Following a flurry of announcements by top EU officials (including the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso), that they will not be attending any Euro 2012 soccer matches in Ukraine, the matter has become a political issue for co-host Poland.
The EU politicians’ boycott is in protest at the continued imprisonment of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her alleged mistreatment (including a beating) in a Ukrainian jail. In Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the biggest opposition party in Poland, Law and Justice (PiS) has joined the “punish Ukraine” cause.
“UEFA should, at the least, move the final to Warsaw. Any other reaction will be a silent approval of further undemocratic measures by the Ukrainian government,” Kaczynski wrote on his blog.
The PiS leader also called for a boycott of matches in Ukraine and said that if that threat didn’t work then “the appropriate European institutions should prepare a scenario for stripping Ukraine of the rights to host the tournament and moving it to another country.”
An own goal
These comments raised an uproar in Poland with Prime Minister Donald Tusk saying Kaczynski had “scored an own goal.” The prime minister also said that Euro 2012 was the “biggest national event for Poland as the eyes of the whole world will be focused on Poland and Ukraine.”
“It would be bad if there are more such voices from Warsaw which could degrade this tournament or even block it.”
Most Poles would probably agree with Tusk. To be brutally honest, most Poles are more concerned with their country raising its global profile during the tournament than with Tymoshenko’s condition in jail.
One should also remember that it is thanks to Ukraine that Poland has the chance to host Europe’s best teams this summer, and not the other way round. It was Hryhorij Surkis, the Ukraine soccer association’s chairman (and UEFA executive committee member) who approached Poland for a co-hosting bid, well aware that Ukraine alone would never be awarded such a prestigious tournament.
It was thanks to Surkis’s successful lobbying (whatever that entailed) that the two countries won the rights to host the tournament.
Not for the faint-hearted
Ukrainian politics is a gangster-like affair. Those who play the game know exactly what they are in for. Do we tear our hair out when one gangster is killed in a shoot-out with another gangster? Tymoshenko made a fortune from dealing in gas, a sector that’s riddled with corruption in Ukraine.
During the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005, she bamboozled the West into thinking she was a politician who shared Western values but her time in office as prime minister of Ukraine can by no means be described as an exercise in such values. She was as autocratic as they come and now she is being accused of corruption by the current Ukrainian government.
Of course incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych was foolish to lock up Tymoshenko. Throwing a woman (especially one as pretty and charming as Tymoshenko) in jail is a guaranteed political loser. But Ms Tymoshenko is no freedom fighter. She is simply the latest victim in a brutal game she voluntarily decided to be a part of.
The Warsaw Business Journal is a Kyiv Post partner. This opinion by Remi Adekoya was originally published here. Remi Adekoya is the political editor of Warsaw Business Journal. He has worked for the Polish weekly Wprost and has been published by the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, the global geo-political magazine Foreign Policy and the geopolitics analysis firm, Stratfor. He is currently also a contributing writer for The Guardian. He specializes in international as well as domestic Polish politics. He was born to a Nigerian father and a Polish mother, has lived in Poland since 1995 and holds a masters degree in law from the University of Warsaw as well as a post-graduate diploma in PR from the Kozminski University.