Shame and Joy of EURO 2012: Recollections From Warsaw
19. 7. 2012
The recently finished football championships have left me with mixed memories. Those of shame, when one recalls the voices in Polish media saying that Ukraine was not prepared, and we could handle this championship alone or in cooperation with Germany. Those of joy, when one remembers the enthusiasts, who enjoyed visiting Ukraine and saw it as a European country.
I’m not a football fanatic. I followed Euro 2012 from a number of other perspectives beyond sport. First of all, the women of FEMEN, the Ukrainian feminist organization, warned the entire world against using the European championship for the sexual exploitation of women. Because they did so with charm, this message had fallen deeply into my mind.
Then the German politicians and representatives of the European Commission announced they would not attend matches in Ukraine, because of the poor condition of its democracy.
Yet a couple of days later, Angela Merkel would come to Kyiv and sit in the same VIP box next to President Viktor Yanukovych. Given the falling ratings of her party, it did not surprise me much. But in the end the Germans lost to Italy and had to return home.
I also wondered if, after the terrorist attacks in Dnepropetrovsk in April 2012, foreign football fans and tourists would dare to come to Ukraine.
But my main concern was this: Why did my countrymen behave as if it was not Ukraine and Hryhoriy Surkis (President of Ukrainian Football Association) who had invited Poland to co-host Euro 2012, but rather that we had a mandate from God to run the show? I felt uncomfortable listening to the media at home saying that Ukraine was not prepared and that we could handle this championship alone or in cooperation with Germany.
Good hosts don’t play
As was fitting for good hosts, first Poland, then Ukraine was eliminated from the tournament, so both countries could better focus on taking care of guests and fans without excessive emotions. Those emotions reached a peak when Russia played against Poland, a match set against a heavy historical background and literal fighting in the streets. The 1:1 tie calmed the mood and confirmed the greatness of the Russian and Polish nations. Given the historical rivalry between Russia and Poland, the result was perhaps the only acceptable one, as it forced the Russian fans (except those arrested by the Polish police) to come back home. Built by oligarch Rinat Achmetow, the host stadium in the city of Donetsk, a Yanukovych stronghold, was found to be under a curse because, despite a clear advantage and because the Hungarian football judge made an error, the Ukrainian team lost its match with England and was eliminated from the championship.
It turned out, despite the catastrophic vision presented by the BBC and other means of “mass disinformation”, that Ukraine did not murder the guests who were coming from the EU. BBC journalists produced a program about the xenophobic and racist behavior of Polish and Ukrainian football fans and recommend that British fans stay home, because they might otherwise “return in coffins”. In Donetsk, British fans marched with an empty wooden coffin, and undermined the credibility of the British media and other “hostile Western propaganda”. After heavy rains threatened to wash away a group of Swedish fans living in tents and vans on an island on the Dnepr River, the brave residents of Kyiv organized a rescue operation. A social action was announced: “Take the Swedes home”. The Kyivians fished out the wet Vikings from the river’s dirty depths and cured them with strong liquor. Then both groups must have surely recalled their common heritage in the Ukrainian Rurik dynasty, a royal house of Viking origin that ultimately lost out to the Russians at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.
Time of fraternity
Euro 2012 was a time of fraternity between the different nationalities, with the common consumption of alcoholic beverages, and joint performance of previously unknown songs. The media informed us that local prostitutes were complaining that foreigners weren’t interested in their services. The visitors, it seemed, were more focused on contemplating the natural beauty of local female fans. Euro 2012 drew Ukraine closer to Europe, and Europe to Ukraine in a human sense, in individual and collective terms.
Unfortunately, Euro 2012 did not inspire the Ukrainian government to compromise over the issue of jailed opposition leaders and hence to re-establish the interrupted dialogue with the European Union. Ukraine had just completed Association Agreement negotiations with the EU, but because of its poor record on democracy and the arrest of opposition leaders, Brussels decided to wait on signing the agreement. The process came into the halt. On the contrary, president Yanukovych wanted to watch the final match in the company of Belarusian dictator Alexandr Lukashenko. Lukashenko’s visit sparked protests in Kyiv and another action of FEMEN activists who, as usual, were immediately arrested. Right after the Euro 2012, instead of using the improved image Ukraine gained during the games, the government launched a campaign of introducing Russian as a second language in some eastern and southern districts. This move resulted in widespread protests, confrontations with the police and deepened divisions between people. Once more, after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine missed a good chance for upgrading its image in the world. Yanukovych’s public approval ratings are low, so he thought that such a move would help before October’s parliamentary elections. But he miscalculated. He sent riot police to quash the demonstrations, causing the goodwill that Ukraine had gained hosting the tournament, to become irrelevant and the West again started focusing only on the lack of freedom in Ukraine.
In the end, Euro 2012 left us with good memories – and some renovated roads, new airport terminals, hotels, tons of garbage for recycling … and probably debts to be paid later. But it was worth it, right? Michel Platini, president of UEFA, praised the efforts of the host countries, stating that it would be difficult for our successors to match us. We, the Poles, thank the Ukrainians, for inviting us to be the co-host and a partner. It was, of course, a pity that our national teams didn’t play the final match for the championship of Europe.
But even so, we were good, weren’t we?