This is special. Serbia hosted Albania yesterday for a Euro 2016 Group I qualifier. No away fans were permitted, to avoid some rather inevitable trouble. Trouble that thus had to find alternative expression and made its way onto the pitch in the shape of a drone… carrying an Albanian flag (this one). See the brawl that resulted from this.
The distraction was frustrating to the players of both teams, at the same time as the political message of the flag itself evoked strong emotions in many, among both the spectators and the players, given historical memories of conflict between the two countries, and even the recent memory of the Kosovo war between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. The brawl began as one of the Serb players (playing in white) managed to capture the flag. As you can see in the video eventually some fans ran onto the pitch to join the melee, too. It is small consolation that most of the players actually behaved rather gently towards each other, and at one point, when there was a threat that a tsunami of fans may charge the Albanian team, the Serb players, including those from the bench, escorted the Albanian players to the locker room tunnel’s entrance.
A drone, and its operator, started all this. This is pretty interesting in and of itself. Here we saw the unlawful application of a drone with political motives targeted at specific civilian groups in audience, distracting a public event. If the unlawful application of the drone would have included violence, this would have been an instance of terrorism. So in a sense we have seen history made yesterday. Take a closer look with this in mind:
And with this in mind it is an especially amazing turn of events that the police arrested one person in connection with the incident. As mentioned already, no away fans were permitted to come to the game, and so the police took the person in question from the VIP box. It was Olsi Rama, the brother of the current Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Wow. Just wow. We’ll update this post once it becomes clear(er) if Olsi Rama was really the person responsible for the incident. Not to say that that is the only aspect of this story that may make it interesting, as we indicated above…
Update (October 15, still): In a twist to the story, it turns out the police have not really “arrested” Olsi Rama. Rama also denies having flown the drone himself. Reports have nevertheless appeared in the Serb press visualizing the remote control in his hand at the time when he was supposedly detained, and there is also an allegation circulating that “European diplomats” helped Olsi Rama get through the security check. Bearing in mind that Olsi’s brother, Prime Minister Edi Rama, is set to go to Belgrade on October 22 (at least for the moment he still is), this is beginning to look like a consciously timed provocation by someone, well-suited to bring out some of the typical, silly nationalist phantasies attached to the coverage of what happened – such as the story of a Euro-Albanian conspiracy against Serbia by means of flag-flying at a football match.
Update (October 16): This is what happened to the drone. A fan wearing a mask took it somewhere. (Photo: AFP/Getty)
Update (October 17): besides describing the general mood in the stadium throughout most of the match before the drone’s arrival, this article also notes that: “Ivan Bogdanović, the Serb hooligan who led the 2010 Italy match riot, was seen invading the pitch. He served jail time in Serbia after the Italy incident, in which he burned an Albanian flag. That game had to be abandoned as well. Yesterday he led a group of masked supporters into the pitch before being kicked out by police.”
Given Bogdanović‘s past involvement in disrupting football matches, tolerated since years by Serbian police, one has even more of a reason now to believe that the flying of the drone was a strategically planned provocation. By the way, the guy who took the drone from the pitch happened to go onto the pitch together with Bogdanović. They were flying in close formation… See Bogdanović on the left and the guy who captured the drone in the middle, below (photo: Marko Drobnjaković, AP):
In the meantime, President of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, has also voiced the view that the drone incident was an American-European-Albanian conspiracy to create a distraction just before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit. Because… because… because Putin’s visit was so totally distracted it went ahead with a proper military parade…
Contrary to what Dodik is suggesting, the drone incident was most likely the perfect way to energize nationalists who traditionally favor a Russian rather than a European orientation for Serbia.