The murder of Sarajevo supporter Vedran Puljic in violent clashes before a premier league match between Siroki Brijeg and Sarajevo has badly shaken a country where three different nationalities – Bosnians, Serbs and Croats – live an uneasy life together.
Around 150 Sarajevo supporters had been expected to make the trip to Siroki Brijeg, one of the most important Croat towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Instead around 500 members of the “Horde Zla” (Hordes of evil) gang descended on the town. “Horde Zla”, made up of predominantly Bosnian Muslims, have a reputation for causing trouble – and so it proved in Siroki Brijeg.
Close circuit TV cameras recorded the gang causing damage to cars, shops and cafes. Some even entered private homes and beat up the inhabitants. Police attempted to control the hooligans but struggled to cope because most riot police were in Mostar attending another high-risk game between Zrinjski (a Croatian club) and Velez (a Muslim club).
The fighting spread around the streets of Siroki Brijeg, with baseball bats, rocks and other weapons used, including, unfortunately, firearms. On one TV recording, a Sarajevo fan is seen threatening somebody with a gun. Other people claim that a local man from Siroki Brijeg fired on the Sarajevo fans with a machine gun. It was about now that the unfortunate Vedran Puljic received a bullet in the head and died shortly afterwards. That merely served to provoke the anger of “Horde zla”, who tried to set fire to a petrol station in the city centre.
The situation calmed down when police reinforcements and special forces arrived from Mostar. But by now, one person had been killed, 31 were injured (including 16 police), four of them severely. Two police cars had been set alight, 20 cars had been damaged as well as a number of houses and buildings.
Police arrested 31 people and seven Sarajevo were held in prison, provoking a demonstration in the capital, where a few thousand people took to the streets and blocked traffic.
Initially, it was claimed that 24-year-old Puljic had been shot by police. However, it later emerged the fatal shots had been fired by Oliver Knezovic, a Bosnian war veteran. Knezovic appeared in court but escaped from the court building. The two court policemen, Ivan Baric and Marinko Barbaric, who allowed Knezovic to escape have been suspended, while Interpol has launched a search for Knezovic.
Knezovic’s escape prompted more protest in Sarajevo and forced Mirsad Kebo, the country’s vice president, to negotiate the release of the seven Sarajevo supporters. That in turn prompted supporters in Siroki Brijeg to take to the streets.
The tragedy was almost compunded when Igor, younger brother of murdered fan Vedran Puljic, tried to kill himself when he heard of his brother’s death. He slashed his wrists but doctors were able to save his life.
The great irony, according to some reports, is that Puljic was of Croatian nationality. If he had been muslim, the whole affair could have been even more serious.
Puljic’s death occurred before some of the most important matches in the history of the Bosnia-Herzegovina national side, who clinched a World Cup play-off place with a win over Estonia.
Coach Ciro Blazevic noted: “These are the saddest days in my career. Now my players are discussing who is guilty [of Puljic’s murder] instead of concentrating on the matches.
“I thought that our team united the country and all its supporters…”