Euro 2012: Failed Boycotts

Erica van Wyngaarden

Ukrainian Democracy

The European Court of Human Rights condemned on Jul 3rd, 2012 Ukrainian courts and President Yanukovich