Archive for the ‘UEFA 2012’ Category

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Eurovision goes to Kyiv – Political warfare will return to Odessa

September 9, 2016

A few weeks ago an entry appeared noting the facade of political comradery between Mayor Trukhanov and Governor Saakashvili and their attempt to present a united and stable political front when wooing decision makers to award the Eurovision contest to Odessa.

The undeclared, but nevertheless mutual feeling of both men was that after Odessa missed out on the European football championships in 2012 (despite building a brand new stadium) meant that Odessa was owed the hosting rights to a large international event.

The fact that the Chermomoretz stadium is situated in Park Shevchenko with a single access road and therefore simply failed to meet the minimum safety demands of the footballing authorities of two access/egress roads is not a particularly well known.  That it is not well known therefore means it is not understood as a reason why Odessa was refused Euro 2012 so far as the local constituency is concerned.

(It is even less known that (former Mayor) Eduard Gurvitz proposed creating tunnel to and from the stadium under Shevchenko Park to address the access/egress issue – a proposal that went nowhere.)

Whether or not the Eurovision organisers also require two entry/egress routes from any hosting venue is beyond the knowledge of this blog – maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  Nevertheless the only venue in Odessa large enough to host tens of thousands of “Eurovisioners”, TV crews, presenters, commentators etc is the Chernomoretz stadium – which is also open air and would therefore require a roof to insure those attending remain dry during early May.

New Odessa airport terminal

New Odessa airport terminal

The new airport terminal, which has taken years to get to its existing state, is months from completion even if the will and cash is found to complete it – and it is a terminal without any runway dedicated or connected to it.  The runway that exists naturally leads directly to the existing terminal (which will apparently eventually be “mothballed”).

Indeed when Governor Saakashvili first arrived in Odessa, one of the first things he muted was opening an entirely new Odessa airport, far from the existing one.  It is a prospect that has not entirely died a death with US interest in an entirely new air hub.  There is indeed a case for a passenger and freight air hub to be made.

That the city would have coped with accommodation demands, and found thousands of English speaking volunteers, done “enough” for disabled ablutions and access etc is not in doubt.  It caters for a million and more tourists each year and therefore it would have coped – and coped fairly well with all such matters if it had been successful.  The political and societal will existed in sufficient quantity to insure success.

9th September witnessed the decision makers award the hosting rights to Kyiv – a city that has previously hosted Eurovision in 2005.  The committee charged with making the decision voted 19 in favour of Kyiv and 2 for Odessa.  A very clear and unambiguous vote.  No doubt finances and (existing/lack of) infrastructure had much to do with the outcome.

The outcome of the decision will have repercussions of course.

As the vast majority of people from Odessa are oblivious as to why the city was denied the 2012 football tournament, this will appear to be yet another snub by Kyiv.  No more and no less.

It will portray, not only to those in Odessa but also all provinces, that major international events always go to Kyiv and thus decentralisation is something that is a selective issue (and in truth it is, as the genuine reasons Odessa did not get Euro 2012 display).  By extension it will give the perception that lacking infrastructure and/or infrastructure development will never arrive in the provinces when there is no apparent desire or incentive to take the world beyond Kyiv (or the war in Donbas) as far as central authorities are concerned.

There is now no need for Governor Saakashvili or Mayor Trukhanov to continue with their facade of political unity.  The open political warfare that saw a Eurovision inspired armistice begin a few weeks ago can now recommence – and undoubtedly will in earnest.

The parliamentarians of Odessa attempting to unseat Governor Saakashvili will actively return to that cause.

The 100 Verkhovna Rada parliamentarians (not one of the sixteen from Odessa) that have signed a resolution to remove Mayor Trukhanov will be joined by yet more colleagues.

In short open political warfare on all fronts both in and toward Odessa can now recommence without the necessary (albeit temporary) truce hosting Eurovision would have brought.

There may soon be a Waterloo moment in Odessa, but it will have nothing to do with Eurovision and everything to do with politics.

Will those that govern have the sense to explain why Eurovision didn’t come to Odessa and attempt to correct public perceptions – or will they do as they did for Euro 2012 and leave faulty perceptions to grow in fertile conspiratorial soil?

Who will emerge victorious from any political Waterloo?

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Stray dogs

June 20, 2012

Over a year ago, I wrote rather tongue in cheek, about the issue of stray dogs in Ukraine.

