Silesians Want Autonomy

We, the Nation
We, the Nation

An interesting thing happened during a recent Ruch Chorzów football match. A section of  fans hung a large flag over the fencing of part of the Chorzów stadium. The flag created such a stir that the Polish Football Association (PZPN) decided to ban this flag from being hung at future Chorzów games. What could possibly have infuriated the officials at the PZPN to have made them take such a drastic decision? Did the flag use abusive language? Racist language? Did the flag incite violence? None of the above. Quite simply, the flag was in German.

Huliganeria Oberschlesien
Huliganeria Oberschlesien

It’s not unusual for Ruch Chorzów fans, like most fans around the world, to fly various flags proclaiming their excellence and superiority above all other fans. No surprise there. However, Chorzów fans also have a propensity for declaring their nationality. A conspicuous section of Ruch fans often make it clear they are Silesians, that they belong to a Silesian nation. The PZPN has never previously got involved in the Silesian flag-waving of these fans. But the straw that broke the PZPN’s camel’s back was the use of the German word “Oberschlesien” (Upper Silesia).

Republic of Upper Silesia?
Republic of Upper Silesia?

Obviously, Ruch Chorzów fans have been quick to protest against the ban. They believe it contravenes the constitutional right of minorities to use their own language (Silesian is a Polish dialect interspersed with German). Those who uphold the ban are quick to point out the roots of Ruch Chorzów: a Polish football team which supported Poland in the Upper Silesian plebiscites in the inter-war period and supported a Polish Silesia. They believe the “Huliganeria Oberschlesien” are trying to do away with the club’s traditions. Many older Ruch fans are downright disgusted with the flag and the idea that certain followers of Chorzów could even think of associating themselves with something as abominable as German or German Silesia. During the plebiscite and WWII, the German aggressors and occupants often adorned buildings and walls with “Oberschlesien” to highlight what they believed to be Silesia’s ‘Germanness’.

Schliesen - Back in the News
Schliesen - Back in the News

The other side to the story is just as fascinating (and complicated). The Ruch Chorzów fans responsible for the flag as well as those aligned with the idea of being ‘Silesian’ believe it to be a mark of their distinctness from other fans and other parts of Poland. Internet fora have been flooded with messages from Silesians claiming that Poles are racist, bigoted and intolerant and are not giving Silesians the right to be heard. It is interesting how what might appear to be a simple sporting discussion has turned into a discussion on political self-determination, perhaps even independence. The Silesian Autonomy Movement has also been quick to react and ‘go political’ turning the situation into a Tony Harrison-like ‘Them & [uz]’ battle. The question, however, is whether this really is a them-against-us fight…


35 thoughts on “Silesians Want Autonomy

  1. It’s not surprising that it has upset a lot of people but it’s hard to see why the PZPN have taken the official decision to ban it. Is the official reason simply that it was written in German? If so, it does seem like a rather blatant restriction on free speech. Perhaps it was the ‘Huliganeria’ part which allowed them to ban it?

    I’ve never quite been able to get my head around the whole Silesian thing. Silesians are Slavs whose language is similar to Polish but the whole thing is complicated by the German factor. After the population exchanges at the end of the war, how many people living in the region have roots in other areas?

    The Polish state does seem very keen on maintaining an image of homogenity. Regional identities seem to be much less marked and celebrated than in other countries, although this is partly due to mass population exchanges.

    Last question: Was the decision to have the national stadium in Chorzow a political decision, an attempt to make Silesians feel more Polish? Or was it simply that Silesia is the most football mad part of Poland?

  2. Czarny,
    From what I’ve heard/read it’s the fact that it’s in German. You see “Hools”, “Ultras”, “Huligany” etc at most stadia but nothing is ever done.

    I think the Silesia thing is a little more complicated than just a simple Polish/German mix. If you ever go to Śląsk notice how different the surnames are compared to other ‘Polish’ surnames. They definitely don’t sound German but are also quite unlike surnames in other parts of Poland. Silesia has for a long while been a more ‘autonomous’ area.

    As for the need for homogeneity, this can be explained by foreign invasions, partitions and the suchlike. Possibly in the same way that France tries to protect French culture and language.

    Regarding the national stadium in Chorzów, it’s always been there, although the new national stadium (for Euro 2012) will be in Warsaw.

