Werner Schulz went to the soccer championship in Ukraine, where he also visited jailed opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko - and drew public attention for her at a match. DW talked to him about it.
Werner Schulz is a member of the European Parliament (EP) and a German Green party politician. While he and EP colleague Rebecca Harms - a fellow Green party member - were at the Germany-Netherlands game Wednesday, they unfurled a banner promoting fair play in soccer and politics. They also called for the release of political prisoners at the Kharkiv facility where Tymoshenko is being held.
DW: How did people react when you unfurled your banner in the stadium?
Werner Schulz: I can only gauge the reaction of people in the VIP stand. There was cheerful interest, nods of agreement and the odd protest. I did happen to be sitting behind the assistant to the Kharkiv mayor. He reacted indignantly and was of the opinion that this had nothing to do with sports. We sought to clarify for him that sports and politics aren't separate worlds, and how we saw granting Ukraine the European Championship as a very political decision.
You were the first European politician to visit Yulia Tymoshenko in the hospital during Euro 2012. What did you and Harms discuss with the jailed former prime minister?
We had a very deep discussion - around two-and-a-half hours long. She's very concerned for her fellow prisoners. It's not merely the case that Yulia Tymoshenko sits alone in prison, that's only the tip of the iceberg of unfairness. There was a whole campaign of retaliation against the force of the Orange Revolution, led by President Viktor Yanukovych with the help of the prosecuting attorney's office. Tymoshenko is most concerned that Ukraine is straying off the path of democracy and is drifting into despotism or a sort of monarchy.
Did Tymoshenko speak out about the sanctions against Ukraine on the part of the European Union?
She said we should also be looking at the president's business relations, because it's less about politics than it is about money, and getting rich. And that the foreign accounts should get a closer look. But she doesn't think much of sanctions against her country.
Tymoshenko has been sick for months, and has received treatment from German doctors. How is she doing now?
The conditions are quite good. I think she's somewhat recovered from the hunger strike. She's been very brave, and has been following the therapeutic regime suggested by the German doctors. But it's impossible for anyone to really recover under prison conditions. The psychological terror is the worst part. She's being guarded around the clock - by cameras and guards. And she's still wary of the Ukrainian doctors, she doesn't trust them. She doesn't allow them to draw blood or give her any injections. She said her former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko mysteriously contracted hepatitis in prison. In Ukraine, unscrupulous methods are often used to neutralize the opposition.
One gets the impression from the last few weeks that Western Europe and above all Germany have been going to bat for Tymoshenko more than Ukrainians themselves. Does that surprise you?
A huge sense of disappointment and a certain sense of apathy have arisen in Ukraine. More was expected from the Orange Revolution. Of course it's terrible when such high expectations are not fulfilled. But that still doesn't change the fact that a great injustice is taking place and that Ukraine hasn't yet learned how democracy works.
You also met up with Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. What did you discuss there?
My impression was that the discussion was really about somehow getting out of this dead end. One does get the impression that his back is up against the wall. It's become gradually clear to some that he's inflicted great damage with these political trials and thus battered his country's image. On the other hand, they're not planning to change their positions. They keep bringing up detail after detail as to why these prisoners are guilty. But as a whole, it just starts to seem grotesque and absurd. They really scrutinized Tymoshenko's government service, and found nothing. Now they're even trying to pin a contract killing on her. I find this to be an unbelievable smear campaign.
Will Tymoshenko and her former cabinet be set free soon?
I really hope so. I think that we in the European Union cannot allow this. We have to clearly show our position and make it clear that as long as these people are not free and rehabilitated, we won't be able to recognize the upcoming election [in October]. There can be no free elections when important representatives of the opposition are sitting in prison.
What impressed you the most about your journey in Ukraine?
I was impressed by Yulia Tymoshenko, by this petite and yet so brave and strong woman, who despite lying in a sickbed, is still standing tall. You can see that she draws strength from knowing it's not just about her. She's very concerned that her country could drift into a dictatorship.
Should German Chancellor Angela Merkel follow your example and travel to a Euro 2012 game in Ukraine?
I've always said we should not boycott this European championship. We have to boycott the system, the Yanukovych regime. We have to stand up to this president, and to this end, we should take part in the championship and use this opportunity to bring clear words to bear against these people and express our protest. I expect other politicians and government representatives to also do that, and show their colors here as well.
Interview: Roman Goncharenko / sad
Editor: Simon Bone