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.
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).
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’.
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…