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Poland-Russia soccer game evokes national pride

India TV News Desk 11 Jun 2012, 22:39:12 IST
India TV News Desk

Poland, Jun 11: In Warsaw you could be forgiven for thinking that 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, a battle known as "the miracle on the Vistula," fueling simmering nationalist sentiments on the eve of the European championships match at Warsaw's National Stadium.

Poles still take pride in the victory on its largest river, which was seen at the time as halting the spread of communism into Europe.

The highly-charged match Tuesday falls on Russia Day, a national holiday in Russia. Some 10,000 Russian fans have bought tickets for the game and many are planning to march from downtown Warsaw to the stadium, a move seen as provocative by many Poles.

The Super Express tabloid carried a front page mash-up Monday 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 Polish army motto: "Faith, Home, Motherland."

The paper went on to warn the Russians against assuming they will win.

In 1920 they also thought that and ... they got a spanking," the tabloid wrote. "Tomorrow they will get the taste of defeat again, because Poland's team will show them the `miracle on the Vistula 2."'

However, many Polish fans believe that Russia has the stronger side and that the media is wrong to raise hopes in vain or fuel nationalist tensions.

The newspapers should not be stirring up emotions, because it is clear we will lose. They are doing a bad job," said Marek Toczynski, a 56-year-old chemistry researcher.

The Polish edition of Newsweek had a front-page picture of Smuda saluting, in the uniform of Jozef Pilsudski -- commander of the Polish troops in the 1920 battle -- under the headline: "Poland-Russia: The battle of Warsaw 2012."

Poland and Russia have a long history of troubled relations, including four decades of Soviet Union dominance under communism, which was overthrown in Poland in 1989.

However, June 12 marks the day in 1990 when Russian lawmakers declared independence from the Soviet Union by giving supremacy to Russian laws over the 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."

The march will be heavily policed. Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki said securing safe passage for the Russian marchers would be the toughest task so far for Poland's police but insisted they would keep order.

City security official Ewa Gawor, who discussed the march with Russian fans, said they will walk with whistles and drums to celebrate soccer but will not raise any political context.

"I made them sensitive to the need to observe the law because otherwise the police will have to intervene," Gawor told a news conference Monday. "We will be closely watching events during the march."

The fans' march comes just a few days after Russia supporters were shown in video posted online beating game stewards Friday at their team's first game against the Czech Republic in Wroclaw. UEFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against the Russia soccer federation for its fans' behavior during and after the 4-1 win.

As well as the assault on the stewards, Russian fans are accused of displaying a nationalist flag and throwing fireworks onto the field.

Police in Wroclaw said two Russian fans have been fined and banned from games in Poland after disobeying steward orders on entering the stadium for the match. Four others face charges of causing bodily harm and material damage during a drunken brawl in the city center. If convicted, they can face between three months and five years in prison, police spokesman Pawel Petrykowski said.

The Russian soccer federation has pleaded with its large contingent of supporters to show more respect at Euro 2012, and warned that UEFA could punish the team with a points deduction if fans misbehave again.

The head of Poland's Football Federation, Grzegorz Lato, appealed Monday for people not to mix politics with football.

"A pitch is a pitch and let us not mix politics into it," Lato told Radio TOK FM.

Russia's players and coach say they are focused solely on soccer. A win would put them through to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals.

"We concentrate on the game and not outside things," Russia coach Dick Advocaat said.