Polaco (slur)

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Polaco is a Spanish derogatory term for a Catalan person. Its origins are not clear and all related theories are purely speculative, usually banking on the fact that the same word denotes a Pole. The name appears across all Spain, though in particular in Madrid and in the regions neighboring Catalonia. Rarely present in literary language, it forms part of the slang vocabulary; its best-known usage is during sport competitions. In Catalonia the term is accepted and at times used once its derogatory flavor is wiped out or reversed, such as when telling Catalans from other Spaniards. In Poland the term is generally unknown; when reported, its offensive connotation is marginalized or ignored, replaced with references to alleged Catalan sympathy towards Poland.


Historically the term "polacos" has been twice used in Spanish as an abuse or smear. In the late 18th century the name was applied to followers of one of two Madrid drama schools; in theatrical auditoria they used to trade insults with a competitive group, named "chorizos". The name allegedly stemmed from a cleric known as Padre Polaco, who used to lead his band.[1] Both groupings were revived almost a century later with a popular zarzuela of Luis Mariano de Larra Chorizos y polacos (1876);[2] the title immortalized both names, though there is no indication that they were used beyond the theatrical realm or had anything to do with Catalonia.[3] Once more the term "polacos" emerged against an entirely different background in the mid-1850s; the name was applied to a faction of Partido Moderado. The grouping was led by Luis José Sartorius, a politician erroneously supposed to be of Polish origin.[4] Because of the way the group operated, the terms "polacada", "polaquería" and "polaquísmo" soon started to stand for favoritism, cronyism and arbitrary personal decisions; the term "polaco" denoted a member of a clientelist political network.[5] The name disappeared from public usage following Sartorius’ death, yet it enjoyed temporary revival in the 1880s[6] and made it from the press to literature appearing in Miau, a novel of Benito Pérez Galdós (1888).[7] The term "polacada" barely survived in Spanish until today, in dictionaries defined as "an act of favoritism";[8] when denoting a crony the word "polaco" disappeared entirely. One more episode of Poland-related naming practice occurred during the lifetime of the First Spanish Republic. Few liberal politicians dubbed Spain "Poland of the South"; the term was by no means derogatory and it was supposed to suggest that like Poland in the late 18th century, Spain faced a threat of a foreign reactionary intervention. The name was not anyhow related to Catalonia; adopted only among a small circle of liberal intellectuals it was used in the 1870s and did not make it as a commonly used reference.[9]


Origins of the anti-Catalan usage of "polacos" are obscure.[10] The theories striving to clarify the issue are abundant, yet they are all purely speculative and can hardly be verified. The most far-reaching hypothesis claims that supposed 17th-century merchant relations between Catalonia and Poland proved fertile soil for growth of ethnic stereotypes.[11] Another theory points to the 18th-century theatrical debate, though it provides no clue as to the Catalan link.[12] One more idea is about Polish soldiers fighting in Spain and by enemies confused with their Catalan allies; specifically some point to the War of Succession,[13] some to the Peninsular War[14] and some to the French intervention of 1823.[15] There is a concept which reverts to Sartorius; his supposed Catalan cronies was allegedly the reason why the name was applied to the Catalans.[16] Some authors dwell upon perceived parallelism between the Polish independence movement of the late 19th century and the emergent Catalan[17] or Basque[18] nationalisms. Divided between France and Spain, Catalonia – the theory goes – resembled Poland, the country divided between Germany, Austria and Russia;[19] another version is that Catalan deputies to the Cortes were dubbed "Poles" because of their national exaltation.[20] Few suggest that the derogatory term was exported to Spain by the Prussians.[21] Others point to the Civil War period, when allegedly Nationalist soldiers on the Aragon front confused the Polish International Brigades volunteers with the Catalan Republican belligerents.[22] One more group of students claim that the victorious Nationalists pledged to wipe out Catalonia from the maps just the Germans did in case of Poland in 1939.[23] A fairly popular thesis partially supported by evidence is that the insult emerged during Francoism[24] as part of the barrack argot; the reference to Poland was casual[25] and the term was to stigmatize Catalan recruits as "alien".[26] There is a group of theories which do not refer to any point in time but bank on presumed similarities between the Catalans and the Poles, be it linguistic ("slurping" sound of the language),[27] religious (black Madonnas of Częstochowa and Montserrat)[28] or other (both nations are supposedly stingy).[29]