This subject raised its head again prior to the Euro 2012 football tournament commencing when authorities made attempts to remove the stray dog issue prior to fans and tourists descending in the hundreds of thousands to be met by packs of strays running around.

If of an Eastern European heritage, tourists and fans alike would not give the matter a second thought.  It is not only an issue for Ukraine but all the former communist nations both east and west of Ukraine.

There is a neutering programme in some cities, Odessa for instance, but it simply cannot keep up with the reproductive numbers of the strays.  Not only is the neutering programme expensive, it also faces the task of thousands of dogs to neuter, and once neutered, the dogs are released back onto the streets, (identidfied by a red collar as being neutered in Odessa), thus not providing any form of immediate remedy to the issue of today.

In fact given the scale of the issue when the neutering programme started and multiply that by the reproduction of so many dogs not yet neutered, it is easy to see a somewhat King Canute scenario of trying to turn back the tide, in so much as the time it takes to neuter a dog, a lot more have been born somewhere in the region.

Recognising that, Odessa then started a Stalin-esque deportation programme of strays.  They are rounded up in ad hoc purges and taken out into the middle of nowhere and released.  Naturally that is not necessarily the answer either.  If there is no food where they are released they will roam until they find it.  The food trail and good-willed people who feed the strays scraps on a daily basis, naturally leads back to the cities.

Other cities, and this did get media and civil society attention in the prelude to the EURO 2012 tournament, went on a culling spree.  At least until the animal rights and more humane minded citizens found out and caused this solution to stop.

Needless to say, Ukrainian authorities were vilified by such people despite the fact they too have no answers to the immediate problem.  Aside from culling these animals, of course, there is no immediate solution, all other options are long term or hit and miss.  As I say, very much an attempt to turn back the tide that is destined to fail due to the sheer scale of the ever reproducing problem.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, which has a very similar problem (and it is not alone in the former communist nations now within the EU), society has recognised the fact that the authorities simply cannot cope and have taken matters into their own hands.

Yes indeed, the citizens of Izgrev and Istok regions in Sofia have now taken to simply poisoning the dogs in the streets of Sofia, and one presumes, leaving the authorities with the easier task of simply disposing of the carcasses.

If the Ukrainian authorities or Ukrainian public did that, the European media would be writing graphic stories of how un-European Ukraine and Ukrainians are.

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Euro 2012 – Human Trafficking

June 12, 2012

As most of you dear readers will know, when it comes to human rights, my particular area of interest fueled by a serious dislike for the practice, is human trafficking in all its forms.  Be it human trafficking for sexual exploitation, slave labour or simply gross profiteering from illegal immigration with no end exploitation  for those transfered nefariously over national borders.

Anyway, Euro 2012 held jointly with one EU nation, Poland, and one non- EU nation, Ukraine, presents a prime opportunity to traffic people across borders amongst the hundreds of thousands of fans flitting between nations and stadiums.

An issue and nefarious opportunity not lost on the authorities or traffickers of course.

In order to try and combat human trafficking during the tournament, Frontex will be working closely with the border services of Ukraine and Poland, deploying their people within the hosting nations.

One wonders if there will be an increase in detections rates during this period, whether the trafficker will find alternative routes knowing of the additional staffing and scrutiny, or whether human trafficking will be kept to the usual normative figures that occur anyway.

It would be very interesting to see a post-tournament report, not only for the statistics but also an overarching report covering cooperation, logistics, procedures and general Frontex/Ukrainian relations and liaison.

In the meantime, anyone coming into Ukraine during the tournament, be it by air, rail, road or sea, do feel free to drop me a line if you happen to notice any Frontex personnel or change in the attitude of the Ukrainian border services whilst under additional scrutiny from their EU peers.

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Euro 2012 has begun – What of the far-right extremism?

June 9, 2012

Much has been said internationally of late about the far-right extremism and racism in Poland and Ukraine and the violence surrounding those limited numbers who hold such an ideology and allow it to manifest in physical assaults, affray and violent disorder.

Of course such things cannot and should not be ignored, although they are, historically, seemingly the preserve of the domestic Ukrainian football league and have not reared up in international or European club football events thus far in Ukraine when foreign teams have visited.  Let us hope that remain the case.

Amongst the first detainees by police in Poland?  Ukrainians – but not of the far-right kind!

