16 December 2009 ~ It's been almost six years since Serbia passed a law aimed at preventing violence at sports venues. Yet hooliganism still remains one of the biggest problems in Serbian football. During the Belgrade derby two weeks ago Partizan ultras ripped out seats, hurled smoke bombs and flares, and started fires inside the stadium. The troublemakers don't fear the police, public prosecutors or judges because they see how inefficient the courts are when processing cases. A recent documentary on the TV channel B92 claimed that a huge number of arrests ended either with acquittals or with cases left uncompleted. Intimidation of witnesses and judges is said to be widespread.

In the past ten years almost a dozen fans have died, most being either stabbed or shot in fights between rival groups. Three months ago, in Belgrade city centre in broad daylight, a group of Toulouse fans due to attend a Europa League match were attacked by a larger group of Partizan supporters armed with iron bars and baseball bats. One of the Frenchmen, Brice Taton, suffered severe head and chest injuries and died two weeks later.

Eleven of Taton's attackers were arrested. Shortly afterwards the Serbian government adopted changes in the law governing sport-related violence. Now the fines are harsher, with between 30 and 60 days in jail for invading the pitch, smuggling flares into the stadium, throwing objects from the stands or covering your face with a scarf. At the same time the state's public prosecutor, Slobodan Radovanovic, proposed a ban on 14 extremist factions who operate with the fans groups of three Belgrade clubs Red Star, Partizan and Rad. "They have got nothing in common with sport. They have more in common with crime," Radovanovic said.

Some court cases have been finished. Last week Rad fan Bojan Horvatin was sentenced to 30 years in jail for murder. In summer 2005 he stabbed a fan of rival team Vozdovac to death on a train on the outskirts of Belgrade. Last year Red Star supporter Uros Misic was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempted murder. In late 2007, at half time in a league game, he beat up a plain clothes policeman who only saved himself by firing warning shots in the air. One would hope that such verdicts and the new, harsher law would bring about positive results. But this won't happen while fans in Belgrade are able to behave as if the law did not exist. Djordje Nikolic

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