The Slovenia Times

Sweating for Football



This summer of 2010 will be remembered for more than being one of the hottest in the modern history. It will also be remembered as the year Slovenians achieved their greatest success in football. Ever. Even though the national team failed, as ever, to progress beyond the group stage of the World Cup, the performance was honorable - if not heroic. The homeland welcomed the team as victors.

If the arbitration referendum campaign created a certain disturbance in the understanding of proper Slovenianness, the football cup made everyone jump for national pride. The cheering slogan "who doesn't jump is not a Slovenian" might sound discriminatory for those who for unfortunate reasons just can't, but has on the other hand united both hardline "soil and blood" natives with the country's naturalised citizens. Indeed, the football team owes a lot to the latter group. Most members of the team are the children of workers from Bosnia, who came as a labour force some thirty years ago. Through sporting talent and hard work, they have risen from the social bottom to the social top.

Can a footballing nation exist without a decent stadium at its capital? This important question will soon not be of relevance anymore in Slovenia: the new sporting complex Ljubljana's StoĹžice, soon to open, looks like heaven for lovers of mass sports events and their heroes. But until the athletes and pop stars take the stage, the only heroes there are construction workers sweating on the colossal structure.

These workers, who again mostly originate from Bosnia, are not welcomed as people entitled to social and human rights, as they would have been decades ago, but only as an expendable extension of the cranes and bulldozers. Hired and paid indirectly through contractors, they are at the mercy of simple promises - a place to stay, something to eat, overtime working and a couple hundred of Euros to eventually take home. Any long-term arrangements or social security issues seem to be out of the question.

These workers, invisible to the general population, are not an exclusive story of this particular stadium. They are a story of modern Europe. The merciless Slovenian example, where this invisibility applies to legislation and its implementation as well, certainly doesn't contribute to the image of a respected, progressing European member. But this seems to be of little concern to anyone. Even those aware of the workers constructing this incredible complex distance themselves from the fate of these unfortunate people: they are simply not ours. They screwed up their own country, why should we take care - as if there weren't Slovenian workers in trouble. And anyway, we tell ourselves, we're not the bad guys. Those are the exploiting bosses, who in most cases are "Bosnians" as well.

Construction is a cursed business: it involves huge investments, complex and multiple legal procedures, and frequently involves large slices of public money. As such it is a fertile ground for corruption and suspicious dealings at the top, where profits are distributed. The bottom of that same pyramid is a place for the people whose daily income - if they receive it at all - isn't even enough to buy a ticket for events at the stadium they are building.

Perhaps the story of modern pharaohs and slaves won't come to the minds of the audience as the athletes and entertainers take the stage. So too will the workers remain anonymous when young families, burdened with loans, settle in the apartment buildings. If nothing else the stories of misery and even deaths on the building sites make good material for the media, which is always generous with compassion. But this is obviously as far as we can go.

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