A few days ago Albania faced their historical enemies at the football field this time in the former Yugoslavian capital Belgrade. The hostilities run deep in both countries which faced a brutal war and subsequent ethnic cleansing in now independent Kosovo.
During the Euro 2016 qualifier match between the two countries, flag of Greater Albania (an area covering all parts of the Balkans where ethnic Albanians live) was flown over the pitch by a drone. The tensions escalated further after a Serbian player ripped down the flag and resulted in a scuffle between players. The crowd later joined with anti Albanian chants and throwing everything they could on the Albanian players who ran for cover.
Years ago in 1983 during the first ever international match between India and West Indies in the volatile capital of Srinagar in Kashmir. Pitch was dug by pro independence/Pakistan fans at the stadium, resulting in clashes with the Indian Forces. Scores of Kashmiris were detained later by the Indian authorities. A great embarrassment for India infront of the touring side. Later another match was played between India and Australia under a more ‘controlled’ environment. Coincidentally both the matches were lost by the World Champions of that time, India.
Fast forward to 2008, India’s biggest national football tournament was held again in Srinagar which was recovering from the worst phase of Indian brutalisation which can be termed as a ‘genocide’. All the matches against the Kashmir side were pretty hard for the Indian sides to play due to a very hostile crowd. That is why when Kashmir defeated Delhi in the 2008 Santosh Trophy, a banner displayed, “Kashmir defeats India”.
Historically football has always been a part of our freedom movement, From subtle forms of rebellion against the Dogra Tyrants to footballers turning into rebels.
In the semi-final after a controversial decision by the referee resulted in a goal, the Punjab player gestured with a fist to the full house Kashmir crowd. One doesn’t do that against emotionally charged Kashmiris especially when they are from the occupying power. Some youngsters broke the police cordon and Punjab players ran for cover. More people joined in, police decided to baton charge the crowd (more than 40 are injured) and stones started flying like rockets. With Indian bureaucrats watching as spectators as the crowd became protesters and the stadium, turned into a battlefield. The match was postponed.
Scores were arrested that evening, many tortured in police custody. Punjab went through with that single controversial goal. All was supposed to be ‘well’ in Kashmir. But this was just a spark which culminated into the biggest series of protests ever witnessed in the history of Kashmir.
The 2008 uprising.
As the scenes from Belgrade are being shown around the world, Kashmiris would smirk and imagine. Sport in the lands where blood is shed isn’t just sport and the powers acknowledge the fact (By expelling Kashmiri students cheering Pakistan vs India).
A Kashmir vs India match where we might possibly lose on the numbers game but the crowd will not be defeated. Possibly an Indian sports fan would like to wonder why?
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory…
There is nothing to forgive. You won’t forgive me.
— Agha Shahid Ali