Politicians can never take time off from politics when they appear in public.
As a result, all of the heads of government and ministers who go to the
European Football Championships next month will be directly entering the
debate on the human rights situation in Ukraine – where the final is to be
played in the capital Kiev.
There is no neutral ground for senior politicians. And certainly not in
countries with such major democratic and constitutional problems as is
unfortunately the case in Ukraine.
The imprisonment and treatment of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who
led the Orange Revolution, is a stain on the European map.
At first glance therefore, it seems understandable that the German Chancellor
Angela Merkel and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are to boycott
the finals, at least as long as Julia Timoshenko is locked away and brutally
It is a credit to the European leaders that they have put the scandal on the
agenda. But a boycott is not the way forward. Not for the European
Championships in Ukraine.
It is only by being there and using the soccer spotlight to also draw
attention to the human rights situation, that Western European politicians
can make a difference in a neighbouring country. No-one listens to silent
politicians who stay away.
The opposition in Ukraine needs people to come and raise their voices.
Each politician and football fan travelling to Ukraine must make up their own
minds as to how to respond to the tense political framework in which the
sport is being played. The host country will always try to use the event to
its own advantage.
Danish roligans could take advice from the former Foreign Minister Uffe
Ellemann-Jensen (Lib): “How refreshing it would be since you are over there
to see the Danish clapping hats equipped with a blonde braid, perhaps with
an orange bow, “ as he says in an amusing call for a show of sympathy.
If politicians take part as official representatives, a requirement must be
that they call attention to, and criticise everything that the regime is
trying to cover up.
Danish politicians must not legitimise the abuse of Yulia Timoshenko –
certainly not without being met with harsh criticism at home.
Active participation and critical dialogue is best. But political boycotts can
be relevant and should be assessed on an individual basis. The World Soccer
Championships in Qatar in 2022 is an obvious candidate if the situation
there does not improve. The only thing that is completely unacceptable is
cowardly silence and naïve expressions that international sport is not
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine deserves red and white support.
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