Published in Nacional number 614, 2007-08-21

Autor: Dean Sinovčić


Rakitic family terror in Switzerland

THE NEWEST REINFORCEMENT to the Croatian national football team, Ivan Rakitic, has attracted the fury of the Swiss right-wing with his decision to play for Croatia: his family has been threatened by telephone and mail over the past two months, and his father was refused Swiss citizenship

Rakitic family: mother Kata, Ivan and Nikol and father Luka in Gelsenkirchen, in front of the German stadium of Ivan Rakitic’s new team last SaturdayRakitic family: mother Kata, Ivan and Nikol and father Luka in Gelsenkirchen, in front of the German stadium of Ivan Rakitic’s new team last Saturday The threats the Rakitic family have been receiving over the past two months because of the decision made by their 19 year old son Ivan Rakitic to play for Croatia instead of the Swiss national football team is the result of the political climate in Switzerland where the Swiss People’s Party has become the strongest right-wing conservative party over the past four years. Their basic ideology is the fight to limit the asylum of foreigners. That party is also in power in Möhlin, the town where the Rakitic family lives and where Ivan Rakitic grew up; because this is election year in Switzerland, the Rakitic family has found itself in the centre of a political scandal in the battle for voters and power. Ivan Rakitic decided to play for Croatia, and it was soon after discovered that Luka Rakitic applied for Swiss citizenship; pressure emerged from a part of the public who wanted his request to be denied. This was confirmed for us by Luka Rakitic, Ivan Rakitic’s father, whom we spoke to on Saturday afternoon in the German town of Gelsenkirchen. Luka Rakitic came to Gelsenkirchen with his wife Kata, 11 year old daughter Nikol, and members of his wife’s family who also live in Switzerland. They all attended the Saturday match between Schalke, where Ivan plays, and Borussija from neighbouring Dortmund where, after Schalke’s victory, their son was proclaimed most valuable player. That was quite a relief for the Rakitic family after two months of psychological terror, as it was described by Luka Rakitic recently.

UELI MAUERER, president of the conservative Swiss People’s PartyUELI MAUERER, president of the conservative Swiss People’s Party “On Thursday, one day before we were supposed to travel to Gelsenkirchen, I received a call from some Swiss security company asking if we needed bodyguards. We have never, nor do we now, require security services”, Kata Rakitic told us, describing the media significance the situation with the Rakitic family has received. The threatening letters and telephone calls began after her son Ivan announced on 22 June that he would play for Croatia after several months of deciding. “It was unbelievable, Ivan called national team coach Slaven Bilic and informed him that he decided to play for Croatia; the telephone calls began on the same night. What did they say to us? That we should go back to Yugoslavia; that the Swiss consider us all to be Yugoslavians; that we are all the same. And if you only heard what they told us ten days ago when Ivan ran around the stadium with a Croatian flag which someone from the crowd threw to him after he scored a goal for Schalke”, said Kata Rakitic, who looked more surprised than frightened with all the events which have been going on over the past two months.

Several weeks later, the Swiss discovered that in May, one and a half months prior to the decision made by Ivan Rakitic, his father Luka had requested Swiss citizenship. Swiss citizenship was attained seven years ago by Ivan and his older brother Dejan, while it was not necessary for the rest of the family; for example, as Luka Rakitic told us, Kata Rakitic, due to medical problems, went into early retirement and today receives a Swiss pension even though she does not have citizenship. He requested citizenship so his small construction workshop would receive a tax break. The Rakitic family does not know how this information was leaked into the public, but to the right-wing oriented Swiss, it was enough to continue insulting the Rakitic family and to put pressure on the local administration in Möhlin to reject Luka Rakitic’s request for citizenship. Möhlin, a town 20 kilometres from Basel which does not have the status of a city, has a total of 1829 foreigners of its 9192 inhabitants, where the right-wing conservative Swiss People’s Party is also in power.

EXTENDED FAMILY visits Ivan Rakitic in Gelsenkirchen, included family from his mother’s side, and manager Michael Urscheler with his sons Max and FabienEXTENDED FAMILY visits Ivan Rakitic in Gelsenkirchen, included family from his mother’s side, and manager Michael Urscheler with his sons Max and Fabien The Swiss People’s Party - Schweizerische Volkspartei, was founded in 1971 after two parties joined together, BGB (Bernische Bauern, Gewerbe und Bürgerpartei) and the Democratic Party from the German speaking cantons Glarus and Graubünden (Grisons). In the beginning, the party only operated in German speaking areas, where it is most influential today; later, it expanded throughout Switzerland. The party emerged in the foreground in the 1999 elections when it became the second most powerful party after the social democrats by winning 44 of 200 seats in the Swiss Parliament. The main goals of the party and president Ueli Mauerer was a reduction in taxes, opposition to accession with the European Union, and limiting the rights to asylum. At that time, according to statistics, every fifth citizen of Switzerland was a foreigner; therefore the nationalistic party emerged in the foreground. Their influence increased in the 2003 elections when the party won 55 of 200 seats in Parliament, by which it became the most powerful party in Switzerland. World political analysts were completely surprised when Switzerland turned right-wing at that time.
“I did not want to show Ivan the letters that arrived on a daily basis. Actually, I showed him only one; I am saving all the others and one day when it all passes, I will show him the letters so he can see what they were writing to him”, said Kata Rakitic. She has also saved some messages which were left on the answering machine. “I no longer answer unknown numbers; I only answer telephone calls from friends whose numbers I can recognize on the telephone display. When I do not answer, they leave me messages that I should call them back. Why? What do I have to do with them?” continued Kata Rakitic, who relaxed from these problems during the summer by taking her daughter Nikol to visit her mother in Zepce.

