Suppose the German football team appeared on the field wearing a swastika. What would happen?
Do I need to ask? In the first place, it would never occur, but, stretching the imagination to breaking point, if it did there would be outcry. Rioting across Europe. The Germans would be banned from international football, and worldwide opprobrium would fall on their heads.
Suppose the German State incorporated a swastika into its national flag. What would happen?
No. That’s so ludicrous that I can’t even put it to you as a hypothetical, because Germany has come to terms with its Nazi past in a way never before witnessed in history. An entire country went into collective remorse and lived in guilt for fifty years.
And yet, the chequerboard symbol on the Croatian flag, and on the players’ shirts, is just as redolent of a Nazi past as the swastika is. The chequered pattern was the symbol of the appalling Ustasha, the most bloodthirsty fascist movement in Europe during WWII.
Ante Pavelic’s Ustasha government was so savage in its butchery of Serbs, Muslims and other non-Catholics that it disturbed even its German Nazi masters. A Gestapo report says The number of the Orthodox that the Croats have massacred and sadistically tortured to death is about three hundred thousand. The Gestapo thought they were sadistic, for God’s sake!
When Croatia seceded from the Yugoslav Federation, and TuÃ„â€˜man insisted on adopting the chequered flag, it carried such terrifying connotations of genocide that it contributed hugely to the alienation of the Croatian Serb population. That symbolism fuelled the fears underlying the uprising of the Krajina Serbs in Knin, and the subsequent horrors visited on Croat and Bosnian alike by the JNA and its proxies.
And this is why, though Croatia play some of the most attractive football anywhere, and though Turkey is a vile state in thrall to its military, I’m sorry Croatia have just scored in extra time.
It’s also why, two minutes later, I’m relieved that Turkey equalised.
As I watch, Croatia miss two penalties and have a third saved. They’re out and I’m glad.
It’s not because I dislike Croatia. They’ve always played attractive football and I take no satisfaction in their defeat.
I just can’t find any empathy for a team wearing a swastika.
Update: The Croatian hate-mail has started to roll in, and they’re pretty pissed off. My favourite so far is the guy who thinks the Eurovision post was written by a real Serb.
Whatever other qualities Croatians possess, a sense of irony doesn’t seem to be one of them, but of course, they’re really Germans anyway, aren’t they?