Do drastic punishments deter hooliganism?
A Serbian soccer fan, tried for attempted murder after assaulting a plain-clothes police officer with a burning flare during a first division game last December, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The verdict has triggered a nationwide debate among the country’s soccer fans over whether Uros Misic, a 20-year old Red Star Belgrade supporter, has been punished too severely or got exactly what he deserved.
Misic’s 20 or so companions in the courtroom threw verbal assaults at the judicial panel and had to be restrained by security while five of them were detained for questioning as the authorities showed a new level of determination to crack down on what the presiding judge called an epidemic.
Some believe the landmark case may be a turning point in Serbia’s desperate fight against soccer violence. Do draconian punishments deter hooligans from their senseless acts or could they make the problem even worse?
Misic’s Red Star comrades displayed banners of support for him in a league match the day after he was sentenced and chanted his name for the full 90 minutes.
Serbia has been plagued by soccer-related violence in the past 15 years as a series of bloody conflicts tore the former Yugoslavia apart and resulted in what many analysts saw as a decay in moral and social values.
The first backlash was spiralling madness in stadiums, which the authorities appeared powerless to stop even after several fatalities where the culprits by and large got away unpunished.
A nation crippled by years of isolation and economic mismanagement seemed indifferent until the horrific scenes at Red Star’s ground, when Misic inflicted multiple burns on the policeman’s body before trying to force the flare down his throat.
At the trial, he based his defence on the assumption the victim was a rival fan. In the end, that may have made matters worse for Misic and prompted the judge to throw the book at him.
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PHOTO: An injured plain clothes policeman (R) tries to arrest a man during an incident between Red Star Belgrade fans and police in Belgrade Dec. 2, 2007. A policeman was seriously injured when Red Star fans clashed with police during the Serbian first division soccer match against Red Star-Hajduk. REUTERS/Stringer