Euro 2012: Proud Ukraine basks in Euro success… for now
by Anya Tsukanova | AFP. Posted on July 3, 2012, Tuesday
After dire warnings that Ukraine’s hosting of the Euro 2012 would be marred by racism and organisational chaos, the country is basking in the success of an event that has transformed its image — for now.
Predictions had swirled in the run up to the football extravaganza co-hosted with Poland that fans risked attack by neo-Nazi fanatics, having nowhere to sleep amid a hotel shortage and dicing with death on pot-holed roads.
Instead, fans found a welcoming nation with a showpiece capital and locals desperate to show a face to the world that would belie stereotypes linked to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster or a seedy reputation as a prostitution hub.
“Ukraine will now be known as a country of friendly people, of pretty girls and cheap beer,” said the daily newspaper Segodnya. “But this is much better than being the country of racism and Chernobyl.”
Foreigners who came to Ukraine were “all charmed by the welcome, sincerity and attention,” bestowed by Ukrainians, boasted the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Such an outcome hardly seemed likely in the stormy run-up to the championships when European leaders announced they would boycott matches hosted by Ukraine in protest at its treatment of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Strains intensified when the BBC broadcast a hugely controversial Panorama documentary playing up the risk of racism in Ukraine, backed up by a macabre warning from former England star Sol Campbell that black fans risked “coming back in a coffin”.
In the end, boycotts were overshadowed by the football and counted for little when the Spain-Italy final clash in Kiev on Sunday was watched by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Italian counterpart Mario Monti.
English fans found the reality was so different to Campbell’s warning that they marched carrying a symbolic wooden coffin with the slogan “Campbell you are wrong!” in the host city of Donetsk to protest against his comments.
Even after Ukraine were bundled out in the preliminary rounds in a game against England marred by a refereeing error, thousands of fans kept up a party atmosphere in the fan zone in Kiev where everyone was welcome.
In a moment that touched many Ukrainians, Swedish fans unfurled their national flag with the slogan “Thank you Kiev” after playing the first round matches in the Ukrainian capital.
But as the fan zone is dismantled and supporters nurse their last post-match hangovers, Ukraine takes its bright new image into an uncertain future where any progress could be undone in days.
The Tymoshenko case is far from settled and the European Union is unlikely to show any sign of curbing its criticism of Ukraine over the jailing of its most charismatic political leader and the threat of further convictions.
The country is still riven by linguistic and cultural divisions, where the host cities of nationalist Lviv and pro-Russian Donetsk speak different languages and have completely different attitudes to the past.
President Viktor Yanukovych, who has tense relations with EU capitals, on Monday felt able to declare that “supporters from around the world have seen that Ukraine is a modern European country and its supporters very welcoming.”
Yet it remains to be seen how the government can pursue its lofty ambition of European integration when it is still at odds with the EU over the treatment of Tymoshenko.
The security forces were universally praised for their behaviour in Euro 2012 but many are still suspicious they will revert to old ways when the spotlight is finally off Ukraine.
The editor of the English language Kyiv Post, a vehement critic of Yanukovych, wrote in an editorial: “Maybe the rhetoric should be cooled on all sides — both those who thought Ukraine pulled off a miracle and those who expected disaster.”
“Ukraine has a long way to go before Europe considers it European. Hosting 16 football games successfully does not make a country European.” –AFP