Football in the Balkans I

Internal Views, External Perceptions

by Dariusz Wojtaszyn (Volume editor) Maros Melicharek (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection VI, 184 Pages


The book is devoted to the phenomenon of football in the Balkans. It provides an interdisciplinary perspective on the political instrumentalisation of football and its social significance in the region. In doing so, it offers readers an in-depth look at Balkan societies and the determinants of their political and social functioning. The topics are geographically wide-ranging, covering Greece, Romania, the former Yugoslavia and the states that emerged from its disintegration: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Across these regions, the contributors cover issues including the legitimacy of power, political manipulation, problems of political transition, corruption, collective identity, nationalism and antagonism between the Balkan nations, and armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Collectively they offer a number of fresh perspectives in conveying a sense of the complexity and diverse historical experiences of football across the Balkans. The book is aimed at a wide academic audience as well as journalists, analysts, and enthusiasts of sport and the Balkans.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1. Football between History, Politics, Society, and Culture: Introduction
  • Chapter 2. A Popular Game in Dracula’s Land? A Socio-Historical Overview of Romanian Football
  • Chapter 3. From Commons to Commodity and Back Again: Football’s Great Transformation in Post-socialist Romania
  • Chapter 4. Yugoslav Football from Tito’s Death to the Breakup of Yugoslavia: Situation and Problems in the Climate of Political Conflict
  • Chapter 5. Football and Politicians: Tito, Tuđman, and Milošević and Their Political Instrumentalization of the Social Phenomenon of Football
  • Chapter 6. Competing for the Nation on the Football Pitch: Ideology and Sports in Mostar
  • Chapter 7. Greek Football of the 70s and 80s in the Memories of Polish Coaches and Footballers
  • Chapter 8. The Odyssey of Greek Football: Politics, Corruption and the Spirit of Division
  • Chapter 9. Conclusions
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

· 1 · Football between History, Politics, Society, and Culture: Introduction

Maroš Melichárek

(University of Pavol Jozef Šafárik in Košice)

Dariusz Wojtaszyn

(University of Wroclaw)

Football has played a significant role in social life since its beginnings. It gained special significance in the twentieth century, when it achieved the status of a cultural phenomenon, becoming an important element of human life and sometimes even taking over certain spheres of perception previously reserved for so-called high culture (Kowalski, 2004, 263; Orwell, 2002, 326; Wojtaszyn, 2013, 5). As many social phenomena were undergoing significant transformations, football was plugged into the changing reality, often acting as a catalyst for change. Sports arenas became places where new norms and standards of behavior were created, which could permeate other spheres of social interaction. The development of mass culture drew this sport into the sphere of mechanisms shaping the contemporary world—it influenced social behaviors and cultural patterns, and the best players became stars of pop culture, heroes of mass media, and recognizable among all social groups, and many have ended up as politicians. From the region of the Balkans we could mention the Serbian former football player Savo Milošević (famous mainly for his career in Spain—Real Zaragoza, Espanyol Barcelona, Osasuna Pampeluna, Celta de Vigo) who was a political supporter of the Democratic Party led by Boris Tadić, having supported it since 1993 and officially becoming a member in 2003. He took part in the 1996–1997 protests and the 5 October 2000 overthrow of Slobodan Milošević (Nikčević, 2014). Hakan Sükür tried his hand at politics from 2011, when he was voted in as an Istanbul MP for the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. However, he did not stay long in his post, and resigned in December 2013 after just two years in parliament. We could also mention the former Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov, who became the oldest person ever to play for a Bulgarian professional club when he appeared for FC Vitosha Bistritsa in the B Group, the second division of Bulgarian football (Krasimirov, 2013).

These processes and mechanisms have played a particular role in the Balkans, not an uncontested term, which is a special area of the European continent. Indeed, recently, there have been many discussions on how best to approach the conceptualization of the region’s oft-used names—the Balkans or Southeast Europe. In the past, this region has also been variously known as the “Balkanhalbinsel” (Balkan Peninsula), “La Turqie D’Europe” (European Turkey), and “the Southeast-European Peninsula.” The concept of Southeast Europe is more of a neutral, non-political, and non-ideological term, while use of “the Balkans,” mainly since World War II, has been described by Maria Todorova, for example, as an “abstract demon.” In 2008, the academic conference Two Hundred Years on the Road: The Term “Balkan Peninsula” (1808–2008) held in Sofia itself addressed this phenomenon. As reported from the conference: “there was also a consensus that the term South East Europe is more neutral, with the Balkans associated with theories of a distinctive geographical, cultural and political space, to which long-term negative images and stereotypes are applied” (Melichárek, 2020). For many years people from “the West” saw this area of Europe as backwards, “a poorly mapped area separating orderly European civilization from the chaotic Orient” (Melichárek, 2020). “The Balkans,” on the other hand, is the term that is most widely used and anchored in the consciousness of European societies. Regardless of its positive or negative connotations, it captures the “spirit” of the region and is clearly inscribed in the minds of Europeans in the complex, complicated history and fascinating social and identity processes in which sport, and football in particular, also play an important role, sometimes becoming the key to understanding what is going on.