Real Madrid home game

There are a few slur references to the Catalans used in the present-day Spanish, like "catalufos", "catalinos", "catalardos" or their scatological variations. However, in terms of popularity none compares to "polacos",[30] which is by some considered a "classic" form of anti-Catalan abuse.[31] The term is clearly derogatory, though the intention might vary from slightly patronizing, ironic or minimizing to aggressively contemptuous. Its actual substance is blurred and illegible; the word is so much lexicalized that a possible reference to specific features or deficiencies – in case there was any – has long disappeared. While the insults of "catalufos" or "catalardos" are thrown usually against a political background and are applied to individuals supposed to nurture separatist Catalanist sentiments, the term "polacos" is more universal in usage. Geographically the abuse might be heard even in areas located far away from Catalonia, e.g. in Andalusia,[32] though it remains particularly popular in Madrid. It is used also in regions neighboring Catalonia, be it the Balearic Islands,[33] Valencia[34] or Aragon;[35] in case of the latter the term is often applied to inhabitants of the belt bordering Catalonia, named Franja.[36] The name is used mostly in spoken Spanish, though sporadically it appears also in writing, mostly in social media;[37] it is typical for colloquial language, yet at times it might surface in literary Spanish.[38] The term is used in plural as "polacos" rather than in singular as "polaco". Generally it is intended to reach the Catalan audience directly or indirectly, e.g. during brawls. Currently the best known circumstances of usage are collective chants on sport venues, typically by fans supporting teams competing with FC Barcelona; it became sort of a ritual marking football or basketball games played at home by Real Madrid to cheer "es polaco el que no bote".[39] Cases of public personalities using the term, e.g. those of a playwright Antonio Gala Velasco[40] or a sport manager Ramón Mendoza Fontela,[41] are usually acknowledged by the media.

Reception in Catalonia[edit]

Among the Catalans there is a general degree of awareness of the abusive role of the term "polacos" in Spanish. Their own response might fall into one of chiefly four categories. The one which because of its verbal and on the fly background is most difficult to document is indignation.[42] Another – a fairly popular one – is about ignoring or eradicating the abusive intention; instead, the term is assigned a neutral, favorable or even proud flavor. A TV survey on the streets of Barcelona seems to demonstrate that the city dwellers are scarcely troubled by the word, and some of them speculate about Catalan and Polish comparisons related to such values as patriotism, national pride or solidarity.[43] Some nationalist Catalan politicians, like Oriol Junqueras Vies, underline what they believe to be attractive features rendering the two nations alike.[44]

One more type of response, made popular by TV, is turning the term into a paradigm of general political ridicule. This is how the term "polacos" is positioned by a satirical show Polònia, aired since 2006 by regional public Catalan channel TV3. Often banking on caricature Polish references, the broadcast provides a mocking commentary to ongoing political events in Spain and has proved to be a commercial success. In 2008 a sports-related and similarly formatted spin-off was launched, named Crackovia (a pun on Polish city Cracow and "crack", or sports ace).

Another type of response is adopting the term as a component of Spanish-Catalan antagonism and turning it against the other Spaniards. It is perhaps best expressed by a slogan "better a pole than a Spanish dog",[45] not infrequent in social media[46] or used by fans of sport teams based in Catalonia.[47] The word "polacos" has also filtered into the Catalan language, though it lost its double designation; at times and when self-defining themselves against the background of Catalan-Spanish skirmishes the Catalans use the word "polacs", while another word "polonesos" stands for the Poles.[48]

Reception among Poles[edit]

