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Croatia in World Cup: The story of its origin

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Croatia FIFA Team

Croatia’s prominence in the football World Cup freshened memories of its origin in the war which expanded after German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher recognised Croatian and Slovenian independence, ahead of other European Union countries which were palpitating because German reunification in 1989 had already added to their anxieties.

As the Persian expression goes, “Ek na shud, do shud.” Before one source of anxiety could subside, another surfaced. Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, headquartered in Zagreb’s magnificent Cathedral, marched off to the Vatican to seek the Pope’s and Italy’s support. This was promptly given. Some EU member-countries began to have nightmares of the “Axis” being revived.

I was in the Cardinal’s office in the Cathedral which dominates Zagreb square when the door of the ante room flung open and Father Juraj Jezerinac of the Topusko Parish walked in. I had been introduced to him at the earliest stages of the conflict in one of the livelier cafes in Zagreb square. He was full of stories. One night his orthodox Serb counterpart from the neighbouring church compound came to him, looking very conspiratorial.

He had received word from the Orthodox headquarters in Belgrade that Orthodox Priests must lead all Serb populations out of Western Croatia in the Topusko area because the Serb army was preparing to attack the area and annex it as part of Greater Serbia. This was a scoop.

Was further proof required to confirm coordination between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches? They would put aside their intra-church conflicts and join hands against the Bosnian Muslims. The cruel irony was that Sarajevo, the centre of art, music, theatre, literature in former Yugoslavia, was primarily a Bosnian Muslim city. Like Lucknow, Sarajevo went down, nursing art and culture, unable to cope with the assault of philistinism.

At the outset when, some EU members suspected German and Italian encroachments, Britain and France came covertly on the side of Serbia which had been with them during World War II. Gen. Michael Rose, leading the UN Peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, became a regular feature on global TV giving briefs on the Bosnian dead on a daily basis.

Nothing could have exceeded Serbian brutality than the four-year-long siege of Sarajevo. Graphic accounts of this siege, beamed mornings, afternoons, evenings to global audiences on a daily basis, decisively altered the political landscape in Turkey, a development of which the West remained totally oblivious.

Sarajevo derives from Caravan Sarai, pointing to the city’s Ottoman past. The effect of the Bosnian tragedy on the Turkish electorate brought to power Necmettin Erbakan of the Refah party, akin to the Muslim Brotherhood. This was anathema to the upholders of Turkey’s secular Kemalist constitution. The Erbakan government was dismissed.

That is when two of Erbakan’s protégés, Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, reinvented themselves as the (AKP) justice and Development Party. The rest is recent history.

The siege of Sarajevo was graphically chronicled by a daily newspaper, Oslobodenje, which won global awards for its bravery. The paper’s office itself was an astounding sight. The offices and the press were in a huge basement, beneath the debris of a multistoreyed building brought down during the war. The editor, Kemal Kurspahic, whom I had met at the last Non-Aligned Summit attended by Rajiv Gandhi in Belgrade, looked none the worse for his travails. But he had, nevertheless, developed a mark on his forehead. This happens when the forehead hits the ground for “namaz” (Muslim prayers) five times a day over months and years.

“Have you become a devout Muslim?” I asked.

“There is no alternative but God when the world abandons you.” There was conviction in his voice.

“Who helped you publish the paper in these circumstances?”

His reply stunned me. “George Soros.”

Throughout the four-year conflict Europe maintained a hands-off policy to avoid internal divisions within EU. Observers like Salman Rushdie described European restraint as hypocritical.

“You reverse the religious affiliations of the protagonists on the ground and not just NATO but even European forces would have entered the theatre immediately to end the bloodbath.” They refrained from intervention because Muslims were the victims.

Those of us involved in covering the conflict knew that Rushdie, and others like him, were speaking the truth. But the mainstream narrative was fudged even on such crimes as the Srebrenica massacres in which 8,000 young Bosnian men were separated from their families and shot dead by Serb militias. Why did the Dutch peacekeeping forces move away from the site of the massacre?

The 78-day US bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war was designed to oust the Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Russians had been outmaneuvered by the Western alliance in a theatre Moscow considered its pan Slavic sphere of influence. Therefore when the responsibility of various part of Kosovo was being distributed between countries of Europe, Russian armoured carriers barged into the area around Pristine airport uninvited. They are still in occupation of that airport. Britain, Germany, France control other segments of Kosovo, a tiny country dotted with exquisite monasteries. The great monastery of Decan in the care of the Italians where priests produce the world’s finest wines and schnapps.

Just as the sun sets, a young priest runs around the building carrying on his shoulder a giant rattle called the tallantone, alerting the inmates just in case the “Turk invader” has eyes on the “House of God”. This hostile mythology is sustained in many countries on the periphery of what was once the Ottoman Empire.

Considering that this World Cup has been a celebration of multiculturalism, how do I explain my being distracted into Balkan tribalism? How swiftly a nation of 4.5 million has made its mark, wrenching itself away from a recent and messy past. Supposing Sefik Ibrahimovic had not migrated from Bosnia to Sweden in 1977 where the great soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was born? Well, Zlatan could have claimed a slot in the Croatian team with considerable justification. His mother, Jurka Gravic, is after all a Croat. Remember, there was multiculturism in the Balkans too before sectarian tribalism was let loose.

