Poland's Sports Minister Joanna Mucha said she is ashamed of the actions of local football hooligans who attempted to disrupt the European Championship by attacking rival Russian fans. Clashes in Warsaw ended with mass arrests.
“I am outraged. I am ashamed for these people who came just to make trouble. It's certainly not the fans who cheer Poland. These are mere hooligans,” the minister told Najważniejsze Wiadomości newspaper.
The battle royal of Polish and Russian football fans in Warsaw exposed the Polish police’s lack of experience in crowd control.
Thousands of police officers were providing security for a march by 5,000 Russian football fans dedicated to the Day of Russia. The peaceful demonstration was conducted immediately prior to Euro 2012 football match between Russia and Poland.
When groups of organized Polish nationalists attacked the column, police forces could not deal with them properly. Before police began arresting agitators, Russian tourists had to make a stand against cohesive packs of nationalists all alone.
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Hooligans dressed in T-shirts with “Patriot” inscriptions started beating Russian fans while shouting “Disperse red ragtags!”
To put an end to violence police had to use water cannons, tear gas and even fire point-blank with rubber bullets. The procession made it to the stadium after all, but clashes continued even after the match itself was over.
The clashes on Tuesday ended up with over 180 detained hotheads, of whom more than 150 were Polish nationals, some 20 Russians, a Spaniard and a Hungarian. Ten people were injured, though none seriously. Ten police officers were also reportedly injured.
One of the founders of the All-Russia Football Fans Union, Andrey Malosolov, who took part in the procession, told Russia’s Kommersant Daily that “if the column was not protected by ‘combat teams’, the outcome would have been much worse for Russian fans.”
Polish authorities are promising to sort out the situation and punish those responsible for the brawls. There is no rush to set the detained free until police look into the situation, they say.
President of the Russian Football Union Sergey Fursenko made a statement that Russia expects Polish police to be tough in providing security to the guests of the championship.
“We’re strictly against politics influencing football in any way. Football is beyond politics,” Fursenko said, stressing that the situation when a peaceful march is attacked by politically-motivated groups of trained brawlers is “absolutely unacceptable.”
Fursenko noted that Russian fans were behaving correctly and carried no political banners. Some were attending the match with children – but even families were attacked, he stressed. “Russian fans did not provoke anybody. Everything they did was in response to aggressive actions of Polish fans.
“I do not understand why there’s so much aggression, why young men living in a prosper country cannot welcome fans from another state,” Fursenko said.
Police investigating the clashes say both sides of the conflict should be held responsible for the violence and indicate more arrests of both Russian and Polish fans could follow.
Polish ambassador to Russia Wojciech Zajączkowski told journalists that “We’ve got to understand who was doing what. When it becomes clear a person was not a party to scuffles, he will be freed immediately.” He said he has no information about whether and when the charges against Russians are going to be brought.
The ambassador insists the Russian media is exaggerating the number of attackers. He said the biggest group of hooligans registered by Polish police was “only” 200 men. He stressed that Russian police officers assigned to assist their Polish colleagues helped a lot to suppress conflicts, but the events showed that was not enough to terminate violence.
Zajączkowski said that most of the football fans from Russia and Poland were actually getting together in an absolutely peaceful manner and the fighting was instigated by those who were intending to come to fisticuffs at any cost.
RT’s Aleksey Yaroshevsky reports that following the incident many Poles have expressed their apologies to Russians on the internet, describing the attack as “brainless and mindless.”
“On the Polish internet, users are circulating a manifesto of apologies addressed to Russians. As they say, they apologize for ‘brainless idiots’ attacking Euro 2012 for no reason. They are just people looking to fight. You have such people in every society,” Marek Ostrovski, senior editor at Poland's Politika magazine, told RT.
Yaroshevsky also said the incident to some extent was provoked by the hype raised by some Polish media, who equated the football match to the Russian-Polish battle on the Vistula River in 1920, when Polish forces were victorious over Soviet soldiers, despite being outnumbered.
Many media, the Super Express newspaper specifically, were calling on Polish people, urging them to do everything they could, even dying, to gain victory over Russia.
The latest confrontation has made Warsaw police tighten security at the hotel where the Russian national football team is staying.
Warsaw is expecting some 20,000 more Russian fans to come ahead of the game between Russia and Greece on Saturday. The Polish Interior Ministry has pledged security measures before and after the match will be “commensurate with the risks.”