Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Real Football Factories International

Just as an appendix to the previous post, if you want to watch a really compulsive documentary on Polish football hooliganism then I have to recommended The Real Football Factories International.

It’s a British made documentary inspired by the hit series Real Football Factories, which was about UK soccer hooligans and what the government did about it at the end of the 1980s.

The Real Football Factories International looks at football ultras, or “firms” as we call then in Britain, in many different countries, such as Brazil, Russia and many more. But the best episode is the one about Poland, made a couple of winters ago at the height of a resurgence of football related violence here. People were dieing.

It captures some of the most amazing footage of football violence - and the reasons why these guys do this stuff - I have ever seen. The central section of the film, about the rivalry between the teams from Krakow, Wisla and Cracovia, is breathtaking. The documentary has since become a cult success in the many countries that it has been broadcast.

At this point I should say that I had a hand in making the film. The producers got in touch with me via this blog, actually, and asked for help in getting contacts, etc. I also met the team in the Holiday Inn in Warsaw just after they spent an amazing couple of days with the hooligans of Krakow. They asked me lots of questions about how the UK got rid of its hooligan problem and I answered them as best I could.

They also interviewed many other people for the final “analysis” section of the film. The chairman of Legia was one. So was Simon Mol, who was then prominent in the “Kick racism out of football” campaign in Poland.

Unfortunately, just weeks before the broadcast premier of the documentary, Simon Mol was arrested for his now infamous behaviour. I then got an anxious email from the producers of the film: is Mol a kosher person as a “talking head”? I had to tell then that, in the present circumstances, he was not.

So, for that reason, or maybe for reasons of art - the footage of the Wisla/Cracovia game is so amazing and central to the film that they needed little extra - they cut Mol from the programme and many other ‘talking heads’. Except one.

See the rather entertaining documentary here (it‘s on youtube so split into five different parts). And I promise you that, although the British presenter is an actor, everything you see is how it happened. No set ups.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is Poland’s racism even worse than its roads?

Well you would think so judging by what some say awaits black players when they come to Poland and Ukraine for the Euro 2012 soccer championships.

The story, the journalistic narrative, of UEFA 2012 is already a long and well trodden one: Poland and/or Ukraine is not going to be ready. The roads, highways, stadia, hotels will not get built. The Polish football association, PZPN, is corrupt to its crossbar and can’t be trusted to do anything, anyway.

But now there is another “threat” to the games in “eastern” Europe - racism.

A conference in Warsaw this March is being organised by the Polish football association, in partnership with the European governing body UEFA and the footballers “trade union” FIFPro under the slogan Unite Against Racism.

Racist chanting has been in the headlines quite often over the years - some fans in Spain have perhaps now got the worst reputation for this, recently. So what to do about this is a relevant discussion topic at these kind of conferences.

In the letter of invitation sent out by the Governor of UEFA to the 250 delegates which are expected to turn up in Warsaw on March 3 and 4 it says this:
We now want to create an opportunity to review progress and renew our call for action. In particular, we want to record positive developments and in view of EURO 2012 look at the challenges facing us in the east and what more the European football family can do.",

So what are the challenges “facing us in the East”?

Mihir Bose is a reporter for the BBC who set out for Poland last year to investigate how big those challenges are. And, well, he found lots of “challenges”. On his blog post about his trip he says:

Racism may never be fully eradicated from football, but what I found during an investigation into the problem in Poland was truly shocking.

And this in the country that will co-host the 2012 European Football Championship…

…In a street in central Warsaw, not far from the hotel where I was staying, there was a lot of graffiti about 'white power' and the Ku Klux Klan, all associated with the city's main team Legia Warsaw…

…the president of Legia Warsaw, Leszek Miklas, an impressive and honest man, readily admitted that 15-20% of his club's fans were neo-Nazis….

…I went to a Legia Warsaw home match at the Polish Army Stadium, where the team fielded black players without any visible problems, although I was not able to go anywhere near the stand, which takes up a whole side of the ground, where the 'ultras' gather.