  3. French fishing ? 😉 If local languages have no official recognition in France (European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is still not ratified as far as I ‘m informed, and I find it a shame), it’s not prohibited to use them, even in a stadium.
    Some of them (when locutors still exists) are optionnally taught in (public or private) schools to kids in the relevant area, and generally, their use is kindly accepted… as far as people can also speak French and accept to speak French with people from other regions, which is generally the case.
    Some elderly still only practise their own mother-tongue (especially in Alsace, which has changed of side of the german border 5 times in the last two centuries) and have difficulties to deal alone with administrative matters. (You can identify those all ladies who were in german speaking schools, they always have forgotten their glasses at home, and most of the time, they solve their concern … in Alsacer German, with any kind volunteer they found around; alsacer is a german dialect with some French in it).
    In the situation you describe, holiganery revendication in gothic letters (a symbol of nazi occupation in France) would have been a subject of prosecution, not using a non official language… different places…

  4. No intent to really compare…just it’s one’s need to understand and explain how one’s used to react, think within its culture frame to better approach how people, with other culture and history, react and think differently… and truly try to understand what’s at stake for the other (expanded meaning of “different places”)
    Next time I will sweep the intercultural step to go directly to : … I was interrogative about : “Internet fora have been flooded with messages from Silesians claiming that Poles are racist, bigoted and intolerant and are not giving Silesians the right to be heard. It is interesting how what might appear to be a simple sporting discussion has turned into a discussion on political self-determination, perhaps even independence.” How does Silesian say Silesia in their dialect ? Polish way, German way or something of their own ? or are the three ways in use ?
    Is asking the right to be heard a claim for independance ? or a wish to be truly recognised as Polish, with their variations around the theme ?
    … I found it a bit rude to ask for all of this at first, but should have !

  5. “How does Silesian say Silesia in their dialect?”
    Ślonsk, as far as I’m aware.

    “Is asking the right to be heard a claim for independance? or a wish to be truly recognised as Polish, with their variations around the theme?”
    Great question. I have no answer to that one. 🙂

  6. Thanks a lot for your answer … and would the PZPN have been so reactive in the case of use of Ślonsk on the flag ? (new subject in the what if… reinventing history category)

      1. Yes problem is in german name. But fella up there ask if PZPN would be so reactive if football fans have “Slonsk” flag.

  7. Hmmm I know of so many Germans whose heritage is from Silesia and whose families lived there for several centuries before being ethnically cleansed at gunpoint end of WW2. The whole Elsass-Lorraine cultural situation could have been sorted out long ago making the border simply along linguistic grounds. Most of Elsass is culturally German whereas most of Lorraine (Lothringen) is French culturally. The borders of Europa have been always based on selfish greed of the elites and its always the common poor people who have suffered as a result.

    Northern Ireland is a parallel to Elsass-Lorraine as its obviously Irish but with a huge part of its population identifying themselves with Britain based on cultural grounds.

    Most of the Poles in Silesia are from the old eastern Poland is that correct? The borders inside western and central Europe may seemed fixed for many people but I can see them changing yet again in the future and that includes the forever changing borders of Poland and Germany.

  8. I’m Polish and from Silesia. Trust me this Silesian autonomy thing is really a non-issue. It should be noted football fans love pushing things to the extreme, many if nto most Silesians consider themselves Polish-Silesians. Also one a side note if you do visit Silesia a few Silesian words have slipped into mainstream Polish in our region, for example many people say ‘Ja’ instead of ‘tak’ for yes and ‘kai’ instead of ‘gdzie’ for where. They speak their language and have their traditions which is great, but also uphold their Polish customs and traditions. I think the root of this autonomy movement is the fact after the fall of communism Silesia (especially Upper Silesia) has seen an ecomonic down turn with the closing of many mines and steelworks etc, and this has pissed a lot of people off and naturally blame Warsaw for letting Silesia fall on hard times. So I think a lot of Silesians have had enough and want to run things their way to improve the region. Most Poles will probably say Upper Silesia is the ugliest part of Poland sadly. Anyway, this is what I have seen from experience hope it helps explain the situation a bit better. Oh one last thing, look at the stats.. according to Wikipedia there are just under 2 million Silesians in Poland, with only 173,000 declaring Silesian nationality, that’s less than 10%.

    1. About that, we believe that more than 173,000 people declared Silesian nationality. There were cases of people declaring Silesian nationality, but census official, so they changed it to Polish nationality.

