The Geopolitics of a Czech-Polish Potato Salad Competition


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The Geopolitics of a Czech-Polish Potato Salad Competition

April 9, 2024, 5:00 a.m. ET
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By Piotr Jasiński

Mr. Jasiński is a filmmaker.

In the fall of 2021, a pub in the mining town of Bogatynia, Poland, put up a sign: “We don’t serve Czechs.”

Bogatynia is on the border with the Czech Republic and is the site of the Turow coal mine, a Polish mine that is at the center of an ongoing dispute between the two countries. Earlier that year, the Czech government filed a lawsuit against Poland, detailing how the mine was negatively affecting the surrounding environment and draining groundwater. The European Court of Justice responded by fining Poland 500,000 euros a day until the problems were solved. Bogatynia locals were worried about their future, since the mine is one of the biggest employers in the region.

News of signs like the one at the pub in Bogatynia spread quickly across Czech and Polish media, drawing more public attention to the dispute. I went to Bogatynia to investigate how the political conflict was affecting relationships between the communities at the border.

I’d heard that people were scared of speaking candidly about the mine; in some circles, it is referred to as Big Brother. Conflict with Czech citizens? I was told it was nonsense. Local people claim they go to the Czech Republic to grab beers, and Czechs go to Poland to shop. Environmental issues? One resident said that Poles live even closer to the mine and have never noticed any damage to the environment.

In the face of these cautious responses, I wondered how else the mining dispute influenced Polish-Czech relations on the ground. That’s how I found myself in Hermanice, a small Czech border village, where representatives from the two countries stood against each other face to face — in a potato salad competition.

Piotr Jasiński is a director from Warsaw, based in Prague.

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