World Cup qualification highlights Bosnia's ethnic split

Oct 18, 2013, 01:05 IST | AFP

If there's one thing that can usually be guaranteed to draw a nation together, it's victory on the football pitch.

But not in Bosnia, where only the Muslim community celebrated the national team’s historic qualification for the 2014 World Cup, showing that even sporting success has failed to bridge ethnic divisions that still run deep two decades on from its 1990s war.

Supporters of Bosnia’s national football team celebrate their team’s World Cup qualification on Tuesday. Pic/AFP

Bosnia booked their first-ever place at football’s top table with a 1-0 win over Lithuania, sparking jubilation — but mainly in Sarajevo where the Muslim population is concentrated.

The country’s two other ethnic communities — Serbs and Croats — meanwhile tend to support the national squads of neighbouring Serbia and Croatia.

“Like everything else in Bosnia, (football) is under the influence of ethnic nationalist politics,” political analyst Tanja Topic told AFP.

“The victory was not celebrated in any town inhabited mainly by Bosnian Serbs or Croats,” added the analyst.

Since the end of the brutal war in Bosnia in 1995, the country has been divided into two entities, the Bosnian Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation, linked only by loose central institutions.

Roughly 40 percent of the population is Muslim, 30 percent Serb and 15 percent Croat, with the rest from other ethnic backgrounds.

Most of the players in the national team are Muslims, with a sprinkling of the other two ethnicities, leading most Serbs and Croats to consider it a “Muslim” team.

In Sarajevo, thousands poured out into the streets, waving Bosnian flags and partying late into the night. 

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