      The root of autonomous movement lies in Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship that was established in 1921 and disestablished in 1939 by Nazi Germans.
      The communism thing is just an example of how to take and not give anything in exchange, and this just pisses people off here.

      1. I stay by my statement. Silesian Autonomous(Autonomy) Movement relate to historical Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship. That is the basic idea to bring back what Geraman nazi gov abolished.
        All German laws and acts were delegalised after WW2, except the act delegalising Silesian Autonomy.

  9. Hi,

    Yes, of course, nowadays Silesia is ethnic polish. Around 20 percent have german origins, especially in the region around Opole.

    Do you have new informations about the “Oberschlesien-flague-conflict” – do the fans ignore the prohibition?

  10. One more thing: the reason why names in Silesia sound different is, that the germans who stayed there after 1945 were forced to change their names (“polonize”).
    The result is, that today they have names, wich are not typically german and not polish.

    An Example?

    Miroslav Klose. His father Josef (“Jozef”) was forced to change the name into “Kloze”, after 1990 he changed it again.



  12. Tolerance ,opennes,multiculti ? ask the polands, why is the wort oberschlesien banned from the stadion i see not Tolerance and Opennes from the poles

  13. Poland should allow the German Silesians expelled between 1945 – 1955 to return to Silesia, Pomerania and Masuria (East Prussia).It is a uestion of human rights, legality and proves the maturity and place of modern Poland in Europe. In time, these regions should be allowed a vote on rejoining Germany if they wish.

    1. @Michael; They can. Since Poland joined the EU, there’s nothing stopping any German from moving out of Nordrhein-Westfalen and in to Śląsk. Koeningsberg might be different, because Poland has nothing to do with that.

      As for referendums concerning joining other states, I suppose if a vast majority of a population is unhappy about their current state, they could always rebel and become independent or join someone else, if the other state wants this as well. But we also see that the vast majority of the people don’t give a fuck because the vast majority of modern European states don’t treat their minorities (at least not if they’re from the neighbouring country) bad enough to warrant this.

  14. I can’t understand it why you use such terms like ” the German agressors and occupants”, as you may know the majority of Upper Silesians voted in the plepiscite for Germany (about 60 %), though Uppersilesia was devided and the more valuable industrialised part was giving to Poland.
    But not only the German-Uppersilesian were betrayed, but also the miniority who voted for Poland because they were promised due to their history that they could live in an autonomous region, with special rights and protection to their language,traditions and customs. But after the incopration of East-Uppersilesia the autochtons were more and more polonized and even after WW2 the autonomous status was annexed. Silesians which stressed their Silesian or German descent were pushed off to Germany, even though they voted for Poland during the plepiscite. Therefore many people hold their tongues during the commie era.
    Nowadays you still can’t speak up your opinion freely without fearing any penalties !

    1. Pierony, if you are asking me to hold my tongue/pen, you’ll have to wait! 😉
      As for the use of “German aggressors”, I can explain…
      Poland was fresh from two armed conflicts: World War One (with GERMANY as the de facto aggressors) and the Polish-Russian war of 1919-1921. What is more, Poland had just re-gained its statehood after being partitioned by GERMANY, Russia and Austria after 123 years. Poland was wary of any moves by Germany to encroach on what it believed to be its land.

      1. Yes, there was a partition of Poland in the 18th century, but what has that to do with Uppersilesia?
        The separation of Silesia from the Polish Kingdom was initiated by the piast dukes themselves in the early 13th century!
        And from the 14th century to 1920 the region wasn’t a part of Poland at all. It’s also true that the slavic tongue (Silesian/Polish dialect?)didn’t died out especially in the rural areas of Uppersilesia due to the fact that as a borderland it was influenced by his neighbours Poland and Bohemia/Czech. But during the long duration seperated from Poland, Uppersilesia created it’s own culture, traditions customs, etc.., which were predominantly influenced by Germans. Therefore the Uppersilesian felt more German than Polish, which was also shown in the outcome of the Plebiscite in 1920.
        In my opinion the terms like “German aggressor or occupant” doesn’t fit in history of the Uppersilesian region and also not in your article!

  15. Pierony, I understand your concern and opinion. Yes, it could be argued that Silesia was predominantly German but the fact remains that there WAS German aggression at that time.
    However, I have a question to you: what do you think can be done NOW to promote the area and improve Polish-German relations?

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