GROUP A: THROUGH A COLD WAR LENS
World Cup Fever is here!! Since you can’t get away from it, I thought it might be fun to look at the Brazil World Cup Qualifiers through a Cold War lens. Who are the teams and what role did they play in the half century Cold War conflict?
Let’s start with Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon.
Nickname: CANARINHO (Little Canary)
June 12 vs. Croatia in Sao Paulo
June 17 vs. Mexico in Fortaleza
June 23 vs. Cameroon in Brasilia
In Brazil, winning is not enough. One must win beautifully, and THE CANARINHO have won the World Cup five times since 1958. After each title, a star is added to the team’s crest.
Brazil played an intriguing role in the politics and diplomacy of the Cuban missile crisis and in US – Cuban relations during the Kennedy administration.
In the years after Fidel Castro took power, successive Brazilian governments tried secretly to mediate between Washington and Havana.
This effort climaxed during the Cuban Missile Crisis when President John F. Kennedy asked Brazil to transmit a secret message to Castro. Brazil was already promoting a Latin American denuclearization scheme at the United Nations as a possible means of resolving the crisis. Kennedy’s request gave her an opening to broker a formula for US – Cuban reconciliation that would heighten the prestige of her own “independent” policy in the Cold War. Ultimately, these attempts failed.
In April 1964, a coup in Brazil resulted in a military regime.
The new regime was intended to be transitory but it gradually became a full dictatorship. Repression against opponents, including urban guerrillas,was harsh, but not as brutal as in other Latin American countries. Due to extraordinary economic growth, known as an “economic miracle,” the regime reached its highest level of popularity in the years of repression.
By the 1970s the US and Brazil found themselves at odds on almost every international issue. This was difficult to understand because Brazil had been the “historic” ally of the US in Latin America.
General Ernesto Geisel
became president in 1974 and began a project of re-democratization through a process that he said would be “slow, gradual and safe.”
Civilians fully returned to power in 1985.
Nickname: LES LIONS INDOMPTABLES (The Indomitable Lions)
Group Stage Schedule:
June 13 vs. Mexico in Natal
June 18 vs. Croatia in Manaus
June 23 vs. Brazil in Brasilia
Cameroon’s 1990 upset over Argentina, flashy style of play and Roger Milla celebrations turned THE INDOMITABLE LIONS into a solid favorite. This will be the seventh World Cup for Cameroon.
Cameroon’s Cold War experience begins with the defeat of Germany in World War I. In 1919, Kamerun became a League of Nations mandate territory and was split into French Cameroun and British Cameroons.
The new French colony’s economy was integrated with that of France. The British administered their territory from neighboring Nigeria.
The League of Nations mandates were converted into United Nations Trusteeships in 1946, and the question of independence became a pressing issue in French Cameroun.
France outlawed the most radical political party, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), on 13 July 1955. This prompted a long guerrilla war and the assassination of the party’s leader.
In British Cameroons, the question was whether to reunify with French Cameroun or join Nigeria.
On January 1, 1960, French Cameroun gained independence from France under President Ahmadou Ahidjo . On October 1, 1961, the formerly British Southern Cameroons united with French Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Ahidjo used the ongoing war with the UPC to concentrate power in the presidency, continuing with this even after the suppression of the UPC in 1971.
Ahidjo’s political party, the Cameroon National Union (CNU), became the sole legal political party on September 1, 1966.
In 1972, the federal system of government was abolished in favor of a United Republic of Cameroon, headed from Yaoundé.
Ahidjo pursued an economic policy of planned liberalism, prioritizing cash crops and petroleum exploitation. The government used oil money to create a national cash reserve, pay farmers, and finance major development projects; however, many initiatives failed when Ahidjo appointed unqualified allies to direct them.
Ahidjo stepped down on November 4, 1982, transferring power to his constitutional successor, Biya. However, Ahidjo remained in control of the CNU and tried to run the country from behind the scenes until Biya and his allies pressured him into resigning.
Biya began his administration by moving toward a more democratic government, but a failed coup d’état nudged him toward the leadership style of his predecessor.
An economic crisis took effect in the mid-1980s as a result of international economic conditions, drought, falling petroleum prices, and years of corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism.
Cameroon turned to foreign aid, cut government spending, and privatized industries. With the reintroduction of multi-party politics in December 1990, the former British Cameroons pressure groups called for greater autonomy.
Nickname: EL TRI (The Three Colored)
Group Stage Schedule:
June 13 vs. Cameroon in Natal
June 17 vs. Brazil in Fortaleza
June 23 vs. Croatia in Recife
As we know, the United States saw the Cold War as a global struggle against communism as embodied by the totalitarian Soviet state. The United States government and a significant portion of its citizenry considered communism an evil force in the world, one that must be combated with all available ideological, military, and financial means.
On the other hand, Mexico, America’s close neighbor, took a much less critical view of communism and was less likely to associate all things communist with the Soviet Union. As a result, Mexicans viewed the Cold War not as a principled crusade, but as an example of aggression by imperialist states whose financial and military power allowed them to dominate less developed countries.
Hemispheric unity was shaken when Mexico decided that snubbing Russia’s client, Cuba, was not worth the risk. Mexico’s government maintained diplomatic and economic relations with the island nation over the objections of the United States.
Nickname: Vatreni (The Blazers)
Group Stage Schedule:
June 12 vs. Brazil
June 18 vs. Cameroon
June 23 vs. Mexico
In the period between 1945 and 1990, Croatia did not field a separate team for competitive matches and Croatian players played for the Yugoslavia national football team. The modern Croatian team was formed in 1991, shortly before Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia, and by 1993 the team had gained membership in FIFA. In Croatia’s FIFA World Cup debut in 1998 the team finished third and provided the tournament’s top scorer, Davor Šuker.
During the Cold War, Croatia was a Socialist Republic, part of a six-part Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Under the new communist system, privately owned factories and estates were nationalized, and the economy was based on a type of planned market socialism. As the country was recovering from World War II, it underwent a rebuilding process, focusing on industrialization and the development of tourism. Josip Broz Tito, a committed — but independent — communist, provided strong leadership for Yugoslavia’s federal system of government.
After splitting with the Soviet Union in 1948, Tito was free to accept aid from the Marshall Plan and to become a leader of the non-aligned movement. (For more information click here.)
As noted above, under Tito’s rule, Serbia was transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society. However, by the time Tito died in 1980, the economy was failing, and separatist and nationalist tensions were emerging.
In June 1989, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was founded by Croatian nationalist dissidents led by Franjo Tuđman, a former fighter in Tito’s Partisan movement and a JNAGeneral.
On December 13, 1989, the governing League of Communists of Croatia agreed to legalize opposition political parties and hold free elections.
The first free multi-party elections were held in Croatia in April and May of 1990. Franjo Tuđman’s Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won by a relatively slim margin against Ivica Račan’s reformed communist Party of Democratic Change (SDP).
Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all seceded from Yugoslavia.
Tito’s dream of a peaceful federation was in tatters. The post Cold War period has been marred by ethnic and nationalist conflict.
The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995 between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia—which had declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY)—and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and local Serb forces, with the JNA ending its combat operations in Croatia by 1992. In Croatia, the war is primarily referred to as the Homeland War (Domovinski rat) and also as the Greater-Serbian aggression (Velikosrpska agresija). In Serbian sources, War in Croatia (Rat u Hrvatskoj) is the most commonly used term.
Photograph by Thomas