Football Ethnopolitics: The Fontana Three
After spending the summer titillated by violent incidents in crowded coastal resorts, it's back to the metropolis for the Croatian tabloids, which have been able to start September with one of their favourite stories: a fight in a nightclub which plays narodnjaci, or turbofolk, or 'Serbian narodnjaci', or 'eastern trash [istočnjački šund]', depending on how judgemental a particular journalist wants to be.
This time around, the loxus in quo was the Zagreb club Fontana, site of the first of four such incidents in January 2006. The reason why the story's still current a week later, though, is that among the club's clients that night were three footballers from the Croatian national team who were halfway through a training camp ahead of their European Championship qualifier with Russia.
Or, as Jutarnji list had it:
'Although the three national players did not directly take part in the incident, the fact that they were wildly 'whooping it up' with the help of narodnjaci only three days before the Russia match is shameful for Croatian football. According to Fontana visitors, [Darijo] Srna, [Boško] Balaban and [Ivica] Olić were the main stars among the guests of the folk club where a Serbian narodnjački band was playing that night. Certain Croatian footballers have already shown their inclination towards the eastern melos in narodnjački clubs across Croatia.'
Ivica Olić, Darijo Srna and Boško Balaban were promptly dropped from the squad by the new manager Slaven Bilić, and the team scraped a 0-0 draw against Russia. Srna, at least, was missed, although the Gazette has a minor score to settle with Srna after wasting a slot in its Fantasy World Cup squad on him this year when it could have had Andrea Pirlo instead. Meanwhile, many fans of Aston Villa - where Balaban spent an underwhelming 2001/02 season - would be wondering what Balaban was doing in the national team at all, let alone being sent home from it again.
From time to time, it's almost seemed as if the Fontana Three were more at fault for going out 'to narodnjaci' than for doing it in the middle of a training camp, even though, as Davor Butković pointed out a few days later, they 'wouldn't have been any less guilty if the police had caught them at [alternative club] Tvornica, after a Pixies concert, and if, instead of whisky, they'd been consuming some of the opiates characteristic of the Zagreb 'urban' locale' - although Butković too noted the association between football and narodnjaci going back to Severina's 1998 World Cup anthem 'Djevojka sa sela' (Village girl).
In fact, there's now even a clash-of-cultures theory, as advanced by Milan Jajčinović in Večernji list this week, suggesting that Bilić reacted so strongly to the Fontana Three because their sub/cultural backgrounds are at odds (and, in passing, that Severina's music and the typical folk-club playlist are too entirely different things):
'We've known for a long time that our footballers aren't academicians. But we found out they're crazy for narodnjaci when they went to [well-known narodnjački club] Ludnica in Zagreb to celebrate leaving for [the World Cup in] Germany. [...] The musical differences [between] Slaven Bilić and his former team-mates and current players cannot only be understood on the level of taste. Cultural levels are involved as well.'
And moreover: 'When the team went out to narodnjaci to celebrate their qualification for the World Cup, the only one to refuse was Niko Kranjčar, saying that he didnt listen to that sort of music. Maybe they even teased him that he didn't know how to have fun, but the guy with a different education, a Viennese childhood and Zagreb refinement showed that his cultural matrix was something completely different from the matrix of the Balkan south-east.'
What may or may not be the last wsord on the matter belonged to the president of the Croatian Football Federation, Vlatko Marković, who praises Bilić today as 'a moral vertical. An intellectual. An exceptional footballer', and, needless to say, is also put on the spot about the narodnjački connection:
'The team until yesterday was a 'Dinaroid' one, hard and stubborn boys, many of them gastarbeiter kids. Maybe some of those folk [narodna] melodies, which we're inclined to immediately call 'narodnjaci' in a pejorative sense, were also a particular link with the old region. Not every narodnjak is Ceca - as it's often interpreted.'
But tell that to the authors of this poem...