With the European Football Championships just around the corner, the public debate on anti-Semitism and racism in general is gaining momentum in Poland, out of a fear for disruptions by extremists during the games.
Security authorities across the country have been put on alert ahead of the UEFA Euro 2012, which is set to begin in Poland and Ukraine on June 8. In Warsaw alone, 10,000 police will be deployed to ensure appropriate audience conduct among the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans arriving from foreign countries.
In addition, the Polish press has given much focus over the past few days to condemning any form of hostility to minorities, including Jews. The magazine, “Newsweek”, even devoted its entire last issue to the matter. Jesus and Mary appear on the front cover, with Stars of David on their clothes, accompanied by the headline “Jesus, Maria, Jews! How contemporary Poland handles the shame of anti-Semitism.” Among the articles, one can find “Jews, the Pole’s Eternal Enemy”, whose subheading is “Polish anti-Semitism does not require Jews. The hatred is fed by hatred.”
The public debate is taking place just as the former captain of the English soccer team urged British soccer fans to stay away from the European championship. In an interview with BBC, Sol Campbell warned fans of racism and violence in Poland and Ukraine. “You could end up coming back in a coffin,” he said.
Campbell told BBC that he believes the EUFA should not have chosen the countries to hold such prestigious tournaments in the first place, but rather have them show “massive improvement” in the areas of racism and violence before awarding them the honor of being host countries.
The former soccer captain’s comments sparked an uproar in Poland, but local leaders acknowledged that in the heat of a match emotions are released in expressions of racism and anti-Semitism, and that there is only a narrow distance between verbal and physical abuse.
Alina Cała, a researcher at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, says anti-Semitism is rooted in the experience of part of Polish society. She caused a storm with her latest book, "Jew, the Eternal Enemy", in which she claims that anti-Semitism in Poland is still far from being erased from the public consciousness.
In light of the public debate and denunciation of racism, it seems that fear of racist disturbances to the European Football Championship is causing the media to muster for a battle against any behavior that could muddy Poland’s name in the world.