EU-Ukraine: Boycott Euro 2012 to punish Kiev?
30 April 2012
Die Tageszeitung, Gazeta Wyborcza, Jyllands-Posten
Five weeks before the start of the football championship, which will be held in Poland and Ukraine, the human rights situation in the former Soviet republic has EU officials worried. Several German ministers have even discussed a boycott of the championship if Kiev fails to improve the conditions of detention of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power (her supporters accuse current president Viktor Yanukovych of a manouvre to take her out of the political scene), the former muse of the “Orange Revolution” started a hunger strike on April 24 to protest against her imprisonment and the abuse she has allegedly suffered.
In Germany, the Süddeutsche Zeitung notes that Ukraine is coming under increasing pressure. Norbert Röttgen, German Minister of Ecology, was the first to ask politicians to boycott the event: “We must absolutely prevent the Ukrainian regime from using the championship to breathe fresh air into their dictatorship,” he stated. The newspaper adds that Chancellor Angela Merkel has also raised the possibility of boycotting the European football championship.
Leading with “A party gift for Tymoshenko,” Germany’s Tageszeitung criticises UEFA, the European football federation, for its lack of response to the question:
To back a specific cause outside a sporting field is a difficult step for sports officials. [...] UEFA is still not taking up the call and is sticking to its position of not being responsible for politics [of a country], while overlooking the fact that an international sporting event, such as the European football championships, is a highly political act. Sports officials have only one argument to justify their restraint: the fact that simply releasing Tymoshenko would not make Ukraine into a first-class democracy. [...] It would, however, be a symbolic act with small, practical consequences.
In Poland, which is co-hosting Euro 2012, Gazeta Wyborcza leads with “The Germans are toying with Timoshenko,”and notes that German politicians, including the leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, are fiercely criticising the Ukrainian authorities in order to boost their own popularity ahead of legislative elections next year:
The German politicians are not worried as much over the state of Tymoshenko’s health and that of Ukraine's democracy as they are with earning points before the Bundestag elections. [...] When it comes to the head of the SPD, one might speak of hypocrisy. He raised no protest when one of his predecessors – and his political mentor – Gerhard Schroeder, called [Russian President] Vladimir Putin “a democrat through and through”. Similarly, he didn’t utter a word over the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch sent to the Gulag by Putin [...] in a case as shocking as the detention of Tymoshenko. [The German politicians] are afraid of mighty Russia and want to steer clear of picking a fight with her – but Ukraine is a country on the margins, a black hole in the middle of Europe. Boycotting Euro 2012 will not help democracy in Ukraine, but it will convince that part of society leaning toward the West that Europe has failed them, that it assumes that under Yanukovych the country is drifting towards authoritarianism, and that Ukraine’s European aspirations were a dream.
In Denmark, Germany's threat to stay away from Euro 2012 has raised the question of a government boycott, notes the Jyllands-Posten. However, policymakers are divided on the subject. The newspaper continues:
“The Minister of Culture, Uffe Elbæck, is waiting to know where his colleagues in the EU stand before deciding whether he will travel to Ukraine to support Denmark’s national team. Taking an opposite stance, the Conservative spokesman on foreign policy and former foreign minister and minister of culture Per Stig Møller has no hesitation: “[...] it would be playing the stooge for the [Ukrainian] government, which has committed atrocities against Tymoshenko”, he declared.