Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unruly Croatian fans disrupt the Australian Open

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." - Samuel Johnson, 1775.


Nasty scenes marred the opening day of tennis at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Monday. 11 fans, of whom all or most were apparently Croatian-Australians, were ejected from the tournament after rowdy and intimidating behaviour including setting off flares.

They appear to have been part of a group of around 60 young men who had marched en masse to Melbourne Park, chanting and behaving aggressively. Their behaviour included what appeared to be a Nazi-style salute, and spitting on and assaulting a newspaper cameraman.


This is not the first time the tournament has been the stage for such rubbish. Last year Serbian and Bosnian youths threw chairs at each other inside the grounds amidst families enjoying the sunshine, a fracas in which one female bystander was hit by a flying chair. In 2008, rowdy behaviour by Greek fans led to the police using pepper spray on the crowd. While in 2007, Serbian and Croatian supporters were involved in a brawl in which one was hit over the head with a flagpole.


Firstly: tennis? Come on guys. I can understand this kind of thing at the soccer - it has the atmosphere for it, and can involve two teams representing their nations against each other. (And indeed, it was exactly this kind of behaviour that led to the scrapping of Australia's National Soccer League a few years back.)

But tennis? I mean, the players here are representing themselves, not their countries. And tennis crowds are among the quietest and most conservative of all sports. What next? Lawn bowls? Synchronised swimming?

Secondly: while they are ostensibly motivated by pride in their nationality, this is a joke. Most of the youths involved would probably have never even been to the Balkans. The tennis players these idiots claim to support are embarassed by their antics and want nothing to do with them. Their actions are an embarassment to the ethnic communities they feel so passionate about.

All these guys are doing is reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices that are held in the wider community about people from that part of the world. When that happens, all their community suffers. Of course, we should not judge an entire community by the actions of a few idiots by any means, but the unfortunate reality is that many people will. Predictably, pick up any Australian newspaper this week and you will find letters to the editor complaining about multiculturalism and calling for people to be sent back where they came from.

While most representatives of Melbourne's Croatian community have spoken out against this, and even Croatia's main tabloid newspaper has derided the behaviour as "a festival of primitism", one community leader stood out for her denial. Linda Paric of Australia Croatia Community Services chose instead to blame the media for singling out Croatians, with the laughable comments like “predictable, annual, hysterical reporting and negative portrayal of the Croatian community is disappointing and a real comment on our media and its role... no other community in the history of this country has been (as) vilified repeatedly."

It is that kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that allows this sort of thing to flourish. I understand Paric is in damage control mode, but her denial just makes her community look worse.

For a better article, by a Balkan-born journalist at The Age, try here.

It's puzzling to me that such unquestioning nationalist pride still exists in our ethnic communities here. There's nothing wrong with loving the country of one's ancestry at all. But to ignore all its flaws?

I see no problem in loving my mother's country, Indonesia, yet feeling ashamed of its imperialism in East Timor and West Papua, or its incidences of violence against its Chinese minority, for example. I can have an understanding of how an Indonesian in Indonesia might see things differently, as they have less access to education and fair reporting on these matters, and are subject to propaganda.

But it dismays me that, despite the benefits of distance and education, so many Australian-born Turks will still deny Turkey's role in the Armenian genocide. Or how some Australians with Balkan ancestry will still nurture the hatreds of a conflict on the other side of the world, and in some cases even be proud of the atrocities committed against rival ethnic groups. Or how some Australians of Sri Lankan heritage have stuck steadfastly to the viewpoints promoted by either the Tamil Tigers or the Sinhalese-dominated government.

A country like Australia with its free media, good education system and multicultural environment, would seemingly provide the perfect opportunity to rise above all that crap. But some folks don't want to - they find greater comfort in sticking to the tribe.

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UPDATE (20th January): It seems that some Turkish and Chilean fans didn't want to miss out on all the fun of acting like penis-heads. 35 people were ejected today from a match involving Fernando Gonzales and Marsel Ilhan. Well done, chaps.

3 comments:

  1. I live in Serbia. I remember last year's scandal, but this is the first time I hear about the new one.

    Why tennis, you ask? While it's true football is much better for this kind of behavior (and it's used accordingly, trust me), fans need something. Plus, Serbian football team more or less suck. Novak Djokovic is what we have at the moment.

    Expressing your nationalism is often among the most important things for people who do not, in fact, live in their country of origin. None of these people would want to go back to Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia... and do something to make their country really proud. Is' much easier to stay in a western country, get drunk and start a fight to prove your nation pride.

    The most striking thing to me was the fact none of those people speak Serbo-Croatian. Many of them were born in Australia. I mean, wtf?

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  2. @ Mira: I have no idea whether any of those guys speak their mother tongues, but I'm sure some do and some don't.

    The Serbian team is ranked 20th in the world, last I heard... does that really suck? You must have high expectations.

    It's a curious thing, but in Australia this sort of in-your-face, aggressive chest-beating nationalistic pride is most noticeable amongst guys from southern Europe and the Middle East. Anglo-Aussies have got in on it recently as well. I don't think I've ever seen Asians doing this however.

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  3. To be honest, I only know about last year's incident (or was that in 2008?) With all those beautiful domestic swear words, all the guys involved used English ones. So much for patriotism!

    The Serbian team is ranked 20th in the world, last I heard... does that really suck? You must have high expectations.

    What? Oh, I feel so ashamed right now. I had no idea they were 20th. They were really bad in the past several years, and I am not much of a football fan, so I had no idea they improved.

    Men here are obsessed- in all possible meaning of the word- with football, and they believe our team is good, no matter what.

    It's a curious thing, but in Australia this sort of in-your-face, aggressive chest-beating nationalistic pride is most noticeable amongst guys from southern Europe and the Middle East. Anglo-Aussies have got in on it recently as well. I don't think I've ever seen Asians doing this however.

    I noticed this trend. People tend to be really aggressive when it comes to this sort of things. There are even real hooligans. The situation is not as bad as it was (is?) in Britain, but I don't like the aggressiveness it brings. Plus, we are already portrayed as wild, dumb and violent in media; we don't need some idiots to prove this false image and embarrass us even further.

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