Fan protest and activism: football ‘from below’ in South-Eastern Europe

By Dario Brentin & Andrew Hodges

We are happy to announce the publication of a guest-edited Soccer & Society special issue, which focuses on fan protest, activism and struggles in South-Eastern Europe, with special emphasis on the post-Yugoslav region. It aims to understand, theorize and interpret the efforts of football fans both visible as (sub-)political actors in public space and/or as collectives engaged in experiments with new forms of club ownership and direct/participatory democracy. We offer a critical conceptual introduction to this topic. This introduction interprets the special issue contributions in terms of their varying fan, researcher and activist positionalities, discussing the merits and pitfalls of these different approaches to qualitative social science research (mostly ethnography and interviews). It then discusses the concept of protest ‘from below’, explaining and critiquing the presence of a ‘people/politics’ (narod/politika) opposition.

The contributions highlight various aspects of life in South-Eastern Europe which impact on and are reflected in football. These include the widespread pursuit of personalized connections or ‘clientelism’ (which are typically restricted to a smaller number of domains including political lobbying, academia, higher level management and black market activities in Western Europe), recent war(s), rising authoritarianism, state-building and/or ideological transition, managing a relationship with capitalist centres and associated political-economic, social and cultural hierarchies, and legacies of empires.

In Tuzla, (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Gilbert draws attention to the overlap between fan and ‘traditional’ political activist practices, while in Zagreb, Croatia, Vukušić and Miošić describe the form a battle against ‘modern football’ has taken and the creative responses fans have made to the challenges with which they have been faced. The focus remains on Croatia in Tregoures and Šantek’s article which deals with the legal battles and approaches taken by certain fans of GNK Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. Moving over to Serbia, Đorđević and Pekić contrast with the other papers by offering insights into why there is a left-wing activist void in fan organizing in Serbia.

The final three texts move away from the post-Yugoslav states, dealing with Romania – also defined by post-socialist ‘transition’ – and Turkey – in the context of rising authoritarian tendencies and fan responses. While, acknowledging local and national specificities, the contributions illustrate regional similarities and parallels in football fan activism despite the lack of a post-socialist and/or post-conflict paradigm in the Romanian and Turkish case studies. Gutu’s work with Dinamo Bucharest fans in Romania places an original focus on the interplay between personalized connections and masculinity in this context, while the two texts focused on Turkey, written by Irak and by Battini and Kosulu, describe the role of ultras and fans during and after the Gezi park protests and the increasing difficulties fans have faced due to the actions of Erdoğan’s authoritarian, nationalist government.

We look forward to any feedback on the texts, and hope that this marks the beginning of future collaborations on similar topics which seek to both describe and make progressive interventions in the field of football fandom, in and across the different contexts in which we work.

Links to the various texts and open access introduction are available here:
Dario Brentin & Andrew Hodges: Fan protest and activism: football from below in South-Eastern Europe 

Daǧhan Irak: ‘Shoot some pepper gas at me!’ football fans vs. Erdogan: organized politicization or reactive politics? 

Dino Vukušić & Lukas Miošić: Reinventing and reclaiming football through radical fan practices? NK Zagreb 041 and Futsal Dinamo

Loïc Tregoures & Goran Šantek: A comparison of two fan initiatives in Croatia: Zajedno za Dinamo (Together for Dinamo) and Naš Hajduk (Our Hajduk) 

Ivan Djordjević & Relja Pekić: Is there space for the left? Football fans and political positioning in Serbia

Adrien Battini & Deniz Koşulu: When ultras defend trees: framing politics through subcultural fandom-comparing UltrAslan and Çarsi before and during Occupy Gezi 

Andrew Gilbert: Tri vjere, jedna nacija, drzava Tuzla! Football fans, political protest and the right to the city in postsocialist Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Dinu Guțu: World going one way, people another: ultras football gangs’ survival networks and clientelism in post-socialist Romania

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