Polish press evokes national pride for Russia game
In Warsaw, you could be forgiven for thinking Poland’s army is
going into battle with Russia rather than its soccer team.
Polish papers went to town Monday on references to Poland’s
victorious 1920 battle against the Bolshevik Army, known as the
Miracle on the Vistula, fueling simmering nationalist sentiments on
the eve of the European Championship match at the National Stadium.
Poles still take pride in the victory, which was seen at the time
as halting the spread of communism into Europe.
Tuesday’s highly charged match falls on Russia Day, a national
holiday, and Russian fans plan to march from central Warsaw to the
stadium, a move seen as provocative by many Poles. The march will
be heavily policed after Russia supporters were shown in an online
video beating stewards at their team’s first match, against the
Czech Republic in Wroclaw on Friday night.
About 10,000 Russian fans have bought tickets for Tuesday’s
game. Securing safe passage for the marchers will be the toughest
task for police so far at the tournament, but Interior Minister
Jacek Cichocki promised to maintain order.
For his part, the head of Russia’s soccer federation, Sergei
Fursenko, said the fans are merely walking to the stadium.
”There should not be any political themes there,” Fursenko
said on Russian state TV. ”If someone tries to bring them in they
will receive a strong rebuff from the police. I think the
organizers of the march have learned this.”
Poland and Russia have a long history of troubled relations,
including four decades of Soviet Union dominance under communism
that was overthrown in Poland in 1989.
The Super Express tabloid carried a front page mocked-up picture
of Poland coach Franciszek Smuda charging on horseback, saber in
hand, in a 1920 Polish army uniform under the headline ”Faith,
Hope, Smuda” – a play on an old army motto: ”Faith, Hope,
Super Express went on to warn the Russians against assuming they
will win Tuesday.
”In 1920 they also thought that and … they got a spanking,”
the tabloid said. ”Tomorrow they will get the taste of defeat
again, because Poland’s team will show them Miracle on the Vistula
2,” referring to the Warsaw river.
But many Polish fans believe that Russia has the stronger side
and that the media were wrong to raise hopes in vain or build
nationalist tension before the match.
”The newspapers should not be stirring up emotions, because it
is clear we will lose. They are doing a bad job,” 56-year-old
chemistry researcher Marek Toczynski said.
Newsweek’s Polish edition ran a front-page photo of Smuda
saluting, in the uniform of Jozef Pilsudski – who was in command of
Polish troops in the 1920 battle – under the headline:
”Poland-Russia: The battle of Warsaw 2012.”
The head of the Polish soccer association, Grzegorz Lato, tried
to play down the political overtones.
”I cut myself off from the politics. We are apolitical, we are
not interested in the atmosphere that some in the media are trying
to create,” he said. ”It is simply a sports spectacle and that’s
what it should remain.”
Lato did acknowledge, however, that because of the historical
issues between the two nations, there is a heightened risk of
trouble between fans. He said police and security forces met Monday
to discuss possible scenarios and contingency plans.
”I’m convinced that the police and the security forces will be
able to handle things for tomorrow’s match,” he told reporters at
the National Stadium.
City security official Ewa Gawor discussed the march with
Russian fans Saturday and said they will walk with whistles and
drums to celebrate soccer, with no political context.
”We will be closely watching events during the march,” she
June 12 marks the day in 1990 when Russian lawmakers declared
independence from the Soviet Union by giving supremacy to Russian
laws over Soviet legislation. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has
encouraged Poles to march together with the Russians to celebrate
the day that ”finally buried the Soviet Union.”
A group of Russian fans made a gesture of friendship toward
Poland on Monday by placing flowers at a monument to the ill-fated
Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi German occupiers in the summer of
While city residents fought the Germans, the Red Army watched
from across the Vistula river – a fact still remembered in
The Russian fans also laid flowers at a cemetery to Red Army
troops killed while driving the Germans from the city in January
The Russian federation has pleaded with its large contingent of
traveling supporters to show more respect at Euro 2012, and warned
that UEFA could punish the team with a points deduction if they
Lato said isolated incidents were unavoidable, but he expects
the majority of fans to behave.
”I think the Poland’s fans will support their team in a
cultured manner and the Russians will support their team as well,
and together they’ll create a wonderful spectacle in the stadium,”
Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw
and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.