In Bosnian Town, Serb Football Fans Embrace Neo-Nazi Symbols

Illustration: BIRN

In Bosnian Town, Serb Football Fans Embrace Neo-Nazi Symbols

27. April 2023.12:08
27. April 2023.12:08
A group of Bosnian Serb football fans has taken to displaying symbols associated with neo-Nazism, with apparently little fear of punishment.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

Following a 2016 Europa League game between Cypriot APOEL and Greek Olympiacos in Nicosia, UEFA punished APOEL after supporters of the home team displayed the Totenkopf symbol.

Yet Radnik has never been punished over its own fans’ use of a banned hate symbol. The club did not respond to a request for comment.

Mirza Buljubasic, a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Criminalistics, Criminology and Security Studies at the University of Sarajevo, said such symbols were particularly prevalent in the western Herzegovina region of Bosnia and the predominantly Serb-populated Republika Srpska entity, where Bijeljina is located. 

“It is concerning that we see symbols associated with crime denial and neo-Nazi symbols with which the public is not particularly familiar in the stands”, Buljubasic told BIRN.

The public would do well to remember that a war of hate speech and symbols preceded the armed clashes that broke out with the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia, Buljubasic warned, and far-right football fans often swelled the ranks of the fighting forces.

“Perhaps the best known are paramilitary units, which are responsible for terrible crimes, especially in eastern Bosnia,” he said.

Neo-Nazi symbols pass unpunished 

Radnik fans with keltic cross and Totenkopf insignia. Photo: Facebook, screenshot

In mid-October, Filip Stojanovic posted a photo on social media showing the Totenkopf and the Celtic Cross – both banned by UEFA as hate symbols – adorning the stands of the Radnik stadium. The caption read, “Ideal”. The photo was later deleted.

Stojanovic has a Totenkopf tattoo on his right leg, but he is not the only Radnik supporter fond of symbols associated with the Nazis, according to the findings of an investigation by BIRN.

Holding a blue and white megaphone, Stojanovic urged on his fellow supporters at a home game on September 23 as the crowd shouted ‘Serbian guard, Serbian guard,’ a reference to a Serb paramilitary force that operated during the war in Croatia. They were later ejected by police after setting fire to the flag of the opposing team.

Fans have also paid tribute from the stands to a number of Serb military figures from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, including, for example, Bozidar Delic, commander of a military brigade that has been accused of involvement in war crimes during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo. Delic died this year.

The Republika Srpska Football Association did not respond when asked if it had initiated disciplinary proceedings against the club owing to the conduct of its supporters, despite the fact the Association’s own rulebook outlaws the displaying of slogans and symbols that promote intolerance on the basis of race, nationality, religion and language or represent extremism.

According to Stojanovic’s own social media posts, he is employed by the Securitas private security firm and has been spotted arriving at the FK Radnik stadium in a car bearing the Securitas insignia.

He declined to talk to BIRN journalists. “We know who you are, what you are,” he said. “We’ll report you for disturbance every time.”

Filip Stojanovic with Totenkopf tattoo. Photo: Facebook, screenshot

Stojanovic’s phone numbers can be found on a Radnik fan website alongside posts advertising promotional goods, t-shirts and hats. Since July this year, the site has also featured photos of supporters attending games with the Totenkopf prominently displayed.

Analysing the available photos and videos, BIRN determined that the flag with the Totenkopf and the insignia of the Incident fan group, ‘IB’, was first displayed at a memorial tournament in the playground of Bijeljina’s Sveti Sava School in July this year.

“It is sad, but it is a fact that far-right groups are active at stadiums, spreading hate and using football as a tool for social divisions,” the Football against Racism in Europe, FARE, network says in its guide to recognising such hate symbols.

Chetnik, Ustasha symbols

Slaven Boskovic, on the left. Photo: Facebook, screenshot

Slaven Boskovic is another fan of FK Radnik and of neo-Nazi symbolism.

In a photo of supporters published in 2020, Boskovic can be seen standing next to Stojanovic; among publicly available photos on Facebook there is one of Boskovic, naked to the waist and revealing a swastika tattoo.

Boskovic, who calls himself “Evil Neighbour”, has also posted pictures of the black sun symbol, which was used in Nazi Germany and is still popular among white supremacists.

Contacted by BIRN via Instagram, Boskovic blocked its reporters on Facebook.

After the September 23 incident, when supporters were removed from the stands after torching the opponent’s flag, BIRN asked Bijeljina police whether anyone had been identified and punished. The police did not respond.

Branko Todorovic of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bijeljina alluded to the links that are common across the Balkans between football fan groups – which often simultaneously operate as crime groups – and political parties.

“I would say that we see the supporter groups appearing and sometimes acting as an extended arm of certain centres of power, of certain politics, and that their acts are surely linked with broader political or some other goals of the centres of power both here and in the region,” Todorovic said.

Stojanovic’s brother, Sergej, was also present at the September 23 game. Sergej used the Totenkopf on his Facebook cover photo and regularly posts about the activities of the FK Radnik supporters. Like his brother, Sergej Stojanovic also refused to comment for this story.

According to Todorovic, besides extremist symbols, such football supporters also use symbols associated with World War Two-era Serb Chetniks and Croatian Ustasha, symbols that were revived during the wars of the 1990s.

Through extremism, “that provides some sense of security,” he said, such people “feel much stronger and more powerful.”

The FK Radnik fans share their fondness for such symbols with ‘The Hawks’, a fan group of FK Slavija from mainly Serb East Sarajevo. The fans even stand together during games between the two clubs.

Besides using the Totenkopf on social media, the Slavija fans have also displayed the Celtic cross and the flag of the Bosnian Serb army, while during a game in October some fans worse t-shirts bearing the letter ‘Z’, a symbol of support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. FK Radnik supporters have also written the letter in Bijeljina’s central park.

Todorovic said that such groups had clearly secured a certain status in society and that this clearly does not worry authorities in the Republika Srpska entity nor Bosnia as a whole.

“If the police, prosecution and institutions, political parties, had a problem with them, they would disappear within a month, trust me,” he told BIRN. “Therefore, they are actually a product and element of the political and social reality in Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Nermina Kuloglija-Zolj

This post is also available in: Bosnian