Before the match I had been to a bar near the ground where the hardcore supporters meet.

It was made clear by some fans, who feared for my safety and that of my crew, I should leave.

All nasty stuff, of course. And it’s shocking that the chairman of Legia seems to think that 15 to 20 percent of his supporters are neo-Nazis!

I have no idea how many of the banana throwing types - and it happens occasionally at Polish football grounds (as it did in the UK in the 1970s and 80s) - are actual, conscious neo-fascists and how many of them are simply stupid idiots using anything to have a go at the rival team’s players. And I don’t think anyone else does, either.

BBC journalist Bose wonders, however, later in his post about what all this means for Euro 2012? “ [T)ackling such deep-seated racism in time to welcome a Europe of all colours may be much more difficult than building roads and stadia,” he writes.

Is Poland’s racism really worse than its roads?

The view that Bose paints on his blog and in the film which he made about racism in Polish football (see here) does not ring true with people I have talked to about this, who do go to games most weekends.

On the Pitch Invasion er… ‘blog-zine’… responding to the Polish Hooligan = Nazi question, and the accusation that Nazi symbols, etc, are often seen at Polish footbal grounds, Michal Karas writes:
My first-hand experience is that this is very uncommon, although I can’t deny the problem exists.

During my five years on Wisla Krakow’s fanatic terraces, I’ve twice heard such disgraceful chants sung by a couple of isolated individuals. One is “Our role model is Rudolf Hess” and another “We have a hero — Adolf Hitler”, which sadly rhyme in Polish, making it even more grotesque. I did not hear these during games, but somewhere near the stadium.

Racism in general is, unfortunately, more common. Throwing bananas onto the pitch still happens occasionally — I recall a few cases during the last decade. Monkey chants also happen from time to time. These are, of course, deeply deplorable acts and need to be eradicated. The question, though, is whether racism is as wildly prevalent in Polish football as the BBC report ended up concluding, with the studio panel suggesting 20% of fans are racist.,

Karas then contextualises the remarks made by the Legia chairman - reminding us that the board of Legia was in dispute at the time with its fan clubs. After the Vilnius pitch invasion (video from a 'hooligan' with a camera before the riot, I think, here - it later got as silly as this) Legia, having been banned by UEFA from European competition, started banning anyone from their stadium thought to be leading the Nieznani Sprawcy (Unknown Perps) 'ultra' group in these and other activities. But this ban was not for racism. So painting all of Legia’s football hooligans as being racist was a convenient tactic by the Legia chairman in his battle to clean up the image of Legia generally, as this negative image is hindering getting the club readmitted to European tournaments.

If you read Karas’s post and then Bose’s it’s like seeing two different countries - or maybe, two very different halves of a game of football.

So I hope the summit in Warsaw in March will be looking at the real extent of racism on the terraces in Poland, while keeping some sense of proportion on this. There are some nasty little racists at Poland’s football stadia, but believe me, Poland’s roads are a lot bigger threat to the fabric of society - and international football tournaments - than those idiots.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama, Guantanamo Bay and the ‘CIA prison’ in Poland

The phone rang at work this afternoon, as the gloom of the winter’s afternoon descended on Warsaw.

On the other end was a sunny, North American lady who said she worked for the BBC. She had a question, which went exactly like this:

“President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay and all rendition camps, one of which was in Poland. Are Poles pleased with Obama for that?”

To tell you truth, I was slightly at a loss how to answer this. But this is what I came up with:

“Well…um…you do know that the evidence for a ‘CIA prison’ in Poland is deeply controversial? No government has admitted knowing anything about this and if you ask Joe Kowalski if he thought there were these places in Poland he might tell you that there probably weren’t any?”

“Poles don’t believe there were prisons in Poland,” she said, slightly taken aback that this story was not a done deal. “Yup,” I said, maybe slightly presumptuously, as I have never seen an opinion poll on this.

