Dr Seweryn Dmovski shares his insights on soccer’s tumultuous history in Eastern Europe.

Despite the downcast weather, Dr Seweryn Dmovski of the University of Warsaw provided clarity of soccer’s impact on the shaping of Eastern Europe by detailing how soccer reflects the political, social and cultural processes that govern the region.

He began his lecture by citing Polish soccer fans’ attempt to overthrow their government, after then Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, issued the closure of certain soccer stadiums due to hooliganism by fans. This announcement came four months before the country’s next election and as a result, Polish soccer fans created a social movement with the goal of preventing Tusk’s re-election. In fact, some fans drove around in a bus that followed Tusk when he was on the campaign trail. Despite these efforts, however, Tusk still prevailed in the following September election.

Another point of emphasis of Dmovski’s discussion was how soccer represents an expression of identity for the Eastern European states, exemplified by the Hungarian men’s national team of the 1950s.

Known as the “Mighty Magyars”, Hungary’s national soccer team were the era’s powerhouse team, having won the 1952 Summer Olympics. Yet their most important accomplishment would be their win over England on November 25th, 1953 in London. England has refused to play Hungary previously because they viewed themselves as superior football players to those of Eastern Europe. So once after Hungary demolished the British, 6-3, in front of their fans, the outcome was perceived by most as representative of Eastern Europe defeating the Western side on a level beyond the field, as it was the first time England had lost on home soil to a country outside of the United Kingdom.

What made Dr Dmovski’s discussion topical was its relation to the impending World Cup taking place in Russia this summer. The reason for this is that Russia is not part of Eastern Europe, and yet, over the course of history, has maintained a steady political presence over the region.

When asked about his thoughts on the upcoming World Cup, Dmovski replied that he is planning on attending the event but stated that his friends, not surprisingly, aren’t willing to go to Russia for various reasons. In fairness though, it should be mentioned that he said the Russian people have been very welcoming every time he has visited the country.

He went on to add that the Russian government is putting a lot of preparation into this event in hopes of receiving a better reputation worldwide. A similar comparison transpired during the Winter Olympics when South and North Korean athletes competed under the same flag in spite of ongoing tensions between the two neighbouring countries.

In the end, he views the trend of giving repressive governments, such as Russia and likewise Qatar, the chance to show off on the world stage as problematic. Given soccer’s influence on society, politics, and culture, this makes sense, as the biggest takeaway from the night was the importance of recognizing that soccer’s power should never be underestimated, not just in Eastern Europe, but also across the globe.