked for their greetings and were by no means reproached for using this politically incorrect slogan under which Banderovites murdered Russians, the Jews of Lvov, and the Poles of Volyn.

Now the question is: how will FIFA react to this scandalous statement?

Everyone knows that FIFA is consistently struggling with the politicization of football. This struggle has o far only been one of words. Nor is this the first scandal of the 2018 World Cup, when players have not received their deserved punishment. The political advocacy of migrants from so-called Kosovo played on Switzerland’s team drew criticism towards FIFA for accepting the country, although no serious consequences were dealt to these Albanian players. The scandal with Vida and Vukojevic has turned out to be louder, because it is a direct affront to the honor of the championship’s host country.

The football Federation of Croatia has already offered an exit: Vukojevic has been dismissed. But, as one Russian sports expert rightly noted, this is only an attempt to cover Vida. Vukojevic is a minor figure for the Croatian national team, and his dismissal will not affect the team’s game. This is essentially an imaginary punishment.

FIFA has for now accepted the version of the Croatian federation and is pretending that Vida and Vukojevic were merely “thanking” Ukraine with their Nazi salute. This is a glaring case of political shortsightedness: with the same success FIFA might manage to not notice the slogan “Sieg Heil!” The activities (or omissions) of this organization should be the subject of a separate investigation.

It is rather characteristic that the Croatian federation’s side has been taken by a chief Russian official, former Deputy Prime Minister and top liberal in the Russian government, Dvorkovich. Dvorkovich said that he was quite satisfied with the resignation of Vukojevich. However, Dvorkovich himself may well become a defendant in a criminal process: the business partners of his wife, the brothers Magomedov, are already under investigation in the case of multi-billion dollar theft. But this, as they say, is our domestic Russian affair.

Civil society in Russia is much more patriotic than Dvorkovich. First, those Russian football fans who were previously indifferent or even sympathized with the Croatian national team have changed their minds. If earlier the vast majority of Russian citizens knew nothing about Croatia and considered it a resort country “somewhere in the Balkans”, now Croatia will be strongly associated with being a supporter of Banderite Ukraine and Nazism. Secondly, a movement around this issue is gaining strength. A signature collection campaign has been launched to petition FIFA to remove Vida from the World Cup. Some are proposing to go even further and start a campaign to hurt Croatia’s tourism industry.

So, what has Vida achieved? He managed to arouse hatred towards Croatia from otherwise indifferent or complacent Russians. He gave an extra reason for Ukraine to temporarily rejoice, as Kiev has celebrated Croatia’s victory as if it was their own. Vida has also demonstrated the powerlessness or duplicity of FIFA, which evidently does not like to notice the open propagation of Nazism.

All my friends and I will be cheering for the English at the upcoming semi-final game between Croatia and England. Russia and England have traditionally had difficult and sometimes directly hostile inter-state relations. But public relations at the 2018 World Cup have shown strong progress. Russian ultras and ordinary fans are very kind to English guests and have been met with reciprocity. Although there were some incidents involving English fans, for example, two drunken Englishmen in a bar in Volgograd shouting “Sieg Heil!”and throwing their hands up in a Nazi salute, their behavior was unanimously condemned by all English fans and the UK press – unlike Croatia. Therefore, I wish England’s team victory as a worthy, more than “formal” punishment for Vida, Croatia’s fan of Ukrainian Nazism.

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