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Opinion: Ukraine still on the sidelines

Fans from the east and the west mingled during the EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine these past weeks. But Ukraine still hovers on the political sidelines even after co-hosting the mega event, writes DW's Bernd Johann.

Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the Euro 2012 soccer championship in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, June 8, 2012. (Foto:Matt Dunham/AP/dapd)

Fussball Polen Warschau UEFA EURO 2012 Eröffnungsfeier

The EURO 2012 in Ukraine and Poland is over.

For the first time, two eastern European countries hosted a major soccer tournament. Never before had they found themselves under the scrutiny of international during such a short period of time. For many soccer fans from the West, it was their first visit to Eastern Europe. Vice-versa, people in Poland and particularly Ukraine met foreigners from the West for the first time

Encounters and discoveries

EURO 2012 was a festival of encounters and an opportunity for discoveries - more than two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union and the East Bloc, which was separated from the West by walls and barbed wire. Fans from all over Europe celebrated, cheered and occasionally even cried together in the stadíums and public viewing areas in the Polish and Ukrainian cities where games were played - East and West, united in a soccer delirium. After the final, Kiev was overwhelmed by Spanish rejoicing, which represented a novel experience for people in the Ukrainian capital. Many of these people have never visited western Europe.

The tournament was a great event not just for the capital, but for all of Ukraine. Twenty-one years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the young nation is still divided over many basic political issues. At least for a short while and despite only a modicum of success for the national team, EURO 2012 united Ukrainians from across the country.

Excellent hosts

None of the bleak scenarios that circulated in the media ahead of the tournament came true, in particular for the matches in Ukraine.

Bernd Johann

DW's Bernd Johann

In contrast to neighboring Poland, there were concerns that in Ukraine the construction of necessary infrastructure projects, such as stadiums, airports and hotels, would not be completed in time. In addition, there were fears of violence-prone hooligans disrupting the event; of a boom in prostitution and sex tourism; of Ukraine's police and other security officials, who according to human rights organizations quickly resort to their truncheons, posing a threat to peaceful fans.

However, both countries were good hosts and both can record the European championship as a success. Poland can look forward to additional business perspectives for the post-EURO 2102 period, with many fans indicating that they would like to visit Poland again as regular tourists.

Taking stock in Ukraine is a bit more difficult. Visitors were put off by exorbitantly high hotel prices. Many soccer fans kept their visit extremely short. Will they ever come back? European tour operators are skeptical that tourism in Ukraine will profit much from the mega event.

Isolated leadership

The political situation is another reason for skepticism. The Ukrainian people's vitality and hospitality certainly scored the country points and won new friends. The same is not true for the leadership in Kiev, however, which faces massive criticism over severe democratic grievances.

The final ceremony on Sunday in Kiev can't outshine the fact that politically, the country has moved away from Europe under President Viktor Yanukovich. It has downright isolated itself. A solution to the ongoing dispute over energy prices with its eastern neighbor, Russia, is not in sight. Relations with EURO 2012 co-host Poland have also deteriorated.

Ties with the EU have been practically put on hold. A boycott by politicians of the matches in Ukraine - prompted by Germany - was visible: only few European political leaders attended EURO 2012 in Ukraine. No one wants to meet Yanukovich as long as opposition leader Yulia Timochenko and other politicians associated with the former government are in jail. The country has a growing image problem that EURO 2012, an organisational and athletic success, can't gloss over. Ukraine's political leadership is on the sidelines, even after the final whistle in Kiev.

Author: Bernd Johann / db
Editor: Gabriel Borrud

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