Fighters, footballers and nation builders: Wartime football in the Serb-held territories of the former Yugoslavia, 1991-1996

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The outbreak of war in the Yugoslav republic of Croatia during 1991, and its subsequent emergence across Bosnia and Hercegovina in the following year, had a devastating effect upon cultural life. Football was no exception. Yet in spite of raging conflict, the game continued to be an important aspect of everyday life throughout the region. This paper focuses upon the newly emerging states of Republika Srpska and Republika Srpska Krajina, the Serb-held territories of Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia, respectively. Football served as an important morale-boosting activity, providing soldiers with a distraction from the front, but it also served a higher cause. Via league and cup competitions, it assisted in the creation of ethnically homogenous states. Alongside media coverage of them, these competitions helped ‘map’ the ‘imagined communities’ of these incipient polities. Football was also harnessed as symbolic proof that all Serbs continued to belong to Yugoslavia. The game, and the sporting press that wrote about it, also provided an ideal subject for propaganda about enemy nations and a platform from which journalists could expound the necessities of the unification of all Serb states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-972
Number of pages27
JournalSport in Society
Issue number8
Early online date10 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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