Polish interbrigadistas in Barcelona

Abusive usage of the word "polacos" is not part of common knowledge in Poland, even though the phenomenon is reported in the media or elsewhere from time to time. A characteristic feature of these reports is downplaying, denying[49] or ignoring the offensive intention; e.g. an official publication of the Warsaw Ministry of Foreign Affairs when dwelling upon the image of Poles in Spain notes merely that "in Catalonia the Poles are approached with particular sympathy, since inhabitants of the region are traditionally named polacos".[50] News about "polacos" are often accompanied by speculations about Poland being reportedly a model for Catalonia, flagged by headlines like Catalans are proud to be Poles.[51] Some authors present the abusive intention as a thing of the past related to Francoist origins of the nickname; they underline alleged Catalan warm feelings towards Poland, resulting from popularity of Polish cartoons for kids, esteem for Polish writers or admiration for the Polish history.[52] The theme of Catalans fascinated with Polish patriotism, independence movement, fighting foreign oppression and contribution of Polish interbrigadistas to defense of Catalonia and the Republic during the civil war at times appears in the Polish cyberspace.[53] Cases of "polacos" being reported clearly as "pejorative-ironic" and "fairly frequently used" abuse are rather uncommon;[54] usually they occur when discussing the sporting rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.[55] As there are many Poles who have recently migrated to Spain, including Catalonia, some of them have noticed the particular usage of the word; like Polish media they play down its offensive tone and when referring to the phenomenon they set it as a somewhat amusing qui pro quo, e.g. introducing themselves as "Polacos de Polonia".[56] A website operated by the Barcelona Poles refers to the term as "slightly pejorative", though also "colloquial" and "with a slight wink".[57] However, there are also cases of the Poles reacting with fury and lambasting the term as insulting to the entire Polish nation.[58]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Manuel García de Villanueva, Origen, épocas y progresos del teatro español: discurso historico al que acompaña un resumen de los espectaculos y un compendio de la historia general de los teatros hasta la era presente, Madrid 1802, p. 314
  2. ^ La Vanguardia 10.01.1994, available here, also Chorizos y polacos, [in:] Zarzuelerías service, 18.01.2016, available here
  3. ^ see e.g. the term "polacos" in the Spanish press of the 1930s at the Spanish national hemeroteca, available here
  4. ^ Barbara Obtułowicz, Luis Jose Sartotius, hrabia de San Luip. Polak, który nie był Polakiem, Kraków 2012, ISBN 9788372717160, Barbara Obtułowicz, Luís José Sartorius, conde de San Luís: leyenda y realidad, [in:] Intinerarios 15 (2012), pp. 279-303
  5. ^ see e.g. the phrase "polaco de última hora y de última extracción", standing for a new member of a clientelistic political network, La Vanguardia 10.11.1884, available here
  6. ^ see e.g. the use of "polacada" in La Vanguardia of the 1880s, available here
  7. ^ detailed analysis in Jadwiga Konieczna-Twardzikowska, Los polacos en Miau. Problema de la traducción del estereotipo, [in:] Actas del quinto congreso internacional de estudios Galdosianos, Las Palmas 1992, ISBN 8481031003, pp. 209-213
  8. ^ polacada, [in:] Diccionario de la lengua española online, available here
  9. ^ Juan Fernández-Mayoralas Palomeque, La Polonia del mediodía. Un tópico polaco en la historia española, [in:] Hispania: Revista española de historia 62/210 (2002), pp. 167-220
  10. ^ "academics are divided over why it became used to describe Catalan as foreign", Raphael Minder, The Struggle for Catalonia: Rebel Politics in Spain, Oxford 2017, ISBN 9781849049375, p. 39
