After several European politicians said they intend to stay away, Ukraine has condemned what it describes as attempts to “politicize” the Euro 2012 football tournament. Politicians are taking the action in protest at the treatment of imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymonshenko. Host Ukraine says any failure of the championships would be a loss for “millions” of people.
Nine European leaders are shunning a Central European summit hosted by the former Soviet republic this month in a show of displeasure at Tymoshenko’s plight which the West says highlights a decline in democratic values in the country.
The move appeared to foreshadow similar action by European politicians at the Euro-2012 soccer championship, which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland in June and July and which it hopes will be a showcase for the country as a modern European nation.
The presidents of Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have all said they would not attend the May 11-12 gathering in the Black Sea resort of Yalta to be hosted by President Viktor Yanukovich.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said he had no plans to visit Ukraine because of Tymoshenko who says she was jailed on Yanukovich’s order and fears for her life. The delegation of the European Union to Ukraine said on Thursday the other 26 commissioners would follow a similar line.
The boycott of the informal summit, which was held in Poland last year and attracted 20 heads of states, risks embarrassing Kiev which says it wants eventually to join the European Union.
The snubbing of the summit could be a precursor to an even more painful boycott of the Euro tournament which Ukraine hopes would cement its position in the European mainstream. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that attempts to politicise the Euro tournament were “destructive”. “A successful championship will be a victory not for politicians, parties or ideologies, but for all Ukrainians and Poles. Its failure will be a loss for millions …”, it said.
Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and Yanukovich’s main political rival, was sentenced to seven years in prison last October for abuse of office after a trial that the West says was politically motivated.Western politicians reacted with horror last week after she alleged she had been beaten in prison.
She is held in a prison in the city of Kharkiv, one of the Euro-2012 venues and has been on a hunger strike since April 20 in protest at what she said was an assault by prison guards, an allegation denied by the prison administration.