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02 Jan 18

Serbian Fan Group Rediscovers Romance of Sport

 

Sport in Serbia is widely associated with violent behaviour, but one fan group of the popular club FK Partizan is taking a very different approach based on romanticism and poetry.

Giorgio Fruscione BIRN Belgrade

The verse by the English rock band The Smiths “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die,” is not only the famous refrain of the song “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, but much more: it is an ode of eternal love.

Or, at least, this is the interpretation given by the members of the Partizan fan group Grobarski Trash Romantizam.

Grobarski Trash Romantizam, GTR, is a group of supporters of the Partizan sport club from Belgrade.

It recalls the romantic and “trash” way that some Grobari – the name of Partizan fans, [literally “gravediggers”] support their club.

Ivan Lovric and Ivan Sarajcic, both from New Belgrade, founded the group almost by chance in 2012, when Lovric posted on Facebook profile a quote from the English radical poet Lord Byron: “She walks in beauty, like the night”, to which he added: “and I live for Partizan and fight”.

The same circumstances surrounding its creation describe the group’s nature and philosophy, which is to put romanticism and poetry at the service of Partizan.

As Lovric reported in the monograph of the group, “Sloboda ili Nista” [“Freedom or Nothing”], published in 2016, this romantic approach toward Partizan was the consequence of the heartbreak he suffered after he broke up with a girl, who he defines as Grobarski Trash Romantizam’s muse.

This romantic approach is what makes the main difference between GTR and most other Serbian football supporters, who the public at large connect mainly with violence, hooliganism and extreme nationalism.

Promoting culture through fandom

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“We had the idea of opening a Facebook page to promote our romantic approach towards Partizan. While Sarajic deals with the design and visual aspects, I am the content writer,” Lovric explains to BIRN.

Soon after its creation, the page grew in popularity among Partizan supporters and, with the help of a third person, they took a step forward: the printing of a fanzine.

First printed in 2012, so far 13 numbers “Grobarski Trash Romantizam – Periodical of Art and Philosophy” have been published.

The fanzine increased both the enthusiasm and popularity of the group, so that it soon caught the attention of some Serbian web-portals and weekly, such as B92 and NIN, which began highlighting “The Good Example of Fans' Creativity”, as the title of an article by B92 read.

“As a group of supporters, one of our most significant and satisfying successes was to see young people reading Byron's poetry or the novels by Edgar Allan Poe and George Orwell, as a result of the connection we made between literature and Partizan,” recalls Sarajcic, a former teacher who is proud that love for Partizan has a cultural purpose to it.

In fact, apart from the monograph and the 13 editions of the fanzine, GTR has realized several other works and events aimed at promoting their romantic approach to Partizan through culture.

Since 2012, GTR has held four exhibitions in art galleries in Belgrade dedicated to the most significant anniversaries of the club. Marking the occasion of its 70th birthday, for example, a theatre show, “Kadinjaca”, by Jana Maricic, was dedicated to the former basketball coach Dusko Vujosevic. There has even been a fashion show.

However, the most visible artistic work by GTR is surely the series of murals painted in the centre of Belgrade, mainly on the walls of the city’s Dorcol district – one of the grobaris’ strongholds in the Serbian capital – portraying famous personalities connected to Partizan’s history, either because they are known supporters of the black-and-white team, or because GTR sees them as relating to the group’s values.

Besides legendary former players like Milos Milutinovic, Stjepan Bobek or Petar Borota, the murals are dedicated also to several popular celebrities, such as Zoran Kostic “Cane”, front man of local rock band Partibrejkers, or the actor, Srdjan “Zika” Todorovic.

What also draws tourists’ attention are the paintings depicting international personalities, like the English writer George Orwell, the leader of “The Clash” Joe Strummer and even the reggae musician Eddy Grant – who openly admits to supporting Partizan.

As Lovric explains, decisions about who to depict take into consideration what contribution that person gave to Partizan.

It is worth mentioning also that the GTR made the murals together with Grupa JNA, a Belgrade-based punk rock band whose entire musical output is completely devoted to Partizan.

“The reason why we agreed to paint those international singers, even though they are not Partizan fans, like Joe Strummer and Steven Morrisey, is a sign of respect by Partizan supporters for their work,” explains Marko Trmcic “Krsma”, the front man of Grupa JNA.

GTR and Grupa JNA share the same values and love for Partizan and act almost like twin organizations, the one complementing the other, as is proved by the fact that Lovric himself wrote about half of the band’s songs.

On the other side, Grupa JNA contributes with its punk music to the “trash” component of the GTR philosophy.

“We are the only case in the world of a punk band that is completely devoted only to a sports club; all of ours 55 songs, 30 gigs and three albums are dedicated to Partizan,” Krsma says, with pride.

Even if Grupa JNA is not Partizan’s official band, there have been several collaborations between them, as in 2015, when they played in a major concert organized for the 70th birthday of the club, or in October 2017, when they presented their latest album, “Grmi Hram” [“The Temple Thunders”], right before the season opening game of the women’s basketball team.

Name recalls slice of Yugoslav history

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“The same name ‘Partizan’ is a piece of history and something that we have to protect. This word recalls the concept of ‘partiality’, and ‘one-sidedness’, as we live our lives through black-and-white colours,” Sarajcic told BIRN.

The Partizan multi-sport club was founded in Belgrade just after World War II ended, on 4 October 1945 as “Sport Society of the Central House of the Yugoslav Army”.

Today, the umbrella organization comprises 26 clubs in 26 different sports that still keeps the registered name Jugoslovensko Sportsko Drustvo [Yugoslav Sport Society]. This denomination recalls the fact that Partizan was originally meant as the club of the Yugoslav Army.

And, just like the army during the Yugoslav era, Partizan has always reflected the multinational composition of the former Yugoslavia, with many players coming from other republics and provinces.

Among them was the above-mentioned Stjepan Bobek, a Croat from Zagreb who in 1995 was elected best Partizan football player of all time, by virtue of the 403 goals he scored in 13 seasons spent wearing the black-and-white jersey. After his death in 2010, he was interred in the Alley of Distinguished Citizens in Belgrade's New Cemetery.

“What distinguishes Partizan from its rivals is our openness to other nationalities, and this openness is our biggest advantage. I am a patriot, because I love my country, but I believe that being open to others is a patriotic thing.

“And I am very proud that in the past Albanians and Croats came to play for Partizan, because they enriched our history,” affirms Lovric, adding: “If not, our name would not be ‘Partizan’, but rather ‘fascist’”.

This openness that Lovric talks about could be seen as a reflection of the original attitude that brought about the foundation of the club, whose constitutive act from 1945 describes Partizan as a “contribution to the development and strengthening of brotherhood and unity of our peoples”.

For Serbia, whose sporting news often reaches the public mainly with images of the nationalistic and vandalistic acts of some supporters, Grobarski Trash Romantizam offers an alternative model of fair play and artistic support, from which many supporters from other European countries can learn.

Promoting the diffusion of culture through Partizan, members of the group have a simple, clear message: “Partizan is much more than sport. It is an aesthetic identification. It is like sunshine: beautiful and eternal.”