IANS

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Arjuna Award is recognition of my hard work: Paddler Manika Batra

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Manika Batra during a programme

Elated after being among those selected for this year’s prestigious Arjuna Award, star paddler Manika Batra on Thursday said it was a recognition to her hard work over the years.

The 23-year-old Manika recently scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman paddler to win an Asian Games medal when she paired up with veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal to bag the bronze in the mixed doubles competition.

“It’s a real pleasure to be selected for this year’s Arjuna Award. I am excited to receive the award,” Manika told IANS after being signed as the latest face of Herbalife Nutrition.

“This is a recognition of my hard work, and the medals which I won in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. This is the time to be happy and excited,” she added.

Manika has also proved that her Commonwealth Games (CWG) success, where she emerged as the country’s top performer with four medals — a gold each in women’s singles and women’s team event, silver in women’s doubles, and a bronze in mixed doubles — was not a fluke and clearly she is the next big thing in table tennis.

Despite grabbing eyeballs with her brilliant performances this season, Manika has an unfulfilled dream which she is striving hard to achieve.

“From here on, the main target is to improve on my world ranking and find myself in the top-30 or top-20. With a better world ranking, I will have better chances at the Tokyo Olympics.

“The dream is to be among the top-10 in the world. I have the National Ranking zonals and then the Pro Tours where the focus will be mainly on improving my world ranking,” said Manika, who is currently ranked World No.56.

When prodded on the level of competition in the CWG and the Asiad, and how eventually she managed to break the shackles at Jakarta, Manika explained: “The level of competition in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games is totally different.”

“In the CWG, the battle is mainly against the Singapore paddlers whereas in Asiad, all the table tennis powerhouses compete, which makes it really tough,” she added.

Rating her Asian Games medal as the “greatest achievement” till date, Manika was however candid enough to admit that she wasn’t at her fittest self during the Asian Games.

“Even during the Asian Games, I felt I lack on the fitness standards of the Chinese and other Asian paddlers. I have to work more on my reflexes and movements.

“I am currently focussing on my agility and fitness with my fitness coach Subodh More with an eye to match to the standards of the Chinese,” she added.

On being quizzed if her height is the secret of her being touted as the next big thing in the table tennis world, the 5′ 11” paddler said it works both ways for her.

“My height works both ways…it is advantageous as the taller players have a better reach and require less movement but at the same time there is a negative which is we are more prone to back and knee injuries. I suffered from back pain recently but have worked on that and now I’m back to full fitness,” she recounted.

(Tridib Baparnash can be contacted at [email protected])

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Asia Cup: Afghanistan thrash Bangladesh by 136 runs

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Afghanistan Cricket Team

Abu Dhabi, Sep 21 : A disciplined all-round effort saw Afghanistan thrashing Bangladesh by 136 runs in their last group match of the Asia Cup here on Thursday.

Chasing 256, Bangladesh were bundled out for 119.

Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan picked up two wickets each to hand Afghanistan a comfortable victory.

Chasing a decent target, Bangladesh never looked in the contention as they lost their wickets at regular intervals.

Shakib Al Hasan (32), Mahmudullah (27) and Mosaddek Hossain (26 not out) mainly contributed to the Bangladeshi score. No other batsman clicked and went back to the pavilion one after another, posting single digit individual scores.

Mahmudullah and Mosaddek Hossain scored towards the end but the lack of support denied the run chase.

Earlier, Afghanistan rode on some brilliant batting by Rashid Khan (57 not out), Gulbadin Naib (42 not out) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (58) to post a decent score.

Besides the trio, opener Mohammad Shahzad (37) also played handsomely.

For Bangladesh, Shakib Al Hasan took four wickets while Abu Hider Rony scalped two wickets.

Brief scores: Afghanistan 255/7, (Hashmatullah Shahidi 58, Rashid Khan 57 not out; Shakib Al Hasan 4/42) against Bangladesh 119/10 (Shakib Al Hasan 32; Rashid Khan 2/13)

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Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur ruled out of Asia Cup

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Mumbai, Sep 20: Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur have been ruled out of the ongoing Asia Cup 2018 owing to injuries, the BCCI announced on Thursday.

BCCI’s senior selection committee has now replaced the trio by Deepak Chahar, Ravindra Jadeja and Siddharth Kaul, who will be joining the team in Dubai on Thursday.

All-rounder Hardik Pandya had suffered an acute lower back spasm during the game against Pakistan on Wednesday and is undergoing treatment and assessment by the BCCI medical team.

Meanwhile, left-arm spinner Axar Patel injured his left index finger while fielding against Pakistan. He was sent for scans and the results showed that he had a tendon tear.

On the other hand, right-arm pacer Shardul Thakur had experienced right hip and groin soreness after the match against Hong Kong.

The Rohit Sharma-led Indian side, who had thrashed arch-rivals Pakistan by eight wickets on Wednesday, will take on Bangladesh in their first Super four game on Friday.

IANS

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