Of Eagles and Chamois
So, will they? Will they form the eagle symbol tonight? There are of course thousands of more pressing and important issues in the world, but right now I’m in Switzerland and its national football (soccer) team is celebrating some remarkable success in the World Cup competition accompanied by a small ausländ-ish earthquake for the alpine chocolate-loving mind. In the previous ominous game against Serbia, the Kosovo-rooted Swiss goal scorers Xhaka and Shaqiri had formed an eagle with their hands, which symbolizes the Albanian double-headed eagle. Shaqiri chose a more dramatic striptease performance before putting his sweaty palms on his naked heart. As one interpretation goes, those were beautiful, emotional moments. The two players scored winning points for Switzerland, a country with no distinctive football past, but they also acknowledged their roots and cheered the thousands, if not millions, of ethnic Albanians whose eyes were glued on the TV screen like mine. Just your regular Cinderella story.
The Swiss media disagreed. The game commentator on SRF2 was discreetly incredulous after Xhaka’s eagle, but when Shaqiri exploded on the field, he started an agitated monologue about the necessity of the display (They are Swiss!) and the implied provocation of the Serbian fans. His voice went from pure joy to the worried tone of a father who has just heard that his sons have broken a few rules. You probably are aware that the law-abiding citizens of Switzerland are quite averse to deviations. ‘Reglement’ is a very popular word in the German-speaking part. What you also probably know is that half of the Swiss football team is composed of ethnic Albanians. Xhaka and Shaqiri originate from Kosovo, a tiny nation, which is still licking its war wounds and is still not recognized by everybody as an independent republic. Xhaka was born in Switzerland but his personal history is marked by the imprisonment of his father before his birth. Thus, everybody in the Eidgenossenschaft knew a priori that Serbia vs. Switzerland would be an emotionally charged game. The media were buzzing with whatsgonnahappens. The Balkans and their Diasporas as well as a few nerds and history majors around the world were of course aware of the historical connotations of the encounter.
Was the eagle necessary? No. Was it a crime? No. They did not show anyone their middle finger, nor did they say anything against the Serbs. Meanwhile some of the Serbian fans had been showing posters of Serbian war criminals and chanting anti-Albanian slurs. There are groups belonging to both sides who are blind to tolerance and acceptance, but I don’t think that the players ignited such dark thoughts. Anyone who is a migrant will understand and empathize with those players’ emotions. Migrants often feel like they have to perform not only for their personal growth but also for their country of origin and the people they left behind. Famous migrants usually feel a much stronger need to identify with both their home countries and accentuate this duality publicly. The Swiss team captain Lichtsteiner understood this emotional load and so did many Swiss fans who commented online. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for example, had posted some dry and boring articles about the insensitivity of the team, which read like the letter of the head teacher to a primary school director, but the comments fortunately showed a totally different spirit and understanding of the situation.
Signs and symbols are never innocent and there are always groups that assign other meanings to them, but in this case it did not seem disrespectful to the opponent team, even if it was not entirely objective and apolitical. My opinion doesn’t matter much to FIFA, which is making the guys pay for their deeds. Everyone here was nervous about a possible suspension of the players in the coming games, but well, FIFA’s headquarters are in Zurich, so they probably didn’t dare. It’s also a bit highbrowish and shows the double standard of some Swiss critics who in the same breath insinuate that the footballers are pure Swiss souls and should not pretend otherwise, while, when you mention the outskirts of Zurich, they say they’re full of foreigners. Those ‘foreigners’ are Swiss citizens often originating from the Balkans. So, the non-famous family members are supposed to be Ausländer while the famous ones seem to have miraculously passed the purification tunnel. For some people, the concept of being able to unite more than one identity and cultural background in your heart and mind is still outlandish, although it’s quite the standard nowadays and numerous football players are very good examples of these cultural mixes. The outskirts of Zurich were pure fire and joy after the game. Let’s hope for another fun evening today. In the end, we’re all citizens of the world.
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