Here’s the Nazi-era chant that just got a Croatian soccer star suspended

December 16, 2013

Croatian soccer player Josip Simunic (Samuel Kubani/EuroFootball/Getty Images)

A player on Croatia's national soccer team has been suspended – and will be barred from following his team to the World Cup finals in Brazil – after leading a post-game chant that also happened to be the country's national slogan during Nazi rule.

The chant itself sounds pretty innocuous. After a play-off victory against Iceland, Croatian defender Josip Simunic chanted "For the homeland," to which the crowd each time responded with "Ready." But that was also the national chant of Croatia's World War II-era government, a Nazi-appointed puppet regime that enforced brutal, Nazi-style rule from 1941 to 1945.

In suspending Simunic, the governing soccer body FIFA seems to believe that Simunic's choice of words was no coincidence. And there's a strong case to be made that, although outsiders may not be aware of the chant's dark history, Croatians couldn't not be. Simunic has denied he meant it as an echo of Nazi-era rule. Here's a video of the call-and-return, taken from the audience:

The Daily Mail has another video here, taken from the field.

If "for the homeland" is indeed well-known enough in Croatia as a Nazi-era slogan that Simunic and the crowd likely meant it that way, then the crowd's enthusiastic return would be much more alarming than the one soccer player's chant. Far-right ultra-nationalist movements have been rising in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, particularly since the euro crisis created a vast class of unemployed, dispossessed young people.

These far-right movements have often coincided with soccer fans. Maybe that's just because both tend to attract young men, maybe for some other reason. But the result has been a string of incidents of far-right ultra-nationalism, or outright Naziism, in Eastern European soccer culture. A Greek soccer player was suspended for giving a Nazi salute; Polish fans have chanted "Jews to the gas" or "death to hooknoses" at opposing teams; Ukrainian fans have waved Nazi flags and made monkey sounds at black players. Hungarian fans have waved banners in support of László Csatáry, a Hungarian who allegedly helped capture and kill thousands of Jews under Nazi rule.

A similar movement in Croatia would, unfortunately, not be inconsistent with the rest of the region. If that's the case, then one player shouting a Nazi-era slogan isn't the problem. The problem is that, by all appearances, the crowd loved it.

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Max Fisher · December 16, 2013