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16th Feb 2019

Albania-Serbia football violence catches EU attention

  • Albanian players received a heroes' welcome when they went home to Tirana (Photo: bildungsr0man)

Violence at an Albania-Serbia football game has mushroomed in importance, with PMs, presidents, and EU diplomats getting involved.

Albanian players and Serb fans fought on the pitch in Belgrade on Tuesday (14 October) after a little drone with an Albanian flag appeared in the air.

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The flag showed a greater Albania, including territorial claims on Serbia, and two Albanian patriots from a century ago.

It came after Serb fans chanted “death to Albanians” during the Albanian anthem and threw missiles, including fireworks, injuring four Albanian players.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the EU foreign service, on Wednesday criticised the flag stunt.

“We are disappointed with the disruption of the football match following an act of provocation … Serbian authorities demonstrated professionalism in their handling of the situation”, she told press in Brussels.

She said “politics must not be driven by stadium provocations”.

But the incident risks upsetting a visit by Albania's PM Edi Rama to Belgrade on 22 October - the first by an Albanian leader in more than seven decades.

The regional diplomacy is part of EU efforts to maintain stability 15 years after the Balkan wars.

Germany’s ambassador to Albania, Helmut Hoffman, on Wednesday urged Rama to still go. But Albanian foreign minister Ditmir Bushati said “all options remain open”.

Meanwhile, local leaders are doing little to calm things down.

Serbia's PM Aleksandar Vucic blamed a group of Albanian VIPs at the game, including Rama’s brother, for the drone.

He said: “They wanted to trample on our pride, but we kept face, and showed a gang of fake Albanian officials in the VIP lounge a clear difference between us and them”.

Serbia's president Tomislav Nikolic noted: “it will take Albania decades, if not centuries to become a normal country”.

For his part, Rama criticised Serb fans’ “ugly and racist” behaviour.

“It’s regrettable that the presence of a [Albanian] flag on the pitch, where there were thousands of Serb flags, can serve as an alibi for everything that happened”, he said.

The football game, refereed by a British official, was abandoned before half-time.

Uefa, which is organising the Euro 2016 qualifiers, is to take a disciplinary decision on Albanian and Serb football authorities on 23 October.

It said on Wednesday it will look at Serb fans’ “setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles … crowd disturbance … field invasion”. It will look at “display of an illicit banner” on the Albanian side.

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