Wednesday, 6 June 2012


The  Football European Cup is drawing near. While tennis is the only sport I actively follow, the allure of football on such a grand scale is hard to resist even to someone who really dislikes the sport, such as myself. But this text is not about football. The reason I'm writing this is the color orange.

I (partially) live in the Netherlands, and every time there is a football championship on a nationwide scale, such as this one, the whole of Holland becomes orange. Let me clarify - orange is the Dutch national color. As a way or supporting their team, the Dutch proudly "show their colors".

This, in itself, should not be strange - every country supports their team with flags and such, no? What struck me when I first came upon this phenomenon was the enormity of it, as well as its ubiquity and ease of access. Orange shirts, flags, banners, toys, candy, stickers, signs. It's everywhere and with every one, not limited to football fans and avid patriots.

This results in  an entire city (and country) painted in vivid orange, with smiles in abundance, a general cheer of goodwill and both casual and passionate support for the national team. An old lady with a orange umbrella will say "HUP HOLLAND!" to an orange-shirt wearing teenager that's blasting music from a car as he drives by. Your local cashier will give you a little orange doll or some other footbal-fan prop with your purchase. The nearby Turkish deli owners will gleefully adorn the entire locale in orange and possibly give you free baklava's if the team won that day.

As a Serb, I did not get it.

This is the sad part of this otherwise picturesque tale. As a Serb, I did not get it. This sentence is depressing not because of the "I did not get it" part, but because of "as a Serb".

As someone who comes for a politically volatile (I refuse to say war-torn as it reeks of CNN drama) country, I was weaned on conflict. We are talking about a splinter of a once much larger, more prosperous, albeit communist, country. We are talking embargo, hyperinflation, political turmoil, civil war. We are talking about not knowing what Budapest was but being able to name every major political player in Serbia by the age of 10. We are talking indoctrination through conflict.

I loathe this martyred  view of Serbia and the regressive outlook it entails, but that is another topic altogether. The point is that as a Serbian man I was immediately repulsed by patriotism. To me, patriotism is taboo. Patriotism is political zealotry. Patriotism is idiot football hooligans and mindless, bigoted, self-proclaimed Orthodox Christians. Patriotism is tattooing Novak Djokovic on your arm without knowing what a backhand is. Patriotism fluffy keyrings?

This is where I was confused, relieved and saddened at the same time - I beheld a nation so blissfully devoid of national guilt, spite or burden, so historically removed from past sins that it could afford to ENJOY its patriotism. Here, being a patriot did not mean being a crazy fanatic - being a patriot also meant casually showing support for your national team and enjoying yourself. Most of these people don't even WATCH football - they do it because it is just...nice. Why not?

The freedom to be patriotic and proclaim love for your county through something as mundane as football was something I so coveted, I found, that even myself - someone who dislikes football and does not really feel like a Dutchman at all - eventually put an orange shirt and had a beer with a German friend, watching Holland play and laughing at a girl with orange pom-poms. I am not a big supporter of opponent of Holland as a country - but I must admit it felt good to be Dutch for a day.

My hope is that it will one day, as history separates us from all past transgressions, again be possible to casually demonstrate your patriotism in Serbia, in whatever way possible.  I hope to one day be able to enjoy the tennis of Novak Djokovic and support him, even be proud that he is Serbian, without it automatically stigmatizing me, marking me as an, unfortunately, very widespread kind of idiot. Love for your country should not always be an extreme, and should NEVER be tied with aggression, stupidity and narrow-mindedness (as is the case now). 

So for now I remain orange, sometimes.. I will put on a shirt of a country that is not mine and watch a sport I don't like, just because it feels nice to be a part of Patriotism Lite - even if it is but the reflection of someone else s hope and aspirations.


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