Just in case you have been living under a rock, the World Cup has been happening, and it’s been pretty awesome.
On Friday June 22nd, 2018, Switzerland and Serbia were scheduled to play each other. This match was a huge deal for Albanians. A large portion of the Swiss team is made of Albanians. Two of the most famous being Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka.
To give a brief history of why this match was so significant: Kosovo used to be a part of the former Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke apart, Serbia was formed and, while predominantly Albanian in population, Kosovo belonged to Serbia.
For those that were around in the mid to late 1990’s, you may be familiar with the Kosovo War. Kosovo and Serbia had gone to war because Kosovo wanted to free itself from Serbian rule, specifically from the monster that was Slobodan Milosevic. This lead to one of the greatest atrocities of our time. Serbians committed ethnic cleansing on Albanians of Kosovo. They cruelly murdered thousands of Albanians and for those that lived, did unspeakable acts toward them. Needless to say, the relationship between Albanians and Serbian is not a good one, even to this day.
This broken relationship full of pride and hate continues to play out when Albanians and Serbians collide. Look no further than the 2016 Qualifiers match between Albania and Serbia.
In 2016, during the match, Serbia blocked the Albanian flag from view and a fan flew the flag in via a drone as relatiation. Mind you, during this time there were no Albanians in the stadium and the Serbians were chanting “Kill the Albanians” in Serbian. UEFA rules state that both country’s flags must be visible. Serbia decided to not heed that rule.
What ensued was the Serbian team attacking the Albanians as well as the crowd attacked them too. The match had to be stopped. Serbia was actually awarded the win here.
Here is the video so you can see for yourself:
Back to current day. In the match between Switzerland and Serbia on 6/22, Serbia scored a goal in the first half.
In the second half though, Switzerland brought their A game. Xhaka scored a goal which tied the game. In the last few moments, Shaqiri scored the winning goal.
Check out the awesome action here:
It is important to remember that Shaqiri is Kosovo born and Xhaka was born to Kosovo parents. Xhaka’s father was a political prisoner for over three years. For two of the Kosovar Albanians on the team to score and win against Serbia, that was everything for us Albanians. There is so much pride, emotion, politics and history tied to that single match. The pride was especially strong with Xhaka and Shaqiri. When they each scored, the immediately through up the symbol for the double headed eagle, which is the Albanian flag and how Albanians identify. Each goal they made, we all felt it.
That demonstration of pride pissed off the Serbians and they moved to have these two and Switzerland be booted from the World Cup. They wanted to say it was provoking the general public and it was a political message. Fortunately, after a quick and logical review, all that happened was that they got fined a few thousand dollars, to which I recently learned that Albanians raised to pay for them.
A writer at BBC Sports wrote an article about everything that happened during the match and the history of Albanians and Serbians. In his article, he referred to the genocide of Kosovar Albanians by Serbians as a “Serbian Crackdown”. That pissed me the fuck off and is the entire reason why I am writing this blog post.
Let me be real fucking clear here. I want there to be no confusion past this paragraph. Serbia committed GENOCIDE against Kosovo. It was not a fucking crackdown. It was the violent murder of men, women and children. It was the psychological warfare of killing children in front of their parents. It was Albanian women being raped and murdered in front of their loved ones. The nerve to even reference it like that. To minimize the tragedy that Albanians endured. That is like calling the Holocaust a “German Crackdown”. I have been to Kosovo several times since the war. I saw what the aftermath was. My family told me stories of things that happened to them. My cousins created a short film about how they were kidnapped by Serbians and were being taken away to get executed. This was a real fucking thing that they experienced. My father’s friend lost three of his sons in the war. Their bodies were found dug up and showed signs of being tortured before being executed. You can read about the Bytyqi brothers here.
This is why Albanians are so proud of who we are. We have gone through horrific things as a group of people. And this is why when any of us throw up the Albanian eagle, it’s because we recognized the pained past and the close community we have.
Much love and respect to my Kosovo Albanian brothers Xherdan and Granit for making us even more proud than we were before!