AFTER THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS of the German Championships Rakitic has been noticed by allAFTER THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS of the German Championships Rakitic has been noticed by all On the other hand, Luka Rakitic visited the Möhlin municipal mayor Boni Fredy one week ago to find out how to solve this situation and when he can expect to get his Swiss citizenship. “He told me to be patient and to wait for the media hype to calm down and then he would resolve my citizenship application. It might be in six months, maybe in one year, but I just have to wait for people to forget about my son”, said Luka Rakitic. The Croatian media has already published the fact that the local community, in this case the citizens Möhlin, is often asked what they think of their neighbours who are seeking citizenship in these decisions. Even though the Swiss People’s Party is in power in Möhlin, Kata Rakitic believes that her husband would immediately receive citizenship if their neighbours would be asked their opinion. “You should have seen the atmosphere when Ivan left his family home and went off to Gelsenkirchen. He had to stop three times and get out of the car to greet everyone who wanted to say goodbye to him”, claims Kata Rakitic.

However, Luka Rakitic has partly managed to use this tense situation to his benefit. 15 years ago, he, as a former football player who used to play in Celik from Zenica, established the Croatian football club Dinamo from Möhlin which has managed through time to advance to the third Swiss league. However, he was not allowed to use the city stadium; they played in smaller secondary stadiums, and Luka Rakitic concluded that it was now time for Dinamo from Möhlin to get the right to use the stadium. “I spoke with seven representatives of city administration from Möhlin who have a role in deciding on the issue; I convinced them one by one and in the end I got the right to play at the city stadium. They were afraid that I would tell the journalists that I am not allowed to use the city stadium because I am a foreigner, and that I do not have the same rights as other citizens. For the past 15 years, it has been my wish for Dinamo to play on that stadium; for 15 years we have paid taxes and been exemplary citizens of Switzerland. However, I have managed to resolve in several days this problem that I have been trying to solve for the past 15 years”, said Luka Rakitic with satisfaction.

While we spoke with Ivan’s mother and father in Hotel Marriott near the Schalke Arena stadium, Ivan appeared and fans immediately rushed to congratulate him on an excellent game.

ECSTATIC FANS on Saturday requested pictures with RakiticECSTATIC FANS on Saturday requested pictures with Rakitic “I in no way regret the decisions I made: first, my transfer to Schalke from the Basel football club, and then my decision to play for the Croatian national football team. I have left all the threats I have received behind me. It was clear to me that they would write bad things about me in Switzerland, and that I would experience uncomfortable situations, but it hasn’t been all that bad. I am concentrated on football and I don’t have time to think about anything else”, said Ivan Rakitic, who was then tapped on the shoulder by his manager Michel Urscheler from Sion. Urscheler has always pointed out Rakitic’s maturity in making decisions, even in small things like selecting a home in Gelsenkirchen. That is why it is interesting to remember, with the help of his parents, how he has always made important decisions independently. “I remember when Ivan began school. He asked me: ‘Mom, how many years do I have to go to school?’ I told him nine years, because that is the length of the mandatory school system in Switzerland. He told me: ‘Fine then, I’ll go to school for as long as I have to, but not a day longer”, remembered Kata Rakitic because her son really did not go to school for longer than those nine years. However, he did enrol in technical school for construction, but because he was seriously training football at the age of fifteen, he told his parents that it was very gruelling to train, study and go to school. His father allowed him to make the decision, and the next day he returned his books and told them that he wanted to dedicate his life to football. “Careful, at that time he did not have a professional contract with Basel but he was confident enough to drop out of school and dedicate himself only to football”, reminded Luka Rakitic, whose oldest son Dejan was also a football player but quit after he broke a bone in his right heel two times.

At age 16, the leaders of Arsenal, Chelsea and Juventus were all interested in Rakitic but he signed for Basel. In the same sense that he did not want to be one of the many gifted children in large clubs then, he did not want to join any of the strongest European clubs three months ago. “We refused offers from Barcelona and Milan; Rakitic’s manager brought me Barcelona and Milan’s offers in writing. We also refuse Shakhtar from Donetsk. We were careful when selecting a club, and we selected Schalke because we were looking for a team where he would play. Because he knows German, we knew that he would not need time to adapt”, explained Luka Rakitic who proudly points out that he is most responsible for the success of his son. At the beginning, German caused problems for Ivan Rakitic because the German spoken in Switzerland is different to the German spoken in Germany. “I really did not understand some words during the first days, but everything is okay now”, said Ivan Rakitic who loves to change his hair colour. “I will change my hair colour again next week”, he said, and when we told his father that, he said “no he won’t!” His mother Kata immediately convinced his father by saying “Yes he will; he promised his friends that he would do it when he scores his first goal for Schalke.” He scored his first goal ten days ago in the first round of the German Championships, so it will be interesting to see what colour his hair will be on Wednesday when he arrives in Sarajevo to play with the Croatian national football team for the first time in a friendly match against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR Rakitic became the top scorer for BaselAT THE BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR Rakitic became the top scorer for Basel Milan and Barcelona rejected

After completion of last season, numerous clubs started making offers for Ivan Rakitic and it was clear that he would not stay in Basel. Last winter, even Zdravko Mamic met with Luka Rakitic and offered him €2 million for his son to transfer to Dinamo. Rakitic father and son refused offers from Milan, Barcelona and Shakhtar and selected Schalke due to its proximity to Basel and because Ivan Rakitic spoke German.