Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Going to Ukraine? Go now, with an agenda for tomorrow

In the margins of Euro 2012 there’s been a discussion on whether or not Dutch MPs and members of the royal family should visit matches played in Ukraine – given the local human rights situation, more specifically Timochenko’s. While Holland struggles to recover from the great Kharkiv Hangover and Ukraine celebrates their team’s successes, the matter does not seem to be one of great concern to most Dutch and Ukrainians. However, in light of the future of Ukraine, the question ‘to go or not to go’ should not be brushed away so easily.

In the Netherlands, opinions on the matter vary. Stay at home, some say, avoid strengthening the legitimacy of Yanukovich’s government. Others say: go, show that you care about the needs of the Ukrainian people and to exert some influence. What about the Ukrainian people, what’s their view on this? In one respect, opinions in Lviv (West) and Kharkiv (East) are in unison: ‘Handle with care!’

Taras, our man in in Lviv, is very outspoken: whatever happens, the regime should not be allowed to use Euro 2012 to enhance its public image in any way. People are proud of their national team, but they despise the bonus that Yanukovich is after. ‘A boycott is crucial. No one will be offended and it will harm the political reputation of Yanukovich and his gang.’ Yulia, talking to us from Kharkiv, takes up a more prudent position. One the one hand, she says, we all want the Europeans to isolate our authorities. On the other hand, Ukrainians have suffered a lot of negative media attention in the wake of Euro 2012. They are eager to welcome foreign guests. People should not be punished for the wrongdoings of the elite. The truth lies in the middle, she says. ‘Let members of parliament come here as private persons, instead of joining our leaders in the VIP ranks of the football stadiums.’

That Europe’s helping hand is of the utmost importance is something that Taras and Yulia agree upon. ‘Once the football celebrations are over, we won’t be going anywhere’, Yulia says. ‘Elections are coming up and we’ll be stuck with a huge deficit and pension problem. Things aren’t looking good. Ukrainians long for an escape, they just want to feel good. I fear that we’re at the beginning of a long and difficult period in our country.’

What’s the lesson in all this? It’s obvious: let’s make sure that Yanukovich cannot benefit from Euro 2012, showing off and improving his image. Foreign officials who decide to visit the games should do so because of the football and in order to reach out to the Ukrainian people. Lend some support to local initiatives to fight corruption, for instance. Help free European aid from its bureaucratic yoke. Just last week, a delegation from Lviv has had to cancel an anti-corruption study visit to the Netherlands because, after months and months of discussions about an EU subsidy, some T’s had not been crossed and I’s had not been dotted.

Whatever you do, Taras and Yulia say, while enjoying the games of today keep your eye on what Ukraine can become tomorrow.

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