World Cup exposes racism in Poland

24th Aug 2018
World Cup exposes racism in Poland

Polish social media was flooded with racist comments about the black football players following France’s World Cup victory (Photo: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency)

 

Kasia Narkowicz and Bolaji Balogun

After the French World Cup victory, Polish social media was flooded with racist comments about the black football players, describing them as dirty and calling them monkeys.

Blatant expressions of racism in Poland are not limited to football fans or the stadium but sip through the entire society, starting with the still popular and widely read classic children’s stories that portray Africa and black people through racist stereotypes. While racism in Poland is not new, the current government does a poor job in addressing this growing issue.

Racism against black players

When France won the World Cup, the Polish Centre for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Acts, noted several racist comments on social media expressed about the black players on the winning team. In most of these comments the football players were compared to monkeys and to asphalt, and described through stereotypical racist tropes: being dirty, wild, untamed, living in trees and eating bananas.

On Facebook, one man named Paweł described the football players as slaves and said: ‘let them drown on their rubber boats and fry on the electric wire fences’. Another Facebook user said that he feels sorry for white French people but that they at least ‘don’t have to go to the Zoo to see monkeys’.

Another man, Daniel, described the World Cup winners as ‘dirty and smelly France where most come from the jungle and climbed down from palm trees’. Another man, called Bartek, said: ‘What sort of France is it where its only asphalt playing there without French surnames’. A woman called Aga said that it is a shame that Croatia lost ‘to gorillas out of a tree’. A man called Leszek said ‘Monkeys are happy as if they have seen bananas’. Another man, Mieczysław, said: ‘these are dirtbags and monkeys, this is not France’.

Some of the comments were also Islamophobic. One comment reportedly said: ‘France doesn’t exist anymore, it is a Muslim-African country. Would you like to see Poland like that? I would NEVER want that!’ Sensing that his comment would provoke critique he added: ‘And one more thing! Please don’t call those, who don’t accept this chaos, for racists!’

Racism in Poland

There is a wider issue of racism within football in Poland, just like in many other countries. The anti-racist Never Again Association in Poland is running a campaign ‘Let’s kick out racism from the stadiums’ since 1996. But racist attacks towards black people in Poland are not only perpetuated by football fans. Ongoing research into racism in Poland shows that black people living in Poland experience racism daily, often on the streets by members of the public. One black person living in Poland that Bolaji Balogun interviewed told him that people have shouted ‘Ebola’ at her and that she has been pointed at and called ‘monkey’, an experience familiar to many other black people in Poland.

Despite the increase in the population of black Africans currently living in Poland, most Poles have never had any interaction with black people. As a result, Poles’ knowledge about Africa and black people is often limited to the narrow Polish media’s representation of Africa that often draws on stereotypical, orientalised images of the continent. In one of Poland’s best-known children’s stories ‘Murzynek Bambo’ (Bambo the black) that was published in the 1920s and is still widely read to children today, the black protagonist lives up in a tree, refuses to wash and is lazy, reminding of the key racist tropes used to describe the French football team. Another old and loved children’s cartoon about two Polish boys, Bolek i Lolek, features an episode called ‘On the slopes of Kilimanjaro’ where the boys travel to Africa, meet animals and a black person who, similarly to ‘Bambo the black’, lives in a tree.

Knowing that the representation of Africa and black people in Poland hasn’t changed much in a century and continues to reproduce orientalised images of black people, it is perhaps not surprising that many Polish people expressed bestial views of the black-African French players that won the 2018 football World Cup. For many Poles, the Black-French players cannot also be Europeans, but only as Africans, seen through the Polish preconceptions of the ‘wild continent’ the way it was described to them when they were children.

There has been a steady increase in racist and Islamophobic incidents in Poland in recent years. Poland’s oldest anti-racist organisation Nigdy Więcej [Never Again] has called it the ‘biggest wave of hatred’ in Poland’s recent history, reporting several incidents taking place every day across the country. Poland’s current government, focused on promoting nationalism and being hostile to all forms of foreignness, is not active in combating the growing culture of hate in the country. On the contrary, shortly after the Law and Justice party entered into power in 2015, the only body committed to tackling racism and xenophobia was dissolved. Racism in Poland is by no means new, but the reluctance to address its growth by the current government risks to make a bad situation worse.

 

Kasia Narkowicz, Lecturer, University of Gloucestershire; Bolaji Balogun, Doctoral Researcher, University of Leeds

 

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