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(E) Group Therapy: A Nation is Born by Courtney Angela Brkic
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  06/13/2006 | History | Unrated
(E) Group Therapy: A Nation is Born by Courtney Angela Brkic
Group Therapy: A Nation is Born


By Courtney Angela Brkic

Not so long ago, when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, soccer was an
expression of ethnicity, of political orientation, of self. Many feel
that a 1990 match between Zagreb's Dinamo and Belgrade's Red Star marked
the beginning of Croatia's war for independence. At the beginning of the
match, fans from both sides clashed in the stands and on the field. The
Serb-dominated police beat Croatian fans while allowing Serb fans to run
amok, and the events caused the already bubbling frustrations with
Yugoslavia to boil over. Even the players were not immune. Upon
witnessing a policeman beating a fallen Dinamo fan, midfielder Zvonimir
Boban karate-kicked him, becoming a hero of the growing independence
movement.

The war that followed was long and brutal. More than ten thousand people
were killed, and one thousand are still missing today. Not surprisingly,
tourists stopped visiting the Croatian coast, and the region became
associated with suffering. For a country so rich in potential, so
enthusiastic about what it could achieve now that it was on its own,
being classified simply as a war zone or a former Yugoslav republic was
a blow.

Croatia's independence was recognized in 1992, but the 1998 World Cup
brought another form of recognition. Elation had already begun to sweep
the country when Croatia beat powerhouse Germany in the quarterfinals.
"Is it really possible?" people seemed to be asking one another, unable
to contain their optimism. In Zagreb, large-screen televisions were set
up on the city squares so people could watch the Croatia-Netherlands
third-place match in raucous groups. It was a Saturday, and I watched in
my apartment with friends, drifting out to the balcony to listen to the
excited conversations and shouts coming from the cafés below. The sound
of cheers filled the air when Croatia scored. It was like the city was
one gigantic living room, everyone's eyes on a single television set.
Traffic all but stopped, and the street below was empty. When the game
finished with Croatia the winner, people flooded the streets. They
filled the main square, and that night, all night, we heard happy,
drunken voices singing.

Coming nearly three years after the war ended, it was an emotional
moment in a young country's history. On television, reporters
interviewed grown men who could not stop weeping. The country had not
seen such unified celebration since its declaration of independence. Now
no one could deny Croatia its place on the map.

(Courtney Angela Brkic is the author of Stillness: And Other Stories and
The Stone Fields: An Epitaph for the Living.)


Adapted from The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, edited by Matt
Weiland and Sean Wilsey. HarperCollins, 2006. Printed with permission.

http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0606/feature1/index.html#croatia

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