  11. ^ allegedly the Poles arriving in Catalonia were to call the Spaniards from the South "czarni" (blacks), the term reportedly adopted in Catalan as "xarnego". This in turn triggered a counter-abuse, with the Catalans dubbed "polacos". Alicía „polaca”, [in:] Alícies service, available here. A similar and perhaps related theory claims that in the old Andalusian dialect "to speak Polish" meant to speak incomprehensibly, to mumble, Carlos Marrodan, Jeździec polski, Molina Antonio Munoz, [in:] Gazeta Wyborcza 03.11.03, available here
  12. ^ La Vanguardia 10.01.1994, available here
  13. ^ Joan Avenallada, Viatge a l'origen dels insults, Badalona 2006, ISBN 9788496201712, p. 30
  14. ^ La Vanguardia 23.11.1995, available here
  15. ^ La Vanguardia 17.08.2006, available here
  16. ^ Per què Polacs?, [in:] directe.cat service 11.09.2008, available here
  17. ^ Enric Prat de la Riba explicitly referred to the Polish case when teaching his Catalan compatriots the difference between a nation and a state, see El catalanismo mira hacia Polonia con admiración, [in:] Blog de Xavier Casals service, available here
  18. ^ compare e.g. the reasoning of a Basque nationalist of the late 19th century: "quedo ahora plenamente convencido de que no es Vd. español, sino bizcaino. Los polacos nunca se dirán rusos o alemanes, sino polaco", referred after Fernández-Mayoralas Palomeque 2002, p. 210
  19. ^ this logic was well alive as late as in the 1930s, see La Vanguardia 17.07.1931, available here
  20. ^ Sergi Mateo, ¿Por qué a los catalanes nos llaman polacos?, [in:] sergimateo service, available here
  21. ^ La Vanguardia 23.11.1995, available here
  22. ^ Per què Polacs?, [in:] directe.cat service 11.09.2008, available here
  23. ^ opinion of an anthropologist; Robert Costa Solé, Per què a Espanya anomenen 'polacos' els catalans?, [in:] sapiens.cat service, available here
  24. ^ the first recorded abusive anti-Catalan usage of the term "polacos" is noted by the Repuublican POWs in the Nationalist prison or labor camps, see Polonya - ¿Per què als catalans es diu ¨Polacs¨?, [in:] YouTube service, available here; for Catalans forced into Nationalist ranks see La Vanguardia 25.01.1994, available here
  25. ^ by the same token the English single out the Dutch or the Greeks when noting "double Dutch" or that "it is all Greek to me"
  26. ^ La Vanguardia 29.01.1994, available here, La Vanguardia 19.01.2002, available here, La Vanguardia 15.01.1994, available here l
  27. ^ "because of the alien, slurping sound of their language", Richard Fitzpatrick, El Clasico: Barcelona V Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry, London 2012, ISBN 9781408158791, p. 16, "sounded like Polacos", Kathryn A. Woolard, Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia, Oxford 2016, ISBN 9780190258634, p.129
  28. ^ Sergi Mateo, ¿Por qué a los catalanes nos llaman polacos?, [in:] sergimateo service, available here; see also the 1939 poem of Carles Pi i Sunyer, titled Diàleg de les Verges Negres de Polònia i Catalunya, discussed e.g. in Olga Glondys, La Polonia cercana e idealizada de los exiliados republicanos catalanes, [in:] Studia Iberystyczne 8 (2009), pp. 423-436
  29. ^ see e.g. the blog Polacos de Polonia, available here
  30. ^ Avenalleda 2006, p. 39
  31. ^ Jaume Subirana, Barcelona ABC, Barcelona 2013, ISBN 9788498504347, p. 47
  32. ^ Francisco Garrido, Cataluña y Andalucía, [in:] paralelo36andalusia service, available here
  33. ^ La Vanguardia 25.06.1996, available here
  34. ^ see e.g. cries "fuera catalanes, polacos" ("get out Catalans, you poles"), quoted after Ferran Colom i Ortiz, Repertori d'actituds i normes d'ús lingüístic entre els estudiants de la ciutat de València, [in:] Llengua, societat i ensenyament, Valencia 2003, ISBN 9788460800149, p. 19
