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Ergys Kaçe’s T-shirt Scandal and Why it Matters

Ergys Kaçe's T-shirt Scandal and Why it Matters

Albanian footballer Ergys Kaçe was kicked off of the Greek team PAOK for an offense that had nothing at all to do with his performance or behavior on the pitch, but instead due to a photo on his Facebook of him wearing a KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army, "UCK") T-shirt and, with both hands, giving the thumbs-up sign with a smile across his young face.
[Image: Ergis-650x365.jpg]Photo from:

For those unaware, the KLA was the primary armed force of independent Kosovar rebels during the Kosovo War in the late 1990s and, due to arms-dealing and drug smuggling operations, has been branded a terrorist and criminal organization in Serbia and elsewhere. Greece (and apparently the owner of PAOK) in general tends to side with Serbia over disputes involving Kosovo, so the fact PAOK would boot him off the team is not all that surprising, although the concept of a player posting a photo of himself wearing a certain T-shirt on his or a friend's personal Facebook being grounds for outright dismissal is a bit jarring.
Moreover, Kaçe reportedly claims he was not aware of the meaning of the T-shirt, according to a report at InSerbia. That claim seems doubtful because even at age twenty, any Albanian would have heard enough about the KLA to have an understanding of the strong emotions surrounding the group. Even if he does not view the KLA as a terrorist group himself, or even have a negative view of them at all, Kaçe has to realize that the KLA is a tinderbox of controversy in the former Yugoslav states.
That said, to fire a player only aged twenty with no warning over such an issue does seem very harsh. In some ways, what has happened here falls into the same category as other instances where a celebrity has said something or otherwise communicated something considered greatly offensive. For example, television chef Paula Deen's use of the "n-word" in the United States, which led to her losing sponsorships and television deals. There are, in polite society, standards of social behavior even today and there is also the expectation that those in the public eye behave a bit better than the rest of us.
Kaçe already took the expected route of denying that he realized the gravitas of what he had done, and had he been a bit more wise to the game of public relations, he would have thrown in that one of his mates back home sent him the shirt and he had posted the photo for him or some such explanation. Kaçe had but one recourse and that was to step to the side of the political issues and brush this off as pure laddism, but it seems that he was not even given the chance to do so., or, he was, behind closed doors, and he turned out to be far less skillful with his words than he is on the pitch with the ball.
My Serbian friends will say that a KLA T-shirt is no less offensive to them than a neo-Nazi one would bein many nations, but even that being so, is the KLA recognized on a social level beyond the Balkans to the same extent as Nazis are? An Albanian,a young Albanian athlete,posting such a photo in the context of his Facebook, apart from any official capacity as a player for PAOK, and doing so in Greece and not in Kosovo or Serbia, is far different from wearing the offending shirt to a match.
This incident, as a news story, is not just a regional matter, nor is it simply a matter of either censorship or of an athlete doing something stupid when he ought well have known better. It is a story of the way we live today in this world of instant social media; it is a moment captured in a photograph that, had that photo been taken in 1987, would have probably not made it past his mates. It is a story of how very of-the-instant Facebook and all social media are, and how they serve as our proxies in the digi-verse. Would the photo have even been taken in 1987? Who is the photo for, really? Albanian or Kosovar fans? Friends? Family? Who? What is the photo really trying to communicate? That Kaçe supports the KLA or that he has some misguided nostalgia or empathy for Kosovar Albanians? He was a young boy during the war, so is this so different from the American or British kid who wears a Che Guevara tee without knowing hardly a thing about the man himself or what he was all about?
My personal feeling is that someone at PAOK should have had a stern talk with Kaçe and explained why the shirt was so offensive, explained how as a footballer he has an unwritten obligation to be a good role model and not cause strife that could hurt his club or detract from his on-pitch performance. He needs to realize the gravity of his actions, simple actions as they may to him appear to be on first glance, but he should have remained on the team. He is a footballer right out of his teens, not a minister of state. The reaction to the photo also merits consideration: Apparently it caused a fair amount of outrage in Greece and all bets are high that it did the same or worse in Serbia. Still, is it worth losing an otherwise well-deserved spot on the team over?
Kaçe,and all those his age in the entire Balkans it seems, would do well to study the Kosovo conflict and understand its extended meanings: This is not a war you hear of from your grandfather or read about in a history book, but one that happened in your lifetime even if you were too young to recall much of it. While PAOK seems to have responded by a rather harsh treatment of Kaçe's offense, that does not mitigate the fact that emotions run very high on this topic. People of my own generation are just barely old enough to recall the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the USSR. We were the last generation to know the Cold War as an actual condition and not a page of history. We lived it, though less so than our parents did. The kids who are Kaçe's age did not live through the Cold War, they do not perhaps really know who Margaret Thatcher was or much else about that period of history beyond that Madonna and Michael Jackson were popular and we watched something called MTV which showed music videos back then. However, those who grew up in the former Yugoslav nations know about conflict. War, conflict, is in a sense more acute for these kids than it was for the Cold War generations, at least beyond Vietnam for Americans, beyond the troubles in Northern Ireland for those in the UK. There is still nonetheless, I feel, for their generation and my own, a sense that war is over, though war, in general, clearly is not over. We have seen more armed conflict the entire world over than any generation has since World War II, yet we act as if we live in one happy family.
Perhaps that is why 9/11 stung America so much, because we cannot wrap our heads around that kind of evil. Yet the history of Kosovo, very recent history, is complex and violent, with error on all sides. To stir that pot even now is going to greatly offend: to even raise the topic in the wrong way could even offend. And it seems, some people including PAOK's owner were quite offended in this case.
I doubt Kaçe will be without a club or a job for long; he's an impressive talent, perhaps not up to where Alen Halilović, Christian Eriksen or Viktor Fischer are in acclaim or fame, but he is one to watch all the same, and has a strong fan base. Some of his Albanian and Kosovar fans will without a doubt see this whole ordeal as even more reason to admire him, but the lesson to learn is that we are all in this together, football is the world's game, and world is indeed watching.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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