The definition of the Balkan Peninsula mixes the geographical, historical, and political. The region of the Balkans is dynamic and “the Balkans” should be seen as a dynamic concept that corresponds to the current process of historical transformation. The Balkan Peninsula has repeatedly been in a process of transformation: the period of Ottoman dominance was not just a period of stagnation, the interwar period saw not only an increase in Balkan nationalisms, and the Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s was not a continuation of the Balkan wars of 1912–1913. The Balkans is a unique laboratory in which we can monitor a wide range of parallel political processes. Over the last three decades, the region has experienced several state disintegrations, and violent and non-violent conflicts between and within states, as well as a slowed transformation from socialism to democracy and a market economy. All these experiences have been conceived through the parallel, overlapping, and contradictory dynamics of nation-state building and efforts to join the European Union (Melichárek, 2021).

Special attention of the authors of this volume has been devoted to a few specific regions, including Romania as an example of a post-communist country, Greece as an example of a country originating from a capitalist system, and the countries of the former Yugoslavia as an example of a region in the Eastern bloc that had considerable political autonomy. This selection of case studies attempts to look at the region through the lens of selected areas representing different political, social, and cultural systems, but at the same time representing their own rich and varied histories and cultures, thus reflecting the complexity of the Balkans. In doing so, it responds to the situation in the publishing market, where it is mostly works which focus on the extremely interesting problem of the former Yugoslavia and the countries which emerged after its break-up that are available (Mills, 2018; Brentin and Zec, 2018; Hodges, 2020). The extension of the scope to include case studies from Romania and Greece is a first step towards including the other countries from the region, in order to show its geographical, political, and social complexity. This exposition is also complemented by an analysis of the situation in other parts of the Balkans with regard to political and social issues. The present book furthermore forms a coherent element within the framework of a research project on football as a social phenomenon in the Balkans, carried out jointly with the Balkan History Association. A continuation of these reflections considering other areas of the Balkans is in preparation (Football in the Balkans II: A Social and Political Phenomenon).

The key issue that this book explores is the analysis of various aspects of football as a political and social phenomenon. The aim of the authors of the individual chapters is to make a theoretical and practical contribution to the reception of football events, both in their sporting dimension and, above all, in their interconnection with non-sporting aspects: with political, social, and economic issues, while focusing on a kind of Balkan microcosm. Indeed, football in the Balkan countries analyzed did not constitute a monolithic, uniform model and differed significantly in some aspects. Despite this, the book “Football in the Balkans I: Internal Views, External Perceptions” attempts to identify overarching frameworks that can be helpful in understanding the football phenomenon in the region. One of these is the legacy of communism and the specific tradition and culture of football (Greece), the result of which is, among other things, the creation of an approach to the sport that is characteristic of all the countries analyzed, sanctioning many inappropriate and sub-standard behaviors (such as corruption or extreme politicization). The instrumentalization of football in the Balkans has had a long tradition. The use and focus of the football experience has often had specific political, social, or economic objectives. Due to its considerable and growing potential for social impact and its universal nature, football was doomed to have close links with the political and economic spheres. As a result, political leaders and business people have tried to make football useful for their own purposes. However, football has always been somewhat problematic in this regard. The relative transparency of the game has not always led to the desired results from a propaganda perspective. The autonomous character of the game has also threatened dictatorships, which sought organizationally and ideologically to monopolize the leisure time of the people as the game served to counteract the permanent mobilization of the masses (Koller and Brändle, 2015, 200).


VI, 184
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (December)
Football Balkans Politics Supporters Romania Yugoslavia Croatia Serbia Bosnia and Herzegovina Greece National Identity Communism Dariusz Wojtaszyn Maroš Melichárek
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2023. VI, 184 pp.

Biographical notes

Dariusz Wojtaszyn (Volume editor) Maros Melicharek (Volume editor)

Dariusz Wojtaszyn is Professor of Modern History at the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna (Austria), a member of the Expert Board for the history of football in the GDR at the German Football Association, and a member of Sport History/Sport Studies Austria and ISHPES. Maroš Melichárek is Assistant professor of Modern European and Balkan History at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Visiting Researcher at Balkan Studies Center (BSC)—International University of Sarajevo (IUS), Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a member of the Balkan History Association. Melichárek has received several domestic and international grants and is a two-time Visegrad scholarship holder.


Title: Football in the Balkans I