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,

Motherland.”

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

said.

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

1944.

While city residents fought the Germans, the Red Army watched

from across the Vistula river – a fact still remembered in

Poland.

The Russian fans also laid flowers at a cemetery to Red Army

troops killed while driving the Germans from the city in January

1945.

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

misbehave again.

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,”

he said.

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Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw

and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.