  35. ^ José R. Bada Panillo, El debat del català a l'Aragó (1983-1987), Calaceit 1990, ISBN 9788487580017, pp. 93, 94, 137, 138
  36. ^ Artur Quintana i Font, Conferencia: Perspectives del catala a Arago, [in:] Ramon Sistac i Vicen, De fronteres i mil•lennis, Barcelona 2003, ISBN 9788472837096, p. 14
  37. ^ for twitter see here, for facebook see here
  38. ^ Vícent de Melchor, Antonio Gala, ¿serbio?, [in:] El País 29.08.1994, available here
  39. ^ "if you don’t jump you’re poles"; see e.g. the footage from a football game at YouTube service, available here, or from the basketball game, available here
  40. ^ Vícent de Melchor, Antonio Gala, ¿serbio?, [in:] El País 29.08.1994, available here
  41. ^ Los cánticos ofensivos más recordados entre Real Madrid y Barcelona, [in:] Marca 19.05.2015, available here
  42. ^ Vícent de Melchor, Antonio Gala, ¿serbio?, [in:] El País 29.08.1994, available here
  43. ^ see Polonya - ¿Per què als catalans es diu ¨Polacs¨?, [in:] YouTube service, available here
  44. ^ Oriol Junqueras, Catalans i polacos,[in:] junqueras.cat service, available here
  45. ^ in a version addressed to Castilian audience "antes polacos que perros españoles", compare e.g. the posts in Catalonia is not Spain, it’s Poland thread, [in:] racocatala service. available here or Antes polacos que perros españoles thread, available here; in Catalan version the slogan reads "millor polacs que gossos espanyols"
  46. ^ for twitter see e.g. here or here, for facebook see e.g. here
  47. ^ slogan used not also by FC Barcelona fans but also by fans of other Catalan teams, see e.g. Perros españoles [Ultras del Girona] thread, [in:] forocoches service, available here
  48. ^ Salvador Cot, L’odi al catalufo, [in:] El Món 09.09.2015, available here
  49. ^ e.g. a Polish sport service claims that chanting "if you don’t jump you’re a pole" is not abusive, Gerard Badia: w Madrycie ludzi z Katalonii nazywa się "Polakami", [in:] ekstraklasa.tv service, available here
  50. ^ Atlas polskiej obecności za granicą, p. 110, available online here
  51. ^ Katalończycy są dumni z bycia Polakami, [in:] polskieradio.pl service, available here
  52. ^ Ewa Wysocka, Barcelona, stolica Polski, Kraków 2016, ISBN 9788365282743; the title means "Barcelona, the capital of Poland"
  53. ^ see e.g. comments noting "bliskie ich sercom bohaterstwo i upór w dążeniach niepodległościowych", „El polcacco”, „typowy janusz”, czyli jak Polacy są postrzegani poza granicami kraju, [in:] otworzsiena service, available here; the Catalans and the Poles are supposedly united by "twardość, walka o niepodległość", W Hiszpanii zamieszki, a Katalończycy przezywani są... Polakami. O co chodzi?, [in:] pikio service, available here, and there is a comparions between the Poles oppressed by the Russiand and the Catalans oppressed by the Spaniards, Los Polacos – co łączy Katalończyków z Polakami?, [in:] wolne-dziennikarstwoservice, available here
  54. ^ see naTemat service, available here
  55. ^ see e.g. Michał Zaranek, Historia nienawiści, [in:] Przegląd Sportowy service 03.10.2012, available here, Dlaczego kibice Realu Madryt kpią z Polaków?, [in:] fronda service, available here
  56. ^ see e.g. Polacos de Polonia blog, available here
  57. ^ Polak a sprawa katalońska, czyli o pochodzeniu znajomo brzmiącego przezwiska Katalończyków, [in:] PoloniaBarcelona service, available here
  58. ^ La Vanguardia 27.12.1993, available here

Further reading[edit]

  • Joan Avenallada, Viatge a l'origen dels insults, Badalona 2006, ISBN 9788496201712
  • Richard Fitzpatrick, El Clasico: Barcelona v. Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry, London 2012, ISBN 9781408158791
  • Ewa Wysocka, Barcelona, stolica Polski, Kraków 2016, ISBN 9788365282743

External links[edit]