It was a randomized process that selected the groups for Euro 2012. And it was an arbitrary scheduling that determined the dates that games would be played on. And when this resulted in Poland and Russia being matched together in a group, and playing their game on Russia Day (equivalent to a Russian Independence Day), I'm sure many organizers of Euro 2012 collectively said "oh shit" in their native languages.
Russia and Poland have a long and complex history. Poland and the USSR fought a war against each other from 1919 to 1921. Over 100,000 people died. In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland as part of an agreement with Nazi Germany. Germany and the USSR then divided and occupied Poland.
In 1944, Polish nationalists rose up against the German occupiers (who had conquered all of Poland in 1941) of Warsaw. They'd hoped this uprising would be assisted by Soviet troops, who were less than 10 miles from the city. The Russians stopped their advance and refused to aid the uprising, which was eventually crushed. An estimated 200,000 Polish civilians died in the failed uprising.
After World War II, Poland was politically dominated by the Soviet Union until 1989.
There's a very long and very recent history between these two countries. Even now, Poland is paranoid about Russia attempting to violate their sovereignty, and Russia is wary of Poland's close ties to NATO and the West.
Before Russia and Poland played to a 1-1 draw yesterday, 5,000 Russian fans marched through Warsaw and to the stadium as a celebration of their team and to celebrate Russia Day. They had permission from Polish authorities to do so. But considering the history between these two countries, maybe it was more than a little insensitive of the Russians to stage such a display of Russian pride on Polish soil. Then again, Russians have never been noted for their sensitivity.
Sporadic fighting broke out between Poles, Russians, and police during the march. Over 50 were arrested, and more than 10 people were hospitalized.
What's aggravating me is that it could have been avoided, and it's overshadowing what should be a great soccer tournament, with battles being fought by 22 men on a field with a ball, not a few dozen thugs in ski masks throwing chairs at each other.
The Polish authorities probably shouldn't have let the Russians march. Then again, maybe they figured that having all the Russian fans in one place would allow them to focus their Police in those areas.
The Russians shouldn't have staged the march at all. It was very antagonistic of them.
Some countries in Europe, Germany for instance, acknowledge the horrible things they've done in their history. Some countries, Russia for instance, don't spend much time discussing the unpleasant things they've done in their history. Russia were partners with the Nazis in conquering Poland in 1939. They didn't help the Poles in 1944 because they wanted to install their own communist government in Warsaw, and not allow the Polish to form their own government. And for 45 years Moscow ran Poland as subservient to the Soviet Union and Russian interests.
So I can't blame the Poles for being angry that a few thousand Russians decided to march through Warsaw. It doesn't excuse the violence, but I understand the rage.