But I still think I am right. The very idea of a “CIA prison” in Poland is still quite an exotic one here. And it’s not really an issue that Poles feel connected too, anyway. I suppose ‘prison’ is preferable to early stories on this, which described this supposed place as the “new Auschwitz”, a deeply dumb and offensive idea. So, some progress of sorts, I suppose.

But it shows how it has now become common sense that there was these prisons in Poland to those like the journalists at the BBC. My own opinion, after following this story for over two years is that there was indeed something in Poland up until autumn 2005, but to describe what was probably a stopping off point while prisoners were rendition to somewhere else is not quite the same as saying there was a ‘CIA prison’. I think some elements of the Polish secret services did know about this - but how much politicians knew, and how out of control the secret services were at that time, is open to speculation.

Whatever - I hope I didn’t spoil one of the BBC’s “Obama good news” stories. Closing down the obscenity of Guantanamo is deeply welcome. Obama will also outlaw methods of interrogation which involve the “enhanced techniques” like water-boarding which Bush and his cronies always maintained “were not torture”, but, in fact, were just that. As to the slightly naive reporting of the BBC, well, that’s what they mean by a “dumbed down news media.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hey Bush!

One of George’s lines has come back to haunt him. reports.

Press reports claim that outgoing US president George W. Bush failed to contact any Polish politicians while bidding farewell to various heads of state at the end of his term of office.

President Bush made phone calls to leaders of the major global powers, writes the Dziennik newspaper, including Russian PM Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of France Nicolas Sarkozy.

The outgoing president also found time for a conversation with leaders of Denmark, Georgia and Greece.

But he apparently had no time for Poland’s politicians…

{…} In a presidential debate in 2004 with the then Democratic party contender John Kerry, - about the international nature of the coalition that invaded Iraq - the challenger said that the countries involved were only Great Britain, Australia and United States: “That’s not a grand coalition, we can do better," he said. Bush replied: “Actually, he forgot about Poland.”

It appears, this time, President Bush was the one who forgot about Poland.


Yup, much of the world has just breathed a sigh of relief. It’s over. Bush is finished.

The mistakes he made in his time went way, way beyond the linguistic, the grammatical. I just re-read Bob Woodward’s State of Denial, about Bush and the war in Iraq. It’s a much, much better book than Woodward’s first on the Bush presidency - Bush ar War - where his access to meetings of all the principles, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, was unparalleled. He was literally embedded into the regime. But with that closeness went Woodward’s critical distance. An awful book.

But State of Denial details the conflict and chaos within Bush’s administration as it ‘prepared’ for war brilliantly. Read it for all its shocking and awfulness.

The picture will stay always in my mind of how Woodward describes Bush sitting in the Oval Office listening to many people who knew that the US was about to make a terrible mistake and giving him detailed evidence of why this was so , and George looking as if he was concentrating as his little legs danced and jigged under the table.

Bush did things by instinct and he didn’t like it when someone was shattering his view that he must be, almost divinely in the right.

And now he has gone, off to his Texas ranch to set up a couple of Bush foundations and maybe even a library (with books full of words with no more than two symbols, natch...)!

But how will Obama approach Poland, America’s sometimes awkwardly over eager ally in Europe? Will Obama remember Poland?

He has a great chance to drop the anti-missile shield. Too expensive; maybe doesn’t even work; finance crisis, remember?

But nothing much is going to change as the US, Poland and all the others get bogged down ever deeper in Afghanistan. That will be. No change.

And I hope he doesn’t go, economically, down the protectionist route, like Democrats often do. That certainly won’t be in anyone’s interests.

But Poles generally don't share the huge expectations which now are going to weigh down on Barack’s shoulders, like they do in America, and maybe even in a European country like the UK, as well. Obama is a centre-right pragmatist, with a bright new shiney style. That’s it. He is movingly significant because of who he is - the first black president of the United States of America. But his politics? I think we should all calm down a bit.

And now Bush has gone, who are they gonna blame for all the other stuff he wasn’t responsible for? Maybe one day we are going to miss Old George. No more scapegoats.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gaza and the blood libel

Shaky unilateral ceasefires give the populations of Gaza and the border towns a break. But will this stop the opposition protests against Israeli militarism dipping in to a disturbing echo of the past.

