This Europe: Arguments at Macedonian workshop on football violence end in brawl and gunfire

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The Independent Online

A recent workshop to curb the problem of football violence in Macedonia ended on a disappointing note – with a punch-up, guns being fired and 30 of the participants being arrested.

A recent workshop to curb the problem of football violence in Macedonia ended on a disappointing note – with a punch-up, guns being fired and 30 of the participants being arrested.

Everything had gone well at the government-sponsored initiative, timed to coincide with the World Cup. Dozens of fans of the country's six main teams had gathered at a lakeside hotel in Ohrid for a grand finale dinner. Organisers of the event, called Stop Violence, were about to declare it had been a resounding success.

The next thing anyone knew, fists were flying and gunshots rang out. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. "I was amazed. There was glass flying all around," said a waiter at the hotel.

Government officials refused to comment, but apparently the fight broke out over which club had the better players.

In March this year, a policeman was shot and seriously wounded in the capital, Skopje, after a day of fighting between rival fans. But there's more to it than just hooliganism.

The violence in Skopje was about ethnicity as much as football: in a city that is ethnically mixed, the fighting was between rival groups of ethnic Macedonian and Albanian fans. The match was between two local teams: Vardar, which is mainly supported by ethnic Macedonians, and Sloga, which is mainly supported by Albanians.

The lines between football and ethnic hatred have always been blurred in the Balkans. The Serbian warlord Arkan recruited his paramilitaries for killing sprees in Croatia from the fans of Red Star football club. So Macedonia, which just stepped back from civil war last year, has every reason to want to avoid football hooliganism.

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