However, despite the headlines selling copy for domestic media, Poland and Ukraine are a long way from being the only nations with far-right issues.  In fact, The World Value Survey shows only 12% of Ukrainians would not want foreigners as their next door neighbour.  Far less than many European nations, France for example 26% would object to a foreigner living next door.  (Such surveys of course do not provide gripping headlines or sell copy for the media.)

Here is an excellent piece from Dr Matthew Goodwin (I can’t say it’s bad, it’s from Chatham House of which I am a Member) who has made a very good academic career from studying and writing about European far-right politics and groups.

As yet, the far-right Svoboda Party in Ukraine has not broken out of regional politics in the Lviv region and entered the RADA.  That is far from the case for many nations in Europe as Dr Goodwin illustrates.

Who then, has the bigger problem with the far-right?

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Euro 2012 – Racial insults & Ukraine

May 30, 2012

Elsewhere in cyberspace a heated debate amongst the Ukrainian Expat community and some English football fans is engaged, fueled by media coverage in the UK of Ukrainian and Polish supporters football violence and racist actions and chants.

Now there is no denying that there is a racist element amongst certain fans and in particular those associated to certain football clubs in Ukraine.

There is also one Ukrainian football club whose supporters are associated with anti-fascism (not that such a thing would be reported in the UK media).

However,  this heated debate between the Ukrainian Expat community and traveling English fans has now centred over the word “nigger/negro” (негр).

It is time to be crystal clear.  In Ukraine and Russia there is no racial derogatory slur attached to the word “nigger/negro”.  It is not an insult here and neither is it meant to be insulting!

Despite the negativity attached to the word in the UK and other nations, historically and currently, the word nigger has no such undercurrent in Ukraine or Russia.  It is not a word that Ukrainians or Russians would use to insult a black person.

In Ukraine and Russia, the word nigger/negro simply means a black person and nothing more.  It is politically correct here.

If a Ukrainian or Russian wanted to racially insult a black person, nigger is most definitely not the word they would use to do it.

They would use words like chernomazy (черномазый) or several others I won’t bother to list that have the same distasteful connotations as those attached to the word nigger in the UK.  Anyway, you get my point.

So, if you are in Ukraine for the football (or Russia or Ukraine for any other reason) and hear the word “nigger/negro” – it is not the insult you will automatically associate it with if you are an English football fan or western tourist.   It is a politically correct word with no insulting undertone whatsoever!

Do please remember not all words have the same insinuations or inferences in all cultures and languages.  Taking a drunken swing at somebody you hear using the word nigger here will land you (and not them) with a robust response from the police as they have said nothing wrong – in fact they have been politically correct.

Cultural, linguistic and historical awareness is a necessity if you are looking for an excuse to call racism over words like nigger in Ukraine.  Wonder if the BBC or UK media will actually highlight this, or whether they will simply be so ignorant as to see it as a racial insult – that it isn’t?

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European Council (of Foreign Ministers) – Ukraine football boycott

May 15, 2012

As many of you dear readers will know, the EU works on the principle of Dante’s many circles of hell, the workings of which I have outlined for you previously.

Yesterday on 14th May, the European Council (which comprises of Ministers from the sovereign nations that make up the EU met under the chairmanship of Herman Von Rumpoy and Baroness Ashton) with a fairly lengthy agenda upon which  Ukraine was listed.  Here is that agenda.

Whether discussing Ukraine during lunch aids or hinders the digestive system, who knows?

Anyway, given some very stern and robust views from certain Member States and other with more tolerant views, quite how the anticipated press releases would read was somewhat unknown.  The wording of said press releases have to be agreed by all concerned after all.

Prior to the meeting, Carl Bildt was talking sense again.  Of course I would say that.  I have said the football is the wrong stick to hit Ukraine with given the need for EU personalities to interact directly with the Ukrainian people.  As He rightly states, the future of Ukraine with regards to the EU should rest upon how the elections in October are run and then the situation duly and impartially assessed.  After that when the undoubted cheating will surface, then condemn the current leadership.  It is after all not the number of electoral violations, (they occur in every nation),   but the nature of said violations.

This, however, is what we got just before lunch regarding a boycott, which Baroness Ashton fully supports.

Much later in the afternoon, Carl Bildt tweeted  “EU is strong on urgency of the rule of the law as well as free and fair elections in Ukraine. Only that will truly open the door to Europe.” – Hardly a telling sign that a consensus for a boycott as championed by the European Commission had been achieved,  Yet another disunited front from the 27 EU sovereigns upon the horizon?

