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Panorama: Stadiums of Hate – a Polish fan’s response from the stands

Michał Zachodny
Krawkow 300x225 Panorama: Stadiums of Hate   a Polish fans response from the stands

(GETTY IMAGES)

Crossing the line is a tough thing to do, even if you step on someone’s foot or make a mistake that hurts. When the BBC aired their Panorama: Stadiums of Hate programme just few days before Euro 2012 kicks off, one would think that the state of Polish football is determined by what is happening on the stands. And if you are to believe the programme there is Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism everywhere.

Fortunately, there is a lot more positivity inside Polish football than what one could learn from the image created by the BBC. There are passionate fans, and there are fantastic people devoted to their clubs, living to the colour and crest represented by the team on the pitch. It is nothing different to what you can find in any other European country.

Unfortunately, there is also the bad side. There is the right-wing side, strongly politicized, wanting to influence young minds of those flowing into the stands of stadiums in Poland. The nationalism is preferred among ‘ultras’ groups, the country is seemed as the greater good, while the main assumptions are, indeed, too close to what was shown on the BBC on Monday night.

Yet this is still only a minority. This is not coming from someone that tries to disagree with the real evaluation of the problem, but a person that knows it too well and tries to understand it and then solve it; not just make cheap sensation out of it.

Sadly, the BBC programme went the other way in my view. It seemed to me that the makers came to Poland with a certain thesis, a line to follow and they just picked the games that were the obvious choices to make their point valid. Credit to the producers – they could not have picked better examples of displays of hate in Krakow and Lodz each time there is a derby football match.

Nonetheless, they asked for more.  They went for the Krakow derby, they picked the Lodz derby, they reintroduced the problem of Rzeszow, a Polish football province.

Of course, the BBC producers have succeeded. They have made their material so good, so controversial, so infuriating, and so detailed that no one could question it – at least not those who live in the UK.

Just hours after the programme was broadcast, the very first reactions from Poland came to life. For example, there were reports the BBC allegedly did not use material, such as a police statement and statistics which are said to not support the claims made in the programme. Aviram Baruchyam, a Jewish midfielder of Polonia Warsaw, allegedly admitted that he never had a problem with Poles and their behaviour towards him, but this did not feature in final cut.

Why did they not interview Jewish footballer Maor Melikson, a fans favorite, who plays on the wing for Wisla Krakow? The same goes for Saidi Ntibazonkiza, Burundian striker of similar position to Melikson, but on the other side of Blonie park, at Cracovia.

The BBC did not include statistics which reveal that over the last three years, out of 460,000 British visitors not even one have reported a racist incident in Poland.

Of course, the problems mentioned in the programme are far from being solved. Though there are issues regarding flags used by different groups of fans, their activity and chanting throughout each game, the most worrying thing is the attitude.

Racism and anti-Semitism are sometimes visible in the stands of Polish stadiums. If someone is looking for them, it will be easy to find them – mentioning the influence of the right-wing groups is important, but the profile of a Polish football fan should not be based on that material.

Yet they, *we* are left aside without any help of the Polish FA and Ekstraklasa. At the last press conference organised by “Never Again” – an organisation fighting with all the problems shown by the programme – representatives of only two clubs showed up. Nobody from the league or federation decided to come and hear about the problems.

Even in the last season, the match observer from the PZPN decided to make fans take down an anti-communism flag, threatening to call the game off, yet on different occasions people with such power just leave the forbidden symbols unnoticed.

There are only rare actions taken by the football authorities in Poland against the biggest, yet decreasing, problem. There is no cooperation with fans, there is no encouraging them to report incidents, there is no idea how to punish those who are repeating abusive chants. Even after the Krakow derby, which was shown in the programme, Wisła and Cracovia were given relatively average fines for awful scenes throughout the ninety minutes. This is the real problem.

The BBC crew, however, in my view, were looking to confirm their thesis about “ Stadiums of Hate” in Poland and Ukraine. Showing these images, they have only proved to misunderstand that the differences between club and international football.

