Scenes of Polish-Russian friendship in Warsaw

Scenes of Polish-Russian friendship in Warsaw

Published Jun. 16, 2012 2:24 p.m. ET

A young Polish man approached three Russians on a street in Warsaw on Saturday and apologized. ''We are really sorry,'' Marek Wolski told them. ''We are ashamed.''

It's a scene that has played out repeatedly since Polish hooligans attacked Russians on the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday ahead of an emotionally charged match between their national teams - one that pitted historic foes against each other.

Officials fear there could be more trouble on Saturday with some 20,000 Russians expected to see their team play Greece in Warsaw's National Stadium.

Tuesday's violence got a lot of attention and the risk of more trouble is real given the existence of thugs - or ''cretins,'' as Poland's justice minister called them Friday.


But the reality is that encounters between Poles and Russians are often warm despite historical emnity between their countries. That Slavic comradeship was on display Saturday on Warsaw's streets hours before Russia plays Greece and Poland takes on the Czech Republic in Wroclaw.

Poles and Russians could be seen drinking together at outdoor cafes. One couple walked down a street pushing a baby carriage, him in a Polish team jersey, her wrapped in a Russian flag.

It almost made the large number of police all over the place seem redundant.

''We have a lot in common,'' said Wolski, a 30-year-old lawyer. ''We like the same music, we drink a lot like the Russians do, and we like to party together.''

The Russians he approached on the street said it wasn't the first such apology they had received.

''About 30 to 40 Poles have come up to us in the past three days - Poles between the ages of 30 and 70 - and said they want to apologize for those 100 bastards who made Poland look bad,'' said Artem Borodin, a 28-year-old from Moscow.

Borodin and his friends said they witnessed some of Tuesday's violence firsthand, crouching behind a police car when Polish thugs with batons began kicking and hitting Russians who were marching to the stadium. But they also witnessed kindness. ''Police were sitting in their cars not reacting and it was normal Poles who went to the police and asked them to intervene,'' Borodin said.

Tuesday's clashes led to a few dozen injuries and more than 200 arrests.

After the Polish lawyer, Wolski, made his apology, he shook hands with the Russians and bid them farewell. He said he was furious at ''Polish criminals'' that made his country look bad across the world.

Just down the street, on one of Warsaw's most popular streets, Nowy Swiat, another young Polish man and three Russian fans were enjoying cold beers at an outdoor cafe. The Pole, Grzegorz Bajer, had met the Russians in Wroclaw last week when Russia played its opening match against the Czech Republic. ''We liked each other so I made the trip to Warsaw to meet them again,'' said Bajer, a 28-year-old financial adviser in between jobs.

''Normal Polish people do not have bad feeling toward Russians,'' added Bajer, who studied half a year in St. Petersburg, Russia, and spoke to his new friends in their language. ''History is in the past. Now is the present and the future.''

One of the Russians, 38-year-old Alexander Sokolov, said Poles have been very hospitable to him and he believes Saturday's match will pass in peace, partly because there will be no organized march of Russians to the stadium beforehand.

''We don't feel at risk,'' Sokolov said.