Five people were injured in what is believed to be ethnically motivated assault on Wednesday evening after a group of masked thugs stormed a cafe near the Croatian town of Knin where locals were watching a European club football match between Red Star Belgrade and the Swiss club Young Boys.
According to police reports, a group of attackers had stormed into a bar in Uzdolje just south of Knin and started beating up people watching the game.
Five people were taken to Knin hospital for injuries, including the bar owner who was reportedly hit by a bottle, and a 9-year-old child, local news website Feral News reported.
The attack is thought to be ethnically motivated, as many ethnic Serbs in Croatia support Serbian football clubs such as Belgrade-based Red Star and Partizan rather than Croatian football giants such as Dinamo Zagreb or Hajduk Split.
The four clubs had once formed the Big Four of Yugoslav football, vying for trophies and dominating the game before the country's dissolution in the 1990s. During the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, all four became potent nationalist symbols.
Police said that they brought in for questioning several people they believe are related to the incident.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the assault was the result of the Croatian authorities’ years of flirting with Ustashism and the glorification of crimes against Serbs. “When you legalize the (WW 2 fascist) greeting, expell the Cyrillic script and leave the Serbs without electricity in the area where Nikola Tesla was born, it’s natural for wild hooligans to beat up even children for watching Red Star, he told Vecernje Novosti daily.
On Thursday morning, the attack was condemned by Boris Milosevic, the leader of the Serb National Council (SNV) which is the largest association of ethnic Serbs in Croatia.
In a Facebook post, Milosevic immediately called the attack a hate crime, adding that the attackers were motivated purely by the victims' Serb ethnicity. He mentioned other cases of thug violence against Serbs such as the attack on Red Star water polo players in February in Split and the attack on hospitality workers on the island of Brac in June.
"(The attack) on a group of people in a bar, which included women and children, is an act of savagery and cowardice. That was not a case of violence between football hooligans. Any attempt to downplay this ugly event would mean justifying violence and taking the side of the attackers. Will the manufacturing of hatred ever stop?"
Later on Thursday, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also condemned the attack. "I condemn this (incident) in strongest terms possible," Plenkovic told reporters after attending a meeting of ambassadors accredited to Croatia in Zagreb. He added that the attack was committed by individuals, rejecting the notion that violence came as a result of a more general atmosphere in Croatia's society fosters intolerance. "I don't see such an atmosphere. That was a crime carried out by individuals, which they should be punished for. There are always some people who are deviants. God forbid that this sort of thing ever becomes common, that would be cause for concern," Plenkovic added.
Later on Thursday, commenting on the attack, the leader of the Croatian Serbs and a member of Croatia’s national Parliament Milorad Pupovac said that "it was not either by chance or spontaneous."
"These are severe attacks on the members of The Serb community. The attack looks like those by the first fascist squadrons," Pupovac said.
He added the incident showed that Croatia was not a peaceful and safe country.
"As an EU member, Croatia serves as an awful example to non-members and contributes to the destabilisation of the former Yugoslavia’s region."