Andrzej Bojanowski, the deputy mayor of Gdansk – one of the four Polish host cities of Euro 2012 – gave football fans, visitors and residents a rather uncomfortable welcome during a radio interview on Tuesday.
Poland’s image is already under the scrutiny of sport-lovers globally, following aggressive Russian-Polish brawls, alleged “monkey chants” directed at Italy’s Mario Balotelli, and apparent abuse hurled at the Czech Republic’s Theodor Gebre Selassie elsewhere in the country. And Bojanowski’s choice of words, when praising the honorable residents of Gdansk, has only made things worse.
He explained in the live radio broadcast: “I thank residents and city employees for behaving like normal civilized white people toward our guests who have in turn also behaved like normal white people.”
Unsurprisingly, the deputy mayor hastily apologized that day after coming under fire from many horrified listeners. An official from the Foundation for Freedom, a Polish anti-racism group, told Agence France-Presse that this was “an example of the extent to which stereotypes and xenophobia are rooted in the mentality and language” of Poland — although the group claimed they did not believe any offence had been intended.
Backtracking in a local newspaper, Bojanowski wrote: “I apologize to anyone I may have hurt with the clumsy phrasing I used this morning in a live broadcast. I simply wanted to thank residents and guests, whatever the color of their skin.”