Leaders of Kosovo and Albania have said they are collecting money to pay fines that two Switzerland soccer players received for making a pro-Kosovo gesture when the celebrated their team’s victory over Serbia in June 2018.
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri trace their roots to Kosovo, a former Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority which declared its independence from Belgrade in 2008.
The two players had made double-eagle gestures in celebration, referring to Albania’s national symbol, which is viewed as a symbol of defiance in Serbia. Belgrade has never recognized Pristina’s declaration of independence despite its recognition by 116 other countries.
The players’ celebrations caused outrage in Serbia and prompted FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, to fine both players $10,100. FIFA’s rules prohibit displaying political symbols in stadiums.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said on June 26, 2018 that he had opened a bank account to enable his fellow countrymen to help pay the fines, which he called “absurd.”
The account named “Don’t be afraid of the eagle” is a “gesture of gratitude to the two sportsmen,” he said on Facebook.
Kosovo also opened an online fund and only hours afterward had collected nearly $23,000, officials said.
Kosovar Commerce and Industry Minister Bajram Hasani said he had donated the amount of his monthly salary — about 1,500 euros.
“They were punished only because they did not forget their roots, they did not forget where they came from,” Hasani told local media.
“Money cannot buy the joy that Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri brought us by celebrating with the eagle sign,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.