Russians Should Go Back to Rooting for Croatia, Media's Crucifixion of Croatia's Vida Is Misguided

There is no way a Croatian player who moments after winning a historic triumph for Croatia is dialing his Serbian friends to sing them a Serb folk song actually has any ill will toward Russia -- no one will ever accuse him of having too many brain cells however

Saturday Russia lost a hard-fought and emotionally charged roller-coaster of game against Croatia. Having heroically eliminated Spain in a penalty shoot out in the previous game they were themselves eliminated from spot kicks after 2-2 in regular time. 

Yet perhaps due to pan-Slavic sympathies in the aftermath of the game I saw a flood of Russians on social media proclaiming they would now go on to cheer for the team which had denied Russia. A beautiful moment of too rarely-seen Slav solidarity, right?

Cheryshev opened the scoring for Russia in a spectacular manner

Except the next day the very same Russians were now angrily saying they would root for anyone but Croatia, and particularly for their immediate opposition, the English. You see in the mean time a video had surfaced where immediately after the game a Croatian player, Domagoj Vida, proclaims "Glory to Ukraine" (a salute with 1940s far-right roots) and an assistant coach, Ognjen Vukojević, dedicates the victory to Ukraine. 

The optics were indeed not good. What in the world could posses the pair to bring up Ukraine into a genial Croatian-Russian clash? It looked nothing more than two former Dynamo Kiev players of many years (8 for Vukojević, 5 for Vida -- a very long time in today's football) pandering to their former club's famously nationalistic fans. In fact Vukojević who directed and published the video to Twitter must have realized himself how incendiary it was because he deleted it only after a couple of minutes.

But by this time it was too late. The video was already seen and RT and the Russia blogosphere pounced on it mercilessly. Vida protested that the video was a joke, that he was a proud of his Russian friends, and is indeed a Russian-speaker, but it was all in vain -- his media prosecutors would have none of it.

FIFA got involved too, warning Vida and fining Vukojević  to the tune of 15,000 Swiss Francs. The 34-year-old Vukojević was then also sacked by the Croatian Football Association and sent home, and both former Dynamo men apologized as did the association.

Dumb and dumber

But was there more to the story? What was really the context? Another private video of Vida, shot likely just moments before one posted by Vukojević to Twitter, has surfaced shedding a lot more light. The new video has ecstatic Vida still celebrating in the dressing room, working on a beer, again vocalizing "Glory to Ukraine", while also proclaiming that "Belgrade is burning".

That sounds rather ominous until you realize the "Belgrade" he is referring to is a Serbian-owned pub in Kiev and the "burning" is the support he is receiving from them (burning = celebrating). He also goes on to sing them a song by Toma Zdravković (Kafana je moja sudbina), a late Serbian folk singer from the Yugoslav era, promising to buy everyone a drink when he returns, and is greeting a "Jovan" -- the Serbian owner of the said pub. 

So in other words, one of the first things he did after winning a historic match for Croatia, the Croatian defender Vida called up his drinking buddies in a Serbian-themed pub in Kiev and sang them a Serbian folk song while also shouting "Glory to Ukraine" in some weird pantomime gesture only the patrons of the said Balkan pub will understand in its proper context. Does that sound like a Nazi to you?

Dumb yes. But a Nazi? I can tell you one thing, Croatian Nazis, and they do exist, do not go around singing Serbian pop-folk songs, and do not have Serbian friends on quick dial to call them the first thing after a historic Croatia triumph. 

Frat level: through the ceiling

Shouting "Glory to Ukraine" after a Russia match as Vida did was dumb and it was even dumber of Vukojević to make it public and needlessly unsettle the Croatian team and upset the generous Russian hosts, but I can't see a hater or provocateur in Vida -- just a giant, and totally hopeless meathead. But also a genial and jovial one. He is probably the most likable guy in the entire Croatian lineup (and probably the worst player in their starting eleven).

He's a reason you should cheer for Croatia rather than against it, and if he's this chummy with loathed Serbs there is no way he has any actual ill will towards the Russians, whom Croats generally regard positively, either. He could do with a brain however, albeit one is not required for his job as centre-back (actually for a defender who is expected to head the ball away from the foot of the opposing forward if necessary a functioning brain is frequently a hindrance).

This is why you don't judge centre-backs by their brain, or expect it from them
MORE: Politics