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14 June, 2012

Time to Celebrate

The special Ukrainian attitude to life can turn any intent upside down. And after that, things that would seemingly unite and inspire only lead to a new round of social confrontation and discontent.

Several years ago, when Ukrainians learned they would be hosting Euro 2012, no-one complained, as far as I remember. To the contrary, there was sweeping euphoria and mass football hysteria. But the country has transformed in the several intervening years and the attitude of many Ukrainians to the European football championship has changed. And now even some respectful and authoritative figures are on record voicing ideas about possibly ignoring Euro 2012 and describing the tournament as unnecessary, superfluous and even harmful. Various arguments have been employed, but they all typically boil down to politics: this is not our championship; this is a championship of the government and oligarchs who are embezzling the budget, laundering money and building stadiums for themselves; it is of no benefit to us. Even the government’s assurance that millions of fans would come and supposedly “switch on Ukraine” for themselves evoked undisguised skepticism from a certain segment of Ukrainians: we know what these fans are all about – they only need pubs, not our spiritual life, cultural heritage or our identification struggles. They’re not interested in any such thing, so it has nothing to do with us, these people say. The situation has acquired a distinctly Ukrainian colouring, and football is mentioned less and less frequently in the context of Euro 2012.

At the same time, this is all correct – given its popularity and mass appeal, football transcended the boundaries of pure sport long ago and has turned into a kind of national idea. Think about the bored-faced presidents sitting in Ukrainian stadiums. Do you think they are interested in the game? They’re not interested in anything except their own popularity ratings. Where else can they boost them if not in stadiums? Or think about President Viktor Yanukovych's equally telling absence at the opening ceremony of Lviv Stadium. Do you think he didn’t want to come? I’m sure he did. But again it’s all about ratings: he'd have been jeered if he’d showed up – and who needs that?

As they try to implement their strategies and conceptions, our politicians stop before nothing, unfortunately. Not even before the right of fans to support their clubs or their national squad without party partisanship or political divisions. It seems they have denied us even this right. And so it turns out that by supporting your city’s club, other Ukrainians assume that you support one or another political doctrine. Something similar has happened to Euro 2012 – it has simply been taken away from us. Party bosses and government officials, representatives of the ruling party and the opposition, activists, patriots and public figures – they are all exploiting the “game of millions” to back up their forecasts and add weight to their curses.

What are Ukrainian fans who love football and have been waiting for this championship to see the Dutch and British squads play in person to do? They have nothing to do with budget money embezzled in preparations for the tournament. They most likely don’t care how many thousands of Germans or Portuguese our newly built airports will be able to accept. Most of them, I suspect, will not even vote for the ruling party. But still they have been sucked into this permanent Ukrainian confrontation. It is on their behalf that the government launches crazy projects, and it is to them that opponents of the government appeal as they demand Ukraine be stripped of the right to host Euro 2012.

Voices speaking about betrayal of national interests and the absence of statehood-oriented thinking are heard more and more. Some are already urging people not to use the new airport terminals and refuse to come to the newly built stadiums, because these are supposedly evil things. In contrast, the other side – the government, that is – paints rosy prospects, claiming that millions of Ukrainians will become richer at the expense of foolish tourists who, if you believe these claims, will visit for the express purpose of boosting our economy with their pocket money.

Somehow no-one says that Kharkiv will host the Netherlands-Germany game, and I don’t give a hoot about whether the president whom I didn’t elect will be sitting in the audience. What should I care whether Dutch tourists will go to the arts museum to see Repin’s Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire or whether they will content themselves in an Irish pub? What difference will it make whether the Kharkiv Region governor will count the excellent performance of the Dutch team as his own personal accomplishment or keep his mouth shut this time? It’s Netherlands vs. Germany – do you understand? And also Netherlands vs. Portugal! What on earth does a president have to do with it?


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