Celebrate players, not politics: Croatian ambassador wants soccer clubs to kick out ideology

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

The Croatian ambassador to Australia has told the community its soccer clubs need to take politics out of the game to protect the country’s reputation.

Ambassador Betty Pavelich used a speech at a Croatian soccer tournament last month to warn the reputation of Croatia as a “modern, progressive and tolerant” country needed to be protected and implore fans to protect the soccer community’s brand.

Croatia’s ambassador to Australia, Betty Pavelich, wants a focus on “those who make us proud on the international soccer stage”.

Her comments came after an investigation by this masthead revealed some Australian-Croatian sporting clubs were openly displaying fascist symbols and commemorating anniversaries linked to the Nazi-backed Ustasha regime of World War II.

Several clubs were displaying busts and pictures of Ustasha dictator Ante Pavelic and celebrated the anniversary of the creation of the puppet state on April 10.

In her speech, Pavelich urged the community to celebrate future generations of Australian/New Zealand-Croatian soccer stars “whose photos should line the walls of our clubs”.

“Let us celebrate Croatia and let us focus on those who gave Croatia its freedom, as well as those who make us proud on the international soccer stage,” she said.

“We must take politics and ideology out of the game. We must work together to protect the reputation of our clubs, of our players, and of our homeland.”

The speech drew strong condemnation from the then-president of one of the country’s largest Croatian soccer clubs, the Melbourne Knights, who claimed the remarks amounted to “foreign interference in the community”.

“It is very disingenuous for the ambassador to publicly assume a position that is at odds with the community within Australia and to advance ideas that are not in line with the community’s own views,” Pave Jusup wrote in a letter published in a local Croatian newspaper in early October.

Jusup is no longer the club’s president after the Knights elected a new one at their annual general meeting last Wednesday.

A social media account of former Melbourne Knights president Pave Jusup, appearing with the Ustasha flag.

This masthead’s investigation, published in June, detailed how some key Croatian institutions in Australia commemorate the Ustasha regime, which prompted condemnation from leading Jewish groups.

The regime is estimated to have killed 500,000 people and is widely regarded as having committed genocide. People who celebrate April 10 or the Ustasha often describe it as an expression of Croatian independence rather than fascism.

In September, the Australian Croatian Club in Canberra removed a photo of its soccer team after criticism that the players were posing under a portrait of Pavelic, the Croatian dictator.

The investigation by this masthead sparked strong interest in the Balkans, and was translated and reproduced or referenced on at least 10 news sites in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

‘We must take politics and ideology out of the game. We must work together to protect the reputation of our clubs, of our players, and of our homeland.’

Pavelich said the red and white checkerboards on the soccer shirts of players were recognised around the world as representing the international brand of Croatian soccer.

“Those of us who love the game and who love Croatia must do everything in our power to protect the brand and the image,” she said.

She described Croatia as a modern, progressive and tolerant nation that this year holds the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an organisation comprising 35 member countries, including Australia, which encourages education, remembrance and research relating to the Holocaust and antisemitism.

Pavelich has previously made comments to this masthead in response to questions about the celebration in some sections of the community of fascist symbols and figures. She said in June that there was no place for the “glorification of totalitarian regimes, extremism or intolerance” and it was important to ensure “disinformation, glorification and the mainstreaming of criminal, totalitarian ideologies, their symbols and movements, do not take root in modern societies”.

Jusup, who this masthead has previously reported is pictured in front of a Ustasha flag on two of his social media accounts, said in his letter to the newspaper editor that he had been “personally slandered” by this masthead’s reporting and that he had received no contact from the Croatian embassy after the articles.

“In the context of Ms Pavelich’s speech, where she mused that the only pictures within Croatian clubs should be that of our soccer heroes, was a clear message to all in the Croatian community – we want to whitewash your history because it’s convenient for the Republic of Croatia,” he said.

Jusup described fascist leader Ante Pavelic as a dissident Croatian politician and a “Croatian freedom fighter and symbol of the Croatian resistance”.

He acknowledges Pavelic’s failed Croatian state (the Independent State of Croatia) was on the Axis side of World War II, but says people revere it as “an expression of our will to be free and independent”.

“Never has any Croatian club or organisation propagated fascist ideas,” he said.

“Never has any high-profile Croatian person been engaged on a public and personal level in extremist fascist politics locally whether in concert with other minority communities or broadly. That is for the simple fact that our collective view of that era of history is tied to its symbolism as it relates to the history of the Croatian struggle for freedom.”

He said he believes pressure is being exerted from the Republic of Croatia through diplomatic channels to “subvert our community clubs and organisations”.

“We all yearn for a future where the Republic of Croatia fully accepts all of its citizens and their views, history and circumstances,” he said.

The ambassador did not respond to a request for comment on Jusup’s letter. Jusup also declined to comment further.

Fascist links at the Melbourne Knights soccer club have previously been reported. On April 10 this year, six men were filmed at the club doing stiff-armed salutes as they sang a song extolling the Ustasha.

In a separate video, a group raised a Croatian flag at the Melbourne Knights in Sunshine to celebrate the April 10 anniversary – known as Deseti Travanj. The date is the anniversary of both the creation of the Nazi-backed Croatian state and of the Knights.

The Knights were promised $750,000 by the Victorian government just before the last state election, in November last year, but it has still not been administered.

A government spokeswoman declined to comment on why this was the case or when the money would be granted.

The celebration of fascism in the Australian-Croatian community has flared in the past year.

Fans of soccer team Sydney United performed the stiff-arm salute in 2022, with three men charged under new NSW laws. They have pleaded not guilty.

Start the day with a summary of the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up for our Morning Edition newsletter.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article