BELGRADE (AFP) – Red Star Belgrade fans stirred controversy by parking an army tank outside their stadium ahead of yesterday’s Champions League play-off second leg against Swiss side Young Boys.
The decommissioned T-55, purchased from an army depot and painted with Red Star’s logo, was installed with a crane outside the stadium stands as an “attraction”, the Serbian club said on their Facebook page.
However, the move divided fans and drew strong condemnation in neighbouring Croatia, who saw the tank as a symbol of the assault by Serb forces on the city of Vukovar in the 1990s.
An article in the leading Croatian sports daily Sportske novosti slammed the “morbid provocation from Belgrade”.
“They want to play in the Champions League as they celebrate one of the worst crimes,” the newspaper wrote.
Online Croatian news site Index.hr accused Red Star of “displaying a Vukovar tank in front of their stadium”, although neither the club nor its supporters presented it that way.
On their own fan website, redstarbelgrade.rs, supporters said the tank was meant to represent the “machine” of the club and the nickname of a group of hardcore fans, who are known as the Northern Army.
The controversy comes amid already high tensions after a Serb-owned establishment in Croatia’s Knin region was attacked by masked men while patrons were watching the first leg between Red Star and Young Boys last week.
The incident involving the tank divided opinion in Serbia, with some welcoming the move on social media while others denounced it as in “bad taste”.
Yesterday, fans at the stadium clambered on top of the tank and posed for photos.
Questioned at a press conference, Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said, “There were no elements of a criminal act and therefore no reason for police intervention,” in regards to the tank.