"What happened before the Eternal Derby was some of the most senseless violence I have ever seen. It would be easy to label Serbians as a violent people given these events and their recent history. But in the personal conversations I had, I discovered a deeply proud culture still reeling from the fall out of their wars, and still dealing with the shame and reconciliation of their crimes."
-Matt Halmy, producer, VICE World of Sports
Serbia By The Numbers
Serbia is one of six countries in the former Yugoslavia.
Currency: Serbian dinar; 1 USD=107.825 RSD
GDP per capita: $13,600 USD
Government: Parliamentary Republic
Prime Minister: Aleksandar Vučić (elected 2014).
Independence: The Republic of Serbia was established in 1992 after the breakup of Yugoslavia, and consisted of a union of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2006, Montenegro seceded and they became two independent nations.
Sport and Society
The two most popular team sports in Serbia are soccer and basketball—but it is also a great tennis nation, and home to world men's No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Serbian NBA players have included Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Vladimir Radmonovic, and Marko Jaric.
However, soccer—and soccer fandom—has played a vital role in the complicated recent history of the country. One of Serbia's most infamous paramilitary groups, the Serbian Volunteer Guard, or Arkan's Tigers, was founded by a group of Red Star Belgrade fans in 1990. The group's leader, Željko Ražnatović, known as Arkan, was a career criminal who led one of Red Star's ultra groups. In the late nineties, after he had already been accused of committing ethnic cleansing (but before the indictment was made public), Arkan came to own a soccer club, FK Obilic. The club, obscure prior to Arkan's owernship, won the title in 1997-1998 and ran off a string of 47 consecutive victories. However, the accomplishments are undermined by claims that opposing players were frequently threatened with death if they scored against FK Obilic. One account, shared by the writer Franklin Foer, has paramilitary soldiers sitting in the stands and pointing loaded guns at the field. Another opposing player even spoke of being locked into a garage before a game against FK Obilic. Arkan was assassinated in 2000.
Red Star and Partizan remain major centers of Serbian ethnic nationalism—the same sentiment that led to civil war and ethnic cleansing in the region in the 1990s. Serbian nationalists continue to believe that swaths of land in the former Yugoslavia—including parts of Kosovo, Bosnia, and Croatia—remain rightfully Serbian. For example, many Red Star Partizan hooligans have tattoos on their left arms of "1389," which is the year that Serbia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Kosovo—a battle that is held up, even in defeat, as a model of Serbian courage.
Five Other Violent Soccer Rivalries
Rangers v. Celtic: The Old Firm is the world's oldest continuous rivalry representing Glasgow's religious sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants. The teams first played in 1888 and have played 401 times. The history of violence needs no introduction, but with Rangers having to work their way back up the SPL the past few years, things have cooled ever so slightly.
Roma-Lazio: Lazio's ultras have been known to use Fascist and Nazi symbols and gestures, including unfurling a 50 meter banner in 1999 reading "Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses" and chanting at Roma "team of niggers followed by Jews." Roma's Ultras being (incorrectly) labelled Left Wing by juxtaposition would make the club's de facto founder, Benito Mussolini, none too happy.
Al Ahly vs Zamalek: The Cairo derby between the two most successful Egyptian clubs (and perhaps all of Africa) has changed dramatically since the two Ultra groups became targets for Egypt's new repressive regime and fans are rarely allowed into the stadiums. But the once "most violent rivalry" in all of sports still rages in a heated political climate.
Fenerbahce v Galatasaray: The Intercontinental Derby between two teams on the opposite side of Istanbul has been in place for more than a century. While many once-violent rivalries are becoming more placid with the game's modernization, this one is only heating up. Last year, the Fenerbahce team bus was shot up by a gunman.
Wisla v Cracovia: Dubbed the Holy War, this Krakow derby takes place between the two biggest clubs in Poland. The stadia are less than a kilometer away. In 2013, eight Wisla Ultras were sentenced to 8-10 years each for the 2011 murder of one of Cracovia's Ultra leaders. They stabbed him 64 times. The men smiled as they received their sentences.
Catching Up With…
Dan Bradley is a senior producer at VICE, working on VICE Sports content since 2014. He has produced shows for VICE such as Stay Melo (recently recognized as AdWeek's Best Web Series). Bradley was part of the crew in Serbia that filmed Episode 2 of the VICE World of Sports, the Eternal Derby. He talks to us about what it was like filming in the middle of a riot at Red Star Stadium.
What was the most memorable part of filming that day in the stadium?
Honestly the most memorable part of the day was the Partizan firm's march to the match. The firm, known as the Grobari, told us where they were gathering and the route their march would take, but warned us to keep our distance in front of the crowd. They said that if other members caught up to us they would, essentially, kick the shit out of us and smash our cameras. We took it seriously but thought they may have been puffing out their chests a bit. We started to set up and just saw hundreds of fans gathering until there was an army. We pretty quickly realized we were way out of our depth and decided to keep the same line as the police on horseback, which meant our whole crew would stand strong, grab the shots we could and then run to get a safe distance ahead before starting to shoot again. I'll never forget the adrenaline of that process as the Grobari quickly moved toward Red Star's stadium. It was a lot like a game of chicken and you could definitely sense the stakes.
Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
There was a healthy sense of danger the whole day but never more than when the Partizan fan firm arrived at Red Star stadium. As they approached the gate to enter, the police tried to regulate the crowd and a riot erupted. Smoke grenades were thrown, there was a massive brawl and the police line broke. I remember looking at our director of photography Benji Lanpher and us both just kind of deciding we were going to stick it out and see what we could capture. We were both ready to sprint if the Partizan fans decided to stop fighting the police (and each other) and turned their attention towards us filming it all go down. Luckily that didn't happen.
What are the challenges of trying to shoot during an event like that?
Honestly the whole thing is a bit of a challenge. The fan firms aren't too fond of cameras so Matt Halmy, the other producer on the project, and I probably spent most of the game as spotters for the cameramen. We would be in their ears telling them when road flares, firecrackers and smoke bombs were coming at them because they couldn't see outside of their camera monitors. By the end I was good enough at identifying them in the air that I wouldn't bother shouting out the smoke bombs, just the stuff that might have done some damage to us or the cameras.
How does this shoot compare to other dangerous shoots you've had in the past?
I haven't been in too many dangerous situations (if my Mom is reading) but either way this was the first where being part of a camera crew made you a target. We essentially had giant bullseyes on our backs for the entire day of the match, and that made this situation especially unnerving.
Obviously, VICE producers are known for their knack of getting into dangerous environments. What made you want to do this for a living?
There is something exciting about being able to tell stories other people can't or maybe don't want to. I think in the sports world you see a lot of the same tired narratives and you need to take some risks in order to change that. That's what we're trying to do with sports both digitally and on TV. It's a fun thing to be a part of.
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