Drones are causing all kinds of problems, from impatience regarding the lack of FAA regulations, to angry citizens gunning them down, to narrowly averted collisions with airplanes. On Tuesday, a drone prompted a massive brawl and forced the termination of a European Championship soccer match.
Tensions were high enough given the match-up: Serbia versus Albania. To try and recap the entire tumultuous history between these two countries would involve another post entirely, but in a nutshell, Serbia and Albania have fought over the borderland known as Kosovo for a while now. After World War I, Kosovo was absorbed into Albania, but shortly thereafter Kosovo joined the Republic of Serbia, and eventually became autonomous (more or less). But Kosovo Serbs were then angry about not being under Serbian rule, and Kosovo Albanians felt discriminated against. Under Slobodan Milosevic’s rule, Serbia regained control of Kosovo, and the region eventually asserted its autonomy again — but who knows how long that will last. Suffice it to say, there’s serious bad blood between Albania and Serbia, which set the stage for a bitter rivalry on the field.
The match took place in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital. Forty-one minutes in, with the score still 0-0, a drone flew over the field carrying a flag with the “Greater Albania” insignia, which includes Kosovo. An Albanian nationalist was also pictured on the flag, as well as the founder of modern Albania. At the bottom of the flag was the word “Autochthonous,” which implies that Kosovo natives are Albanian.
As you can imagine, the flag-carrying drone didn’t go over well in the Serbian stadium. A Serbian player ripped down the flag, which prompted fighting among the teams. The crowd got involved too, throwing flares and other objects at the Albanian players, and eventually storming onto the field. The referee canceled the rest of the game and directed the players off the field. Some allege that the fans were shouting “kill, kill, kill Albanians,” and the Albanian team says it was attacked by fans in the tunnel to the locker rooms. UEFA has no plans to reschedule the game and has opened disciplinary proceedings against both teams.
The question now is, who was in control of the drone? Serbia likens the drone stunt to a “terrorist attack,” and some Serbian government officials placed the blame on the Albanian prime minister’s brother, Olsi Rama, who was in a VIP suite at the stadium, but Rama denies the allegations and says he is “very disgusted” at the charges. Rama also believes that the claims are part of a “plot” concocted after Serbian officials realized he was at the game.
It’s clear that, regardless of who’s responsible, the conflict between the two countries hasn’t been put entirely to bed. The Albanian prime minister’s communications director affirms that “the Albanian Prime Minister remains firmly committed to fostering this new, historical chapter of peace and cooperation.” The prime minister will be heading to Serbia soon, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. UEFA plans to announce any sanctions against the teams in the next few days, and Serbian police now have the drone in question — although apparently it’s not talking.