The photo above was taken by a spiked journalist when reporting on the large demonstration in London last weekend. “Israelis eat babies…etc.”

I don’t know about you, but what came to mind as soon as I saw that were three things: a political cartoon, a painting by Goya and the old rancid chestnut about how Jews ritualistically slaughter babies. Coincidence?

Babies, as you can see from this video clip, did seem to be a theme of the demo in London. Why? Well, the Israelis had bombed a UN facility earlier that week where many children and women had taken refuge. But babies die in all wars - many have died under the bombs of Americans, the British, Russians and more in Baghdad, Kabul, Belgrade…. Many have died in suicide bombs all over the world. Children die in war, terrorist attacks. Especially in wars and terrorism these days.

But the protestor dressed up as an Israeli with the baby was obviously drawing on a reference to an award winning cartoon which appeared in the UK Independent in 2003, which was based, in turn, by Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son.

When the cartoon (click on photo to enlarge) appeared many were horrified. It seemed to draw upon the old myth of what is known as blood libel, a belief, quite common in Europe in less enlightened times, that Jews ritually sacrificed the children of Christians.

In fact, as you see by this (disgusting) video, a few cranks still believe this to be so today.

Whether the fool who dressed up as the Israeli with the child knew about blood libel, or even the cartoon, or the painting by Goya, I have no idea. But the protests against Israeli occupation have become synonymous, for many, with a protest against Jews in general. Starbucks, for instance, has come under attack for being a cappuccino Zionist, seemingly for no other reason that its owner is Jewish and a few weird rumours going around the internet. The boycott Israel types don't like Marks and Spencer, either (Michael Marks was a Jewish refugee from Poland before he moved to the UK to open up the shop with Mr. Spencer. And constantly we hear the comparison of Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto.

So perhaps both the protestor in London and the cartoon in the Independent do delve back into the European dark ages.

And those depictions of Jews with children have a long and ignoble history. For instance, one good example of the prototype for cartoonists and protestors to be inspired by can be found in St Paul’s church in Sandomierz, south Poland. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

When protestors supporting Palestinians sink to this depth then you can count me out. Not all criticism of Israel is anti semitic, as some claim, but some confuse an Israeli for a Jew, generally, and it is becoming acceptable, in some right on circles, to make anti semitic references. That must stop.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

EU Entropa exhibition pisses off...people!

An exhibition, Entropa, at the European Union Council building in Brussels, by wacky Czech conceptual artist David Cerny has upset Bulgarians! And it depicts Poland as a bunch of crazy pro-gay monks! Ha, haagh…wheeze…!

The exhibit was meant to be by 27 different artists representing something about the 27 different cultures of the European Union. Brussels was pleased! And then the pieces were delivered. And they were a bit…hmmm.

You know…isn’t representing Germany with a “hint of a swastika”...

...Denmark as a series of Lego bricks (pfff!) Netherlands as a row of mosques sinking in a sea...

...and Bulgaria as one of those toilets with just enamel footplates to stand on and a hole in the floor...

...a little know...insulting?

"Entropa is an art piece, not a political statement. It is funny and ironic because sometimes you can use humour as a catharsis," Cerny said.

Ha, ha, haagh...giggle, snigger...

“It is a mirror in which you bend yourself and you smile and you think 'this is it'. No one should take it seriously."

Oooo, ha, ha...mirror...bend...ooooh...catharsis!...ha, ha...tickle...oh, stop it!

It has since emerged that there were no “27 artists”. The whole exhibit was produced by small team of wacky Czech artists. Oops! The EU art commissioner in Brussels must feel a little bit of a twit.

And those conceptual artist! Don’t you just love ’em! (I am sure Dada-ists are turning in their…toilet bowl installations, as I write.)

I don’t know which is sadder: the state of some contemporary art, which has to delve into crude stereotypes to get its kicks; or politicians like a Giertych, or a Kaczynski who provided, on an enamelled plate, the crude stereotype of Poland in the first place?

hat tip: radio journo Gabriel Stille

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jaroslaw or Jaroslawa?

