Greece treats jailed Croatian football fans like ‘prisoners of war’, says president

Croatian President Zoran Milanović has called the detention of the Bad Blue Boys – a hooligan group affiliated with Dinamo Zagreb football team – a political farce and ethnic retaliation.

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“I don’t see the rule of law here, this is massive retaliation against an ethnic or national group, they gathered up all the Croatian fans and put them in jail,” Milanović said earlier this week.

“They are prisoners of war there, then let them be treated according to the rules of war and we will exchange people, we will round up a hundred Greeks for something, because they littered with pieces of paper,” he continued.

According to Milanović, they did not go there with the intention of killing someone “or else they would not have been able to cross the border” and that this amounts to “political hogwash”.

He insisted that belonging to the Bad Blue Boys is not a crime in and of itself. The violent altercation broke out on 7 August before a qualifying match between AEK Athens and Dinamo. The match was subsequently postponed.

A photograph of Michalis Katsouris hoisted by AEK fans. The young man was killed in an attack led by Croatian supporters in Athens, Greece. 19 August 2023

Several of the Croatian citizens have, in their statements pertaining to the extension of their detention, claimed they are not even members of the Bad Blue Boys and that they were arrested because of their citizenship.

“In their first five days of detention, they should have separated the actual suspects from the other fans and let the rest go home, perhaps with a misdemeanor punishment. What is happening now is a political farce,” continued Milanović.

The detainees were visited by the Croatian Minister of Justice, Ivan Malenica, and Foreign Minister Goran Grlić Radman.

A manhunt ensued soon after the death of the young man, with a blockade being set up on the country’s borders to prevent anyone wanted for involvement in the violence from fleeing the country.

“It has not been easy for the government… the prime minister agrees that the incriminating circumstances are suspicious. We will wait and see what they will be charged with. They can’t just be detained without a legal basis,” Milanović concluded.

Soccer fans covering their faces, most of them from Croatia, are escorted by police as they leave the Athens Police Headquarters, Greece. 9 August 2023

A troubling legacy

The Bad Blue Boys are ultras – a formalised group of fervent fans – of Dinamo, widely considered to be the wealthiest Croatian club and based in its capital, Zagreb.

The club was closely affiliated and supported by the first Croatian president following the country’s independence from Yugoslavia, and its supporters have often espoused nationalist rhetoric and ideas.

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Some supporters have been accused of ties to the far-right. In September of last year, the fans were seen performing Nazi salutes ahead of a match with FC Milan.

The UEFA governing body has since banned Dinamo Zagreb fans from attending all of the clubs away games this season, considering matches involving Dinamo supporters to be “high risk”.

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