No.  There seems to be unity.  At least unity amongst the European Council where none present stated they would stay away from the Euro 2012 in Ukraine.  That is not to say all will come of course, each nations will decide individually no doubt, but an EU wide boycott as called for by the European Commission?  Apparently not – as confirmed by Baroness Ashton in this clip (4.37).
The difference, as I have written before, the European Commission represents no nation taking part.  Sovereign heads of government must answer to voters if they are not there to support the national teams.
As I have repeatedly stated, this is the wrong stick to beat the current government of Ukraine with from amongst a very limited bag of sticks held by the EU.

Now let us see what comes of the 2 day EU-Ukraine summit led by Prime Minister Azarov over today and tomorrow.  The language of the press releases will be interesting not only in what they say – but also what they don’t!

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Politics and sport – Ukraine UEFA 2012

May 2, 2012

Now as you know, generally I stay away from the “headlining MSM” media news about Ukraine.  Occasionally I don’t use the news as a springboard at all, particularly when I feel like a meander through policy, effective, ineffective or counterproductive thereof, negotiations and diplomacy, positions, needs and interests, interests verses values and all that terribly clever stuff that makes the world of policy and international relationships go around – mostly in shades of nuanced grey rather than black and white I would add.

However, now seems like a good time to ponder recent mutterings over Ukraine, Euro 2012 and political leaders thoughts as the tournament comes ever closer with Ms Tymoshenko (and others) languishing in jails after what is perceived by many as politically motivated prosecutions.

Of course, sport and politics have collided on numerous occasions in the past.  The World Cup in Argentina went ahead despite the Argentinian Junta politically persecuting and torturing large numbers of Argentinians at the time.  A full political and diplomatic turnout was present during that sports fest regardless of those activities.

In contrast to that we have the Beijing Olympics only a few years ago where only 9 EU political leaders attended the opening ceremony in protest over the Chinese human rights record.

Then there are instances that can be cited such as apartheid South Africa and tours such as Kerry Packer’s England cricket tour that went ahead despite the political opposition to it.

Consistency?  Of course not.

Will there be consistency amongst the EU national leadership over Ukraine next month?  Again highly unlikely with Poland already going on record that political leaderships staying away from Ukraine is the wrong thing to do.

It is the age old problematic question of whether you seek to remain engaged and try to influence matters from within or take a stance that will leave you outside and shouting over the fence to a neighbour who is hard of hearing.  Can any EU leader afford to miss the opportunity to crucify the current government when they will have free access to the Ukrainian media and society live on Ukrainian soil?

There is then not only the matter of foreign policy but domestic policy for those leaders who choose to stay away.  How does it look to the increasingly nationalistic voters who are rapidly tiring of almost all things “EU”, when their leadership will not be present when their national teams are playing in a major tournament?

For the European Commission who are not elected by the EU voters, they have no domestic nationalist backlash to concern themselves with.  For the sovereign nations who are seeing a rapid rise of right-wing nationalistic drum thumping, failure to be there to support their nation who have been through a difficult qualification process to reach these finals, may not sit so well with their voting public.

After all, to them Yulia Tymoshenko is just another corrupt politician from Ukraine, an impression consistently enforced by the media that states all politicians are corrupt in Ukraine.  Thus possibly not enough to justify snubbing their own national team in the tournament for some domestic voters.

On the subject of the European Commission,  it seems the western press are using only the most useful parts of press statements to sell copy.  Take for instance the absence of EU Justice Commissioner Reding from the tournament despite the UEFA (not Ukrainian) invitation to be there.  It is being reported that she is not there due to political reasons.  Not entirely true.

Her press department made the statement “She is not going.  First of all her agenda does not permit this.  But also she is quite concerned about the situation in Ukraine and in particular by the situation with Yulia Tymoshenko.”   EU Observer 30.04.12

Now I would like to think that as the European Commissioner for Justice, even if her agenda did permit her attendance, as she doesn’t answer to any domestic voters to hold and retain her position, she would, could and should make her decision based on the values she is supposed to represent.   Unfortunately we will never know as her agenda doesn’t allow it anyway (even though that bit seems to be missing from almost all MSM reporting on her absence).

Mr Barroso has also stated he will not come to Ukraine “unless there is a swift improvement in human rights there.”   Anybody who is even remotely aware of “diplo speak” will recognise this statement is notable not for what it says, but for what it does not.  A swift improvement in human rights does not necessarily translate to the release of Ms Tymoshenko.