Self styled ‘controversial’ member of parliament for the ruling Civic Platform party, Janusz Palikot (photo), has just appealed on his blog for former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski to declare whether or not he is gay.

Palikot, the richest man in the Polish parliament - both in terms of wealth and thickness of hair - has used his blog in the past to shoot off accusations against the Kaczynski twins before - in fact his blog has got him into legal trouble. He has called the president of Poland - Jaroslaw’s twin brother Lech, “an idiot,” and wondered whether President Lech’s health problems were down to his love of the bottle, and demanded to see the head of state’s health records.

This time Palikot - who is a kind of Civic Platform version of Law and Justice’s Jacek Kurski, a political ’attack dog’ who says all the things the more establishment politicians would love to say but haven’t got the guts to do so - digs in to the old rumours about Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s sexuality.

By the way, my girlfriend tells me that the photo above of Palikot was taken during an appearence on the media about the very serious topic of rape, which he was speaking very seriously about. The effect, of course, was ruined by the dildo. But that's Palikot all over.

On his blog this weekend Palikot is reacting to comments made by Nelly Rokita, now an MP for Law and Justice and wife of Jan Rokita, one of the most prominent politicians in Civic Platform, who retired formally from politics shortly before the last election in October 2007.
Nelly - one of the more eccentric members of parliament and one of the decidedly weird politicians to come out of the Krakow scene (the other is her husband Jan) - pleaded recently in the media for Jaroslaw to settle down and get himself a nice wife - as he is one of the only top politicians in Poland not to have the prescribed ’happy family’, and contents himself to living with his mum and pet cat.

Palikot asks if Jaroslaw is actually Jaroslawa, the female form of his name. “Is Jaroslaw a woman,” asks Palikot. He also writes that it is common for one of identical twins to be homosexual.

The Civic Platform politician says he doesn’t mind one way or another whether Kaczynski is gay, but he “should tell the public” if he is. Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski have made many anti-gay comments in the past and have been criticised by human rights groups for their stance on the issue.

Whether or not outing politicians is a good and productive thing to do is debatable. But here’s the irony - by insinuating that a gay is “a woman” as Palikot does shows that the self styled controversial and “liberal” politicians of Poland are still pretty primitive themselves.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Using the Holocaust to beat the Israelis

Protesters around the world are right to condemn the Israeli militarism in the Gaza Strip - but the comparison that many are making with the 1941 - 43 Warsaw Ghetto is historically illiterate and dumb.

Thousands marched in many countries last weekend against the repulsive action of the Israeli armed forces against Palestinians. A few hundred people stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw in protest at what is yet another example of Israel’s lashing out, counterproductively, at its Arab neighbours.

Thousands more marched in places like Amsterdam and London. And I would have marched with them were it not for the ridiculous slogans like “We are all Hamas now,” (oh, no you are not!) and “Gaza is the new Warsaw, ” (oh, no it isn’t). These are pantomime protestors protesting something they know little about.

Ambient music wiz Brian Eno, at the rally in Trafalgar Square, called for Israel to stop making, “a Warsaw ghetto in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers Party (yes, they do still exist, apparently) was handing out its latest comment on the situation:

A quick look at a map shows that this has little to do with stopping Hamas from sending some missiles into sections of Israel, and everything to do with strangling an entire population of people, with the aim of either destroying the leadership that was democratically elected by the Palestinians themselves or dislodging that support from the Palestinian base. I think drawing analogies between what Israel is doing and what the Nazis did in the Warsaw Ghettos of Poland is entirely appropriate.

And of course the bloggers think they have found in Israel the new Nazis.

After all, the situation faced by the Gazans is ominously similar to that faced by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War Two. Penned in by the Nazi occupiers, the ghetto Jews suffered and starved and lived in endless fear of instantaneous death.

