The Croatian international defender Josip “Joe” Simunic is not losing hope in returning to action for the national team in time to take part in the forthcoming World Cup.
The Australian-born player was hit with a ten match ban by FIFA following his allegedly pro-Nazi outburst last November after Croatia’s 2-0 win over Iceland in a World Cup qualifier. Simunic was punished for leading the crowd at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb in a chant with Nazi connotations.
After the match that secured Croatia’s place at the World Cup, the supremely popular footballer took a microphone from an announcer and shouted “za dom” (for the homeland), to which thousands of fans responded “spremni” (ready).
The ban, if not overturned on appeal, will most likely put an end to a distinguished international career of the 36-year old after 105 caps for the Vatreni (Fiery Ones), as the Croatian national team is known.
The salute “for the homeland ready” was used by the Agen Domino99 infamous Ustashe (Insurgents), the extreme right wing organization which ruled Croatia from 1941 until the end of the Second World War in May of 1945.
The full form of the salute during World War 2, in which Croatia was a minor member of the Axis Powers, read “for the Leader and the homeland ready”, the Leader (equivalent to the German “Fuhrer”) being the Croatian pro-Nazi dictator Ante Pavelic.
Since the Ustashe committed countless well-documented atrocities against the Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and even many left-leaning Croats, any use of symbols reminiscent of their era is very much frowned-upon or outright banned in Croatia, depending on the social context.
The association between the salute pronounced by Simunic and the Ustashe regime was FIFA’s rationale for imposing the harsh ban on the player.