Could Poland finally be cool?

The Euro 2012 football European kicks off in Poland’s brand-new stadiums. For Newsweek Polska, this competition hosted with Ukraine is an occasion to celebrate the country’s new image, but there is still progress to be made.

Published on 8 June 2012 at 10:52
The jury's still out. Euro 2012 football fanzone near Warsaw's Palace of Culture, 4 June, 2012.

I must admit I have been thinking about this match for years. I imagine the moment. The tournament has just kicked off. It is the eighth of June 2012, three minutes before six p.m., the National Stadium in Warsaw. The Polish and Greek teams emerge from the tunnel. I hear the roar of the audience. I see our eleven boys who will come out fighting moments from now. I hear the anthem, sung by fifty thousand throats, I feel the shivers down my spine. Go, Poland!

Okay, this was a bit soppy and bombastic, so for the sake of fairness – we wouldn’t have this festival were it not for an Ukrainian billionaire who, according to folk tales, bought a sufficientl number of UEFA Executive Committee member votes after which Mr Platini, allegedly to his own surprise, announced to the world that the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship would be hosted by Poland and Ukraine. I hereby greet Mr Surkis and thank him. This great day wouldn’t have happened without him.

But it wouldn’t have happened either without Poland’s great, unprecedented success, without which the idea of organising the championships in Poland and Ukraine would have been just a madman’s dream. We don’t owe this festival exclusively to ourselves – but it wouldn’t have happened without us either.

Ailing healthcare, dog poo-covered sidewalks

What is the nature of this success? To put it briefly, it is that we have taken advantage of an opportunity that was offered to us by (take your pick) God, fate, history. Please note the phrase “taken advantage of”. Here are the Poles who don’t miss a chance, don’t waste opportunities, but instead make the most of what has been offered to them, building up their Biblical talents rather than burying them. No, that sounds patronizing: the Poles. I meant to say: we, the Poles!

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A week or two after the fatal Smolensk plane crash, I got scared. I felt that the post-Romantic enthusiasts of Poland always the martyr, always the loser, always humiliated and tortured, were taking the national flag away from us, trying to decree who is a patriot and who is not. And sidelining three in four Poles in doing so. I thought then that while you should never take the white-and-red flag away from anyone, you shouldn’t allow anyone to take it away from you either.

Then I invented the slogan “Fajna Polska” [which can be translated by “cool” or “nice” Poland]. Britain used to have her “Cool Britannia”, Sweden had “Sverige ar fantastik”. But Poland is not cool – it is hot, with her emotions, her sensitivity. It isn’t fantastic either. It’s simply fajna, with everything we love about her and everything that irritates us, with all the things that make us happy and all those that anger us. It is simply – fajna.

Fajna Polska? Well, I have a hundred proofs or more that Poland is not fajna. Sluggish courts, ailing healthcare, dog poo-covered sidewalks, unfriendly officials, pseudo-tertiary schools, an absurdly complicated tax system. And a great deal of other issues, everyone can add their own.

Fajna Polska is growing up

Fajna Polska doesn’t sound convincing? Then fajni Polacy perhaps, the cool Poles? But here too I’d have a handful of proofs that we are not so cool. The online discussion forums full of anti-Semitic dung, the brutal driving habits, the ugly ease with which we ascribe foul deeds and intentions to others. Perhaps the greatest charge against us, Poles, would be the ease with which some, and one in particular, have managed to antagonize us in the last seven years.

So fajna Polska? Fajni Polacy? Well, exactly. Definitely fajna Polska and fajni Polacy. Why? Because during the last twenty years we, the Poles, have successfully ditched most of the bad stereotypes amplified by others and felt by us. It has turned out we know how to work hard and are great at spotting opportunities. That we don’t rely on the state at all; quite the contrary: despite the state, or actually in defiance of it, we do our own thing, starting businesses, creating jobs. We don’t cheat but pay our taxes. We do everything we can to guarantee a better future for ourselves and our children.

Fajna Polska is growing up. In its vast majority, it is resistant to the immense black PR that some of our politicians have been trying to sell us. It doesn’t shut its eyes when problems emerge, doesn’t break down when they need to be addressed. It looks at itself in the mirror and doesn’t wince in disgust, but it doesn’t feel like putting up a pseudo-patriotic make-up of sinlessness either. It looks at itself with sympathy, kindness and self-irony. It is aware of its virtues, merits and advantages, but also of its weaknesses and defects.

This is the Poland Europe will see in a moment. First of all, this is the Poland that we will see ourselves. Okay, let’s get back down to earth, or rather down to turf. Enough rattling on. We are the Smuda team’s twelfth member [Franciszek Smuda is Poland’s manager]! Go, Poland!!!


Football passion hides our flaws

“Poland is poorly prepared for the Euro, further blunders are possible, and hopes for a brilliant future afterwards are much exaggerated”, writes liberal Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny in its editorial about the Euro 2012 cup. The flaws are many: unfinished motorways, diversions, traffic jams, “facilities that will have to be closed down after the tournament to be completed."

Not only have we not made a civilisational leap, we’ve also heard from the BBC that we live in a racist country you can return from in a body bag.

And yet, notes Tygodnik, “all this doesn’t matter at all” —

Let the politicians, painting their faces in national colours, keep on hoping for rating gains, let the salesmen keep on trying to sell as many TVs and cans of beer as possible ... let the flag makers keep on lagging behind with their order deliveries and let the feminists keep on rightly reminding us about the dangers of expanding machismo – things will still be beautiful because football is beautiful.


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