But it is not just the latest Israeli action that brought this analogy crawling out into the daylight. Back in 2003, two British leftwing MPs, Oona King and Jenny Tonge made the same charge. The Guardian reported:

Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was today compared to the Nazis' creation of the Warsaw ghetto by MPs who recently returned from the region.

The controversial comparison, drawn by Oona King and Jenny Tonge, will anger the pro-Israel lobby and the visiting Israeli finance minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, who met Tony Blair at Downing Street this morning.

Labour MP Ms King, who is Jewish, said Gaza was "the same in nature" as the infamous Polish ghetto.

"No government should be behaving like that - least of all a Jewish government," the Bethnal Green and Bow MP said.

Do you like the bit about the “infamous Polish ghetto”?

This comparison with the Warsaw ghetto is mindless and moronic. Israel is not embarking on the Final Solution of the Palestinians.

Quite what they think they are doing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is a good question, however, and I am not even sure the Israeli government knows what exactly. Trying to stop the thousands of rockets that have been raining down on Israeli border towns? Well, even the Israeli side is saying it will never stop all of them. And if Israel thinks that Gazans are suddenly going to start blaming Hamas for being at the wrong end of Israeli rockets, guns and an invasion then they are very stupid indeed. Hamas will just get more popular with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

And on the other side, it is not even clear why Hamas has been lobbing rockets in Israel for two years. These rockets, which have a very low degree of accuracy, can fulfil no military objectives at all. None. So why does Hamas do it? Are they trying to illicit responses from the Israelis, like the one they are reaping now, in the hope of outside intervention from …well, who? The European Union?

Though the suffering of Gazans is great it is not on the same scale as what happened to those trapped in the Warsaw ghetto. Virtually nobody was left alive in the ghetto after the Nazis decided to trash it. And no Palestinians have been packed off the extermination camps.

Another difference is the amazing resistance the Jews put up against the Nazis, with hundreds of thousands of casualties in many of the ghettos across Poland.

I don’t see any of the above happening in Gaza right now. When protestors - who know little of either Gaza or Warsaw - shout slogans involving “holocaust”, or “genocide” or “Warsaw ghetto” they degrade all those terms and memories, and put off one person - me - who would like to join them in condemning Israel and its stupid, bloody attacks.

Monday, January 05, 2009

No Irish?

Now here is an historical twist! Signs are apparently appearing on ‘employment wanted’ signs outside Polish building sites - “No Irish Need Apply”!

The Belfast Telegraph tells us:

Trade union official Michael Kilcoyne - also president of the Consumers Association of Ireland - said it had recently been brought to his attention that the 'No Irish' signs had appeared on a couple of Polish building sites where workers were being sought.

Mr Kilcoyne said: "The reality is that our international reputation as employers has been sullied. Many foreign people who have worked here, especially during our boom years, have had bad experiences.

Labour tribunals in Ireland have been hearing cases of discrimination and exploitation of Poles and other central and eastern Europeans, against ruthless employers, squeezing the last euro out of vulnerable immigrants.

Quite where this story comes from originally is anyone’s guess and I can’t find out who actually saw these signs in the first place. Maybe someone can help? says the story came from the portal for Poles in the British Isles,, although the story there brings us back to the Belfast Telegraph.

But if this is true, then…oh, what irony! My mum is from the Belfast area and she claims she saw, when she moved to Manchester in the 1950s, signs similar to the archetypal “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish…” in windows of houses with rooms to let - as in the photo above. That was before legislation making that kind of nonsense illegal.

It’s illegal, of course, to put signs like that up in Poland. Although, a good post here suggests that this story maybe a bad Irish joke. The beatroot will investigate.

UPDATE – So the nice lady at the Irish Consumer Ass. gave me Michael Kilcoyne’s number and I talked to him about where he got this story from. He said that he heard about it after a “caller to a phone-in programme on the local radio station in County Mayo said he had seen the advert…”. And that’s the source of this story.

Michael is a nice man and conscientious trade unionist, but one caller to a phone-in show is not usually enough evidence to make a story out of. To my knowledge, there is no such advert and never was. Unless, you know better…