The Qeleshe and the Drone. Models of Political Expression at the Albania National Football Team’s Games in Belgrade
Keywords:football game, Yugoslavia, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, European Championship qualifiers, political rooting
In the space of 47 years the Albania national football team played two games at the JNA stadium in Belgrade. At both games, events with a clear political content took place. At the 1967 game, a group of about 5,000 fans supported the Albania national team, some of whom wore qeleshes as a possible marker of Albanian ethnicity. The 2014 game, which was also a European Championship qualifier, was marked by the appearance of a drone carrying the Greater Albania flag, which descended towards the pitch. As players tried to get hold of the flag, a scuffle broke out and supporters invaded the pitch, with the result that the match was suspended. In this paper, both events are interpreted within the context of other political events in the region immediately preceding and following the matches. The events at the 1967 game are compared to the demonstrations in Pristina a year later. The comparison highlights differences in the political attitudes of the masses and the elites. While the masses had clear aspirations towards the unification of all Albanians, regardless of the situation in Albania at the time and Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist regime, the elite perceived the danger of these ideas and channeled the strategy toward solutions that appeared feasible, namely, the establishment of a republic within Yugoslavia. Again, at the game 47 years later, the drone with the message of Greater Albania was not the expression of the political will of the elite, who were aware that Albania’s and Kosovo’s current political positions do not allow for the abolishing of borders. In both cases, the political elites did not explicitly reject the idea of unification, as it would be politically inopportune to reject an idea that is prevalent in the cultural intimacy of the broad masses of the people, but it was sidelined and modified into unity within the broader context of integrations and breaking down of barriers in the region and in Europe.
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