The “Fuck Euro” protests from the last few months of the season in Polish football presented on the stands with flags and in chants, are not expression of possible danger coming from local fans, but their disappointment in how the government acts, how the Polish FA works, and who manager Franciszek Smuda called up to the national team. They will be not present at Euro 2012 matches, simply because they are, or choose to be, rejected from the tournament. The stadiums for Euro 2012 will not be a place to look for hate.

The Polish reaction to the programme was negative – mainly because the episode was viewed as selective and written for the scenario that was viewed as being written even before the specifics of Poland and Ukraine were known.

But there is something Poles and Ukrainians can thank the BBC for. By making the problem much bigger than it is in reality, by showing that both countries are struggling with the issues, by compromising the governing bodies, they made them react. Strong reaction, even if forced, is needed to help fans prove that their response to, and disgust at, the Panorama show, is not based on empty promises and hopes. Because however scandalous and unfair the treatment was perceived to be during the programme on Monday night, it is now up to the hosts to prove the BBC wrong and the European championships are just the start.

Michał Zachodny is 24-year-old student at University of Wroclaw, studying a master’s degree in journalism and social communication. You can follow Michał on Twitter and read his blog here.

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  • Skaramouche

    Correct.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KSLM3FVBJ5P7ZZO3JXWAPFEWUE Lyndh

    I live in Warsaw and I don’t see any of that. 

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KSLM3FVBJ5P7ZZO3JXWAPFEWUE Lyndh

    what sits uncomfortably with me is that the programme ended its segment on Poland with the statement that Poland is a racist country.  On the basis that football hooligans / fans (?) are racist. 
    it comes as no surprise that hooligans can be racist but to stretch it to the whole country is unfortunate.

  • Iris Arum

    You have posted only 8 comments so far, 7 of them are about “danielscipio”.

    Any particular reason for this obsession wirh a poster you will never meet? Are you mad, or on commission?

  • geordiegit

    Obviously the BBC picked on the worst examples of Polish racist fans – what’s wrong with that? The fact is: plenty of them exist. I’ve been to Krakow and the people were fine,however I never went to a football match. Many Eastern European countries have a problem with racism, even if they are in the minority. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen violent racism in Russia or in the east of Germany. 

    The Poles, Russians, etc, need to clean up their act like we did here, otherwise their stadiums will only be a quarter full, like we saw in that documentary: decent Poles obviously stayed at home.

  • Guest

    Good observation. I usually stay out of arguments with strangers on the internet, but one or two things he said annoyed me enough to register here. I was appalled (and a little amused) at his obsessive antisemitism and wanted to ask him some questions to clarify matters. Unfortunately he doesn’t respond to criticism :( Instead I have to resort to mockery. He really is a tragic figure, with ideas of racial distinctions more appropriate to the  nineteenth century. I should despise the creepy fascist sympathiser, but instead I find him rather pathetic. I wonder if he converses much with people in the real world? Or does he just argue with strangers on the net, repeating nonsense found on far-right conspiracy theorist websites?

  • Guest

    And why do you (955 comments) support this neo-nazi?

  • Rideintothesun

    I completely agree -the BBC sets out to find some racist football fans and acts as if it has some kind of exclusive on its hands. Panorama - and the BBC more generally – has been on a downward spiral for some years. More specifically it’s the faux outrage that gets me – the hysterical squeals on the one hand and the construction of an equally offensive European hierarchy (Western/Southern/Eastern) on the other.

  • Rideintothesun

    It’s not a question of ‘or’ – the two tend to go together.

  • Iris Arum

    Among other reasons, because I have, at least a dozen long-time Jewish friends who have exactly the same opinion as danielscipio’s about Israel’s despise for international law and its permanent blackmailing of Western media.
    I can hardly call these friends neo-nazi, as two of them, at least, saw their German and Polish relatives die in concentration camps.


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