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Can you be a Colts fan in Croatia?

Colts_Logo.jpgIndianapolis Colts are the most famous and successful professional sports team in Indiana (sorry Pacers). It's been exciting living in Indiana for the past few years, especially around the time of NFL playoffs. Unfortunately, due to Payton Manning's injury this past season has been dismal for poor Colts, and sooner it is forgotten the better.

As anyone who has any knowledge of NFL knows, Colts' logo is an inverted horseshoe - a very simple and iconic image that effectively captures the team's identity. In Indiana you can see this logo everywhere: on bumper stickers, on hats and jackets, and even as an oversize lawn ornament. It has become an inescapable part of the cultural landscape of the Hoosier state. It's so ubiquitous that most people probably don't even notice it any more. And unless you are a die-hard fan of a different NFL team, it's unlikely that you'll ever take an umbrage to seeing this symbol.

In Croatia the situation is quite different to say the least. Europeans in general don't know almost anything about the American Football, and I can't really blame them - unlike basketball, football is the sport that has not been successfully exported overseas. Croatia also happens to have very strict laws about the display of fascist signs and insignia. Among these is the stylized letter "U" that is associated with the infamous WWII Ustashe regime. (Why there are no such laws that deal with the even more infamous communist regime is another story.) This letter "U" happens to have a passing resemblance to the Colts logo, which is why it's probably illegal to show up somewhere in Croatia wearing that sign, as has been confirmed by various people that I had asked about this. Which is crazy.

I am no sympathizer with any murderous regime or ideology, but when one letter of the alphabet become permanently tainted and a priori legally suspect, then you know that something has gone terribly wrong. This is the problem with all "hate speech" laws. All of them invariably elevate the right to not be offended (usually of certain predetermined interest groups) over the right to free speech. Such laws become the tool for various ideological groups to claim the higher moral ground and push their own agendas. They are an affront to anyone who values freedom of expression. In a truly free society you should not have to worry if you decide to put a horseshoe on your hat.

This coming Sunday Croatians are voting on the EU accession referendum. Like most such votes thus far in other countries, the vote is largely inconsequential. All major political parties are in favor of us joining the EU, and if by some chance the vote fails then it will be repeated six months later, and six months later, and so on until the people finally accept the inevitable. I am mildly in favor of accession, although many people I know strongly oppose it. The opposition is largely concentrated around the economic issues and issues pertaining to national sovereignty. For me, though, one of the main concerns is the issue of the various freedoms, including the freedom of speech. I am afraid that the "hate speech" legislation in Europe has already gone too far, and I only worry that it may become even more intrusive. If there are attempts to create a uniform code of law about this dubious legal category across the entire continent of Europe, then all true-blue Colts fans should really be worried. They may want to go on a European vacation (but not to Croatia!) while they still can.


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