Russia’s road to the World Cup final ended last night after the Russian team lost a penalty shoot-out to Croatia in one of the most dramatic matches of any World Cup in recent memory. While tears filled the eyes of Russian supporters and players who had hoped to continue their unexpected successes throughout the remainder of the World Cup, Croatia justifiably celebrated at the end of a hard won victory on penalties.
But shortly after the victory, a current and former Croatian footballer filmed a selfie video in which current start Domagoj Vida shouted a slogan that is deeply offensive to Russians and anti-fascists throughout the wider world. During the Great Patriotic War (Second World War), the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which collaborated with Hitler’s fascist regime popularised the phrase “Slava Ukrayini! Heroyam slava” (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!). Since the 2014 fascist coup against the last legitimately elected Ukrainian government, the phrase’s popularity continues to grow among neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists who praise the crimes against humanity that the Kiev regime’s troops commit against the civilians of Donbass.
Therefore when Croatian footballer Domagoj Vida chanted “Slava Ukrayini” after a match with the Russian national team on Russian soil, many were upset with the fact that Vida decided to politicise what is intended to be an apolitical sporting event.
Later, Vida who was joined by his former teammate Ognjen Vukojevic issued an apology which read:
“This victory is for Croatia. No politics. It’s a joke. I’ve got friends there [in Ukraine] since Dinamo Kiev, I didn’t mean anything else. I don’t want to draw politics into sport. I love Russians, I love Ukrainians, I love Brazilians, I love everyone”.
When asked if he thought Russians would understand his “joke”, Vida responded that he thought they would. While to Vida, chanting a far-right anti-Russian slogan was a “joke” it was in reality a gruesome political provocation for which a further and more circumscribe apology is required in order to fully rectify.
Perhaps while still in Russia, Vida and his teammates should visit the many monuments to the Red Army’s historic victory over fascism in order to educate themselves about the struggles that Russian and all Soviet people went through during a time when Croatia itself operated as a puppet state of the Hitler regime before being liberated by Tito’s Soviet allied partisans.
Vida’s provocation is all the more surreal given that prior to the match, Croatian players including Vida were filmed in front of a large banner upon which were written the words “say no to racism”. Sadly, hours later, Vida said yes to racism by shouting a hateful slogan that is typically directed against Russians while it is also directed with scorn against socialists, Jews, Roma and other minorities in present day Ukrainian territory.
Of course, this was not the first time that this year’s world cup has become politicised. During an earlier match between Switzerland and Serbia, several ethnic Albanian players on the Swiss team flashed a provocative hand signal designed to inflame tensions between Serbs and Albanians. Ultimately, the players responsible for the anti-Serbian provocation were finned rather than banned in the following match.
With many calling for Vida to be banned for similar reasons, it remains to be seen what kind of action FIFA will take against a man who spoiled his own victory by changing an extremist fascist slogan.