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***Bilder bitte nur für die Onlineversion des Fernsehbeitrags verwenden!!!*** Filmstill aus dem Beitrag "Hooligans in der Ukraine", gesendet am 23.5.2012 in Europa Aktuell. Rechte: DW / Markus Reher
Filmstill Hooligans in der UkraineImage: DW / Reher

Boycott burden

June 3, 2012

German experts and politicians say athletes should participate in soccer's European Championships in Ukraine. Politicians, on the other hand, should think hard before taking a trip to Kyiv for the tournament.


If Yulia Tymoshenko set herself the goal of getting the German public interested in her fate, then she has succeeded. According to the Cologne-based media research group IFEM, reports of the former Ukrainian prime minister's hunger strike led news coverage on Germany's main television stations in recent weeks - topped only at times by violence in Syria and the trial of mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik in Norway.

There has not been such in-depth coverage of Ukraine since the Orange Revolution of 2004. According to Eckart Stratenschulte, director of the European Academy in Berlin, there are several reasons for the inreased coverage. Tymoshenko maintains "effective public relations work," he said, before adding that the upcoming soccer European Championships to be held in Poland and Ukraine were another key reason behind the jump in interest.

Yulia Tymoshenko
An athletes' boycott of Euro 2012 is unlikely to free Tymoshenko, one expert saidImage: picture alliance/Maximilian Schönherr

Politicians like Viola von Cramon, a member of Germany's Green Party, said Tymoshenko's daughter Yevhenia also contributed to putting her mother's fate on the radar in Germany. Von Cramon said it made sense to discuss Tymoshenko and the state of democracy in Ukraine just ahead of the soccer championships.

"I'm worried about how quickly developments have taken place in Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych took office," said von Cramon, who regularly travels to Ukraine to monitor the situation there.

No to sports boycott

The word "boycott" has been ever-present in debates on Euro 2012, with everyone from politicians to players being asked whether they think it makes sense to protest Tymoshenko's imprisonment and treatment by refusing to take part in the tournament.

It's a misplaced reaction, according to Cologne-based eastern Europe expert Gerhard Simon, who believes that a boycott would be the wrong step. Instead, he thinks direct protests against the Kyiv government would make more sense. But he said politicians should not let themselves be photographed in the stadiums with Yanukovych, who has faced accusations of dismantling democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine.

Politicians themselves have also expressed unhappiness over a potential boycott of the tournament by players.

"I do not think a boycott of the European Championships or moving matches to a different venue would have the political effect that many are hoping for," said German parliamentarian Philipp Missfelder, who added that he doubted a boycott would lead to Tymoshenko's release.

Merkel cheers for Germany during a Women's World Cup match in 2011
Merkel was in the stands for the 2011 Women's World Cup, which was held in GermanyImage: dapd

But Missfelder, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said politicians - unlike athletes - should consider not attending the tournament.

"Politicians have to decide for themselves whether they go to the European Championships," he said, adding that he would not be traveling to Ukraine to watch any of the games.

Turning the political screws

Some politicians also praised Merkel's delaying tactics on the question of whether she would attend. Social Democratic Party member Gernot Erler, who will also stay away from Euro 2012, said the chancellor's decision to wait until the last minute before deciding on whether to attend a match made sense.

"By leaving her options open she maintains pressure," he said. "There is still a chance of positive signals coming from Kyiv."

Merkel recently raised the pressure on Ukraine by mentioning the country alongside Belarus as an example of a country where people suffer under "dictators and repression."

Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko is often called Europe's last dictatorImage: picture-alliance/dpa/RIA Nowosti

But Simon called such a comparison an exaggeration, saying, "Ukraine is not Belarus."

Stratenschulte agrees. "I think it would certainly not be correct to put the two countries on the same level," he said. But Stratenschulte said the situation in Ukraine is moving toward that of Belarus, particularly in terms of persecuting political opponents like Tymoshenko and increasing threats being made against the press.

Employees at the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN recently protested against the sudden dismissal of their editor-in-chief and condemned it as an act of press repression.

A different bar for Ukraine

Observers say debate over Ukraine has occasionally been unbalanced.

"It was certainly exaggerated at times," von Cramon said, noting that debate became more heated the longer Kyiv ignored German criticism. Stratenschulte said he feared the German government risked being called hypocritical.

Police detain a protester during a protest rally against Vladimir Putin's inauguration in St.Petersburg, Russia, Monday, May 7, 2012
Europe can't apply the same standards to Russia as it can to UkraineImage: AP

"Criticism of China, for example, is much more moderate than other countries," he said, pointing out that China's economic importance for Germany limits Berlin's ability to issue harsh criticism of Beijing.

Simon also said that in comparison to Ukraine, Russia gets little more than a slap on the wrist from Germany, though he admitted the two countries' relations with Europe differ.

"Unlike Russia, Ukraine wants to become a member of the European Union," he said, adding that such a desire means democracy in Kyiv is measured against different standards than Russia.

Author: Roman Goncharenko / sms
Editor: Ben Knight

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