Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bosnia: Does Bosnian football have an anti-Semitism problem?

Via Balkanist:
BiH officials often pride themselves as a country with little to no Anti-Semitism polluting its society. These same officials will point out that BiH’s Jewish community originally arrived in Sarajevo in 1565 after being expelled from Spain in 1492 and that they have been able to maintain their traditions and identity for centuries despite living in a majority Muslim country. Jakob Finci, the head of the Jewish community in Bosnia and former ambassador to Switzerland, will often reiterate in international media (and indeed at Balkanist) that ”this country is almost entirely free of anti-Semitism.“ Furthermore there is a popular and mythologized narrative claiming that the Bosnian and Jewish people are two ”brotherly nations” destined to friendship due to their mutual experience of suffering and victimhood.

However, just one quick glance at (social) media discourses quickly makes one question this statement. The portal i.e. has compiled an insightful and shocking account of everyday anti-Semitism in the BiH media space, which only echoes what can be found on various forums and social media sites. But is this “only” a new kind of ”digital hate speech” perpetuated by the beauty of internet anonymity or is it a manifestation of a growing and real anti-Semitism in BiH?

Take the attacks on popular hip-hop artist Edo Maajka in 2014. Last year, Maajka was attacked in the media over his “failure” to condemn the Israeli attack on Gaza, which resulted in repeated insults via social media. As Maajka was married to a Jewish woman, and lived in Tel Aviv, the insults ranged from despicable personal attacks to the usage of clearly anti-Semitic tropes and patterns. At the time, a commentator in the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, pointed out that the reaction was not just an angry response to Israeli policies, but that in Bosnian society, Jews and Judaism had increasingly come to be stigmatized as a hostile alien presence, in BiH and seemingly the world as a whole.

Across the former Yugoslavia there is an ongoing banalisation of anti-Semitism. This is especially visible in the world of sport, through various fan practices, as I have previously argued with regards to the singing of the fascist salute ‘Za dom spremni’ by Croatian fans. A factor in explaining the rise of anti-Semitic incidents and discourses coincides with the rise of religious conservative and Salafist groups in BiH over the past few years. Not to say that they have been the driving forces behind an increasingly radicalized and polarized public discourse in reference to the Middle East in general, and the Israel vs. Palestine conflict in particular, but these groups have certainly played a significant role all the same. Indeed, the fascinating (and disturbing) transformation of the wide-spread narrative/myth of Bosnians as being a ”brotherly nation” with the Jewish people to one of anti-Semitic solidarity with the “Palestinian people”, as is being argued in many anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic statements all over the internet, would certainly be worthy of more research.

Furthermore, as much as stadiums should be understood as a public sphere, there are mechanisms and reflexes as to how football “fan tribes” react to (particularly external) criticism. They want to provoke, with the fullest of intentions to shock. Yet the expressions prior, during, and after the game (especially in social media) indicate that the anti-Semitic sentiments were genuine and there was no feeling of wrong-doing. It was in fact, a moral, courageous act, to read these comments, one motivated by enlightened Bosnian “anti-Zionism.”  more

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