You are here

Tackling ethnic tensions in the Balkans

Copyrights: Once Brothers (photographie extraite du film-documentaire)

Tackling ethnic tensions in the Balkans

A look at the western Balkans where sport is at the same time a danger and a powerful tool of reconciliation.

As trifling as it seems, the picture above becomes significant once you take a closer look. It is taken from the documentary-movie “Once Brothers” that tells the story of the friendship between two basketball players from the SFR Yugoslavia: the Serbian Vlada Divac and the Croatian Dražen Petrović. They played together as part of the Yugoslavian national team from 1986 to 1990, ethnic and social boundaries drove them apart. Their relationship illustrates the difficulties in reconciliation between different communities within the western Balkans.

The western Balkans is a diverse region of Europe consisting of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, SFR Macedonia and Kosovo* with no fewer than six languages and six main religions. The region is characterised by low and unequal levels of development. The 1990’s were marked by wars and the rising tide of nationalism, which set ethnic groups against each other. Sport also had an important role to play in the construction and reconstruction of ties between the communities in this region.

Evidence shows that sport can strengthen social cohesion and reinstate confidence between divided groups, but sport in the Balkans is much more complex.

To the question "Did sport contribute to violence and encourage aggressions?” the answer is yes.

Assassinations of supporters, interruptions of matches and the burning of flags - sport, and especially football, received bad press. People generally criticise the total denial of the values found in football and the omnipresent hooliganism. However, apart from those much-publicised phenomena, many organisations are active in the Balkans and promote a clever use of sport in order to encourage tolerance and mutual comprehension.

In this regard, the Council of Europe has published a manual called 'Sport in Post-Conflict Societies` in which examples of good practice in the Balkans are identified. Among them is the Open Fun Football Schools (OFFS), a transnational programme for children between 7 and 11 years. This has been implemented in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and SFR Macedonia. Its aims are to bring people together and strengthen social cohesion in post-conflicts societies through sport. More than 12,500 children have already participated in the OFFS.

Pl4y International has launched a program in Kosovo in 2002 where sport is used as a tool for inter-ethnic reconciliation and to encourage peace education. Children from six ethnic communities (Romani, Ashkali, Serbia, Bosnian, Albanese and Turk) congregate and learn from each other. More than 4,000 children have already been mobilised.

These examples show us that sometimes we need to re-learn how to use and share sport in order to maximise its potential. In a post-conflict period, even though there are many difficulties, the effective use of sport can help strengthen the peaceful coexistence of a pluralistic society.


*Kosovo has not been yet officially recognized by the UN and only partially by the international community.



Article type



Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 10:17