Bosnian soccer success sets example for healing ethnic divide

Tue Oct 22, 2013 2:04am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia's international footballers have offered their political leaders a valuable lesson: see what you can achieve when you set aside your ethnic divisions.

Last week the national soccer side won a place at the World Cup finals for the first time, two years after Bosnia was briefly suspended from international competition for letting ethnic politics pervade the sport.

Under a reformed soccer federation, Bosnia automatically qualified for Brazil next year on the same night as some much bigger names in the European game - Spain, England and Russia.

Bosnians let off fireworks and honked car horns long into the night in Sarajevo when their team qualified, embracing a moment of joy after the horrors of a war that pitted Muslims, Croats and Serbs against each other in the early 1990s.

The victory mattered all the more because the team is a beacon of progress and unity in a country still divided between ethnic groups, mired in corruption and quarrels, and floundering on the edge of the European mainstream it wants to join.

"My message today to Bosnian politicians is: follow the example of your footballers and live up to expectations of your citizens," said European Union enlargement chief Stefan Fule the day after Bosnia qualified for the World Cup finals.

Nearly two decades after the civil war in which around 100,000 people were killed, the former Yugoslav republic's problem is not so much that the ethnic groups don't get along.

A system created by the 1995 treaty that ended the war, giving each of the three ethnic groups a share of power and rotating important posts between them, has kept the peace.   Continued...

A tourist tries on a Bosnian national soccer team jersey at a shop in the old part of the city, Bascarsija, in Sarajevo, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic