The black eagle

The Guardian reports:

Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri after they celebrated their goals during a 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad by performing an Albanian nationalist symbol.

Xhaka and Shaqiri, who are of Albanian-Kosovan heritage but were raised in Switzerland, put their hands together to form what looked like a double-headed eagle similar to the one on the Albanian flag…

Shaqiri, who was born in Kosovo, played with the Kosovan flag stitched to one boot and the Swiss flag stitched on the other.

The reader is left to ponder if the two players’ integration into Swiss society has been a perfect success. While Xhaka’s equalizer against Serbia was excellent, his ecstatic gesturing after scoring lent support to the skeptical theory that he remains, in essence, a Kosovar with a Swiss passport.

More generally, the Swiss citizens “without an immigration background” (neither born abroad nor born in Switzerland of parents born abroad) are a minority on the national team. Of the 23 members of Switzerland’s squad at the 2018 World Cup, eight (35%) are foreign-born and seven (30%) are children of immigrants. Only eight players (35%) qualify, unless I’m getting their backgrounds wrong, as citizens “without an immigration background.”

By was of comparison with countrywide statistics, Swiss citizens “with an immigration background” (first- and second-generation immigrants) make up 17% of the citizens aged 15 and older residing in the country. The foreign-born only make up 10% of the Swiss citizens.

In addition, seven players of the 23-strong squad (30%) come from ethnic groups which clashed with Serbs and Slavic Macedonians in the 1991-2001 Balkan wars and conflicts. All of the seven are midfielders or strikers: in this group, they are in the majority, 7/12 or 58%. In addition, Switzerland’s manager is a Bosnian Croat.

Based on these numbers, it’s understandable that some fans on both sides saw Switzerland vs. Serbia as a coalition of Albanians (mostly Kosovars), Croats and Bosniaks vs. the Serbs. On the one hand, a replay of the 1990s on the football field is an ugly, tasteless business. On the other, as long as it stays on the field, it’s obviously preferable to real-life conflict and might even help let off steam and neuter some evil spirits.

The meaning of Xhaka’s and Shaqiri’s gestures is obvious from the shape of the eagle on the Albanian flag. Is this double-headed creature a relative of the Russian imperial eagle? Yes, they may have a common Byzantine ancestor.

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