Much of the international media coverage of the violence in the Partizan Belgrade stadium has focused on the stunt of a drone flying an Albanian banner, the ensuing brawl and pitch invasion by angry Serb fans. There were additional elements to the violence that are either not being reported by international media or being under-reported. Here are some of them:
1. Albanian fans were not allowed to attend the match. Serb authorities said they would arrest anyone who showed any symbol of the visiting team in the stadium — restrictions that are almost unheard of in international football. A few Albanian supporters were able to get in, but the crowd was more than 99 percent Serb.
2. The Serb crowd chanted, “Ubij, Ubij Siptar” – “Kill, Kill the Albanians,” throughout the 40 minutes the game was played. They used the Milosevic-era derogatory term for Albanian, which is akin to the n-word in North America.
3. The stadium was filled with Serb nationalistic political banners, like “Kosovo is Serbia” and other slogans relating to Bosnia and Croatia. The Serb fans loudly booed the Albanian national anthem.
4. Hard objects and fireworks were thrown on Albanian players well before the drone started flying. The few Albanian journalists who had dared to go to Belgrade also reported that they were pelted with hard objects throughout the first half.
5. Ivan Bogdanovic, the Serb hooligan who led the 2010 Italy match riot, was seen invading the pitch. He served jail time in Serbia after the Italy incident, in which he burned an Albanian flag. That game had to be abandoned as well. Yesterday he led a group of masked supporters into the pitch before being kicked out by police.
6. More than half of Albania’s national team has roots in Kosovo, which split from Serbia in the late 90s in a violent conflict in which about 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed or went missing and more than 800,000 were displaced. In addition, more than 2,000 ethnic Serbs were also killed or went missing in the war, which ended through a NATO intervention 15 years go. The alliance’s flag was also burned in Belgrade last night. (Albania has been a NATO member since 2009. Serbia is officially EU-minded, but also Russia-friendly.)
7. Despite the harsh political atmosphere in the stadium, the Albanian national team went to play football, and it managed to overcome a shaky first few minutes, moving to gain the upper hand in the field when the interruption happened.