A “swift improvement” could very well be the sending of Ms Tymoshenko to Germany for treatment a few days before the tournament is due to begin.  That would allow Mr Barroso to enjoy yet another free jolly of VIP treatment and delay having to deal with the uncomfortable issues relating to what happens to Ms Tymoshenko once she has been treated in Germany.

Upon her return to Ukraine she would return to jail to continue to serve her sentence one must presume as things currently stand.  She would also have to face her trial over the shenanigans of UESU and Somolli Ent which has been postponed by the Ukrainian courts due to her health.

There is then the matter of Chancellor Merkel who has yet to make a formal decision to attend or not.  She will be acutely aware that whilst a percentage of Germans would support her staying away if that was her decision, there would also be a large number who would not be happy that a German Chancellor is not present at a tournament which Germany not only qualified for, but also stands a very good chance of winning – with the final in Kyiv.

She faces reelection next year.  Unsurprisingly she has not made that decision yet.

To add more difficulty to her position, Vitali Klitchko, Ukrainian opposition politician and Heavyweight Boxing Champion whose sporting career is based in Germany and who thus has a massive German following, had this to say about sports, politics and boycotting Ukraine:

“Europe and (Ukraine’s) neighbouring countries have enormous influence on Ukraine both economically and politically.  The important thing is that the whole country is not punished through penalties and sanctions that also effect the people.  The pressure needs to be directed against the country’s leadership.  Each person at the country’s helm has a personal responsibility for what is currently happening in Ukraine.  They must be held accountable.

The German team would be proud if it knew the Chancellor was in the stadium.  Another question is whether the visit would be an official one and if Merkel would attend as a representative of her country.  A private visit would be unproblematic.

This tournament is the biggest sporting event in the history of Ukraine.  It has to happen.   It is even an excellent opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the maladministration in our country.

Democratic changes are primarily dependent on the people at the highest levels of government.  Throughout the years, our politicians have spoken about the democratisation of our country, but in their heart of hearts they don’t want it at all. “  Der Spiegel  28.04.12

Suffice to say, Vitali Klitchko falls into the Polish camp of boycotts being counterproductive.   It should be worthy of note, that at the time of writing this, Klitchko and his party have thus far not joined the United Opposition when it comes to a single party list of candidates for the October elections.  One suspects his reasons for that are founded in the very last sentence of the above Der Spiegel quote which is all encompassing rather than party specific.

In case you are wondering, the current position taken by Ms Tymosehnko herself over the matter, is that there should not be a boycott because of her, and that the Ukrainian people should see the EU leaders in Ukraine as it will encourage them to look to the EU rather than think they have been written off.  In this she has a very good point when we consider the EU EaP policy is now to engage with Ukrainian society rather than Ukrainian politicians.

Anyway, it remains to be seen who will boycott the Ukrainian side of the Euro 2012 tournament and who won’t.  Aside from Ms Reding, who is too busy anyway, there doesn’t seem to be any other absolute confirmations of personalities who count and are recognisable to the Ukrainian public at the time of writing.  That may well change of course over the coming weeks.

If it does change, do not expect the Ukrainian position to change drastically because of it.  The very best that could be hoped for is that Ms Tymoshenko is sent to Germany for treatment immediately prior to the tournament.  The question is, would she then go, as effectively she would be in exile during the tournament with a cell awaiting her return.

To be honest I am not even sure the Ukrainian side will cede that much ground as currently there is no legal way to allow for prisoners to receive treatment in a foreign nation as far as I can tell.

The question for the EU nations is then whether the diplomatic pleasantries will continue or not.  Empirical global historical evidence would indicate that the current situation in Ukraine (and with regards to Ms Tymoshenko) are not sufficient to end such niceties for most nations.  For the most part such things are stretched far past the point where most people would ever allow matters to go in their lives, simply because international issues are here one day and gone the next.  There is an overarching desire to keep such relations going far more often than not, despite immediate circumstances.

If the EU national leaders are now going to put human rights as the qualifier to their attendance at major international sporting events as the “norm”, then it will be interesting to see what happens with the Winter Olympics in Russia (with very similar issues of alleged political persecution) and the Summer Olympics in Brazil within the next 4 years, (with human rights abuses relating to Brazilian street children arguably dwarfing the human rights issues in Ukraine and Russia).

When politics and sport collide the results are always interesting.  Let’s see how this unfolds.

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