This Friday night’s Nations League match between Bosnia and Montenegro will be about much more than just football (soccer). Mocking a central Bosnian peculiarity, Montenegrin fans provoked and taunted not only Bosnian fans but Bosnians in general. Many Bosnian fans hope this will not be unanswered this time.
„Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that“.
This quote has been attributed to several people, most of all to the legendary Liverpool coach Bill Shankly.
False as though the quote may be, it kind of sets the tone for the match between the national teams of Bosnia and Montenegro on Friday night in the Bosnian town of Zenica.
And, one might add: The thing much more serious than a matter of life and death this Nations League match is about is … burek.
Burek is the staple diet in much of the Balkans and in Turkey, where it originally comes from.
Unlike everywhere else, in Bosnia burek is the pie with meat and with meat only. Everything else is called pita, and Bosnians are pretty sensitive about that.
Picking up on this peculiarity, Montenegrin fans taunted Bosnian fans and Bosnia’s Dragons with the chant „Burek sa sirom“ – „Burek with cheese“ during the last match between their national teams in Podgorica.
This is pretty insulting in a way.
From a Bosnian point of view, there is only one answer to that.
Like the Essence of Bosnianness
Note that people from all three main nationalities in Bosnia contributed to this video: Bosnjaks, Serbs and Croats.
Indeed, that burek is with meat and with meat only is one of the very few things that unites Bosnians across religions and perceived ethnic or national divides.
Even in Neum have I not seen burek with anything other than meat. Everything else is called pita.
Neum is a majority Croat town on the small Bosnian coastline. Croats there are very Croat, to say the least, and many of them do not let you forget that you are in Croat territory for a second.
The same goes for Višegrad, a now Serb majority town near the Bosnian-Serbian border.
Very Serb as many Serbs there claim to be, I haven’t seen anything like burek with cheese there.
They too live by the unofficial Bosnian Creed: „Burek je sa mesom“.
What one may look at as a trivial Bosnian peculiarity in this sense becomes almost the essence of Bosnianness.
It is the one thing that unites Bosnians and distinguishes them from their neighbors.
In that light, the Montenegrin chant „Burek sa sirom“ is highly provocative.
Looking at It from a Wider Perspective
It is of course much better and caring than what many Serbian – and lately even Croatian – fans chant when their team plays a Bosnian team.
And certainly, one would rather have national conflicts play out over the right definition of burek than over why it was justified that members of one group slaughtered members of the other group as is usually the case in the region.
And yes, chants and taunts during football matches aren’t generally known to be the embodiment of political correctness.
They are meant to be provocative.
This one certainly is, even though everyone – or almost everyone – also appreciates the ironic angle. Just look at the people in the video.
Some things can not be left unanswered.
Particularly not when in all seriousness of the matter the answer makes everyone smile in the end.
In that sense, this conflict is certainly progress.
One should also consider that the Bosnian definition of burek isn’t just a silly thing Bosnians came up with and should be made fun of – nonwithstanding the fact that most Bosnians see it as both defining and in an ironic way at the same time.
Most cultures have peculiarities like that.
Take Austrian goulash.
It’s Hungarian goulash without unnecessary ingredients and a bit thicker. Generally, it is a variety of what Hungarians call Pörkölt.
(Presumably, Austrians found it a bit difficult to pronounce and stuck with a slighty Germanized version of the word gulyas.)
Hungarians tend to get a bit touchy about that subject.
(As a whole, Hungarians tend to get touchy about quite a few things. This, of course, does not apply to each and every Hungarian.)
It’s a good thing that goulash isn’t particularly well suited for football fan chants.
Unlike burek. Which this Friday night will be a matter more serious than life and death – and not, at the same time.
Special thanks to Majda Turkić, Igor Smiljanić, the crowd from Galerija Boris Smoje in Sarajevo and the people from the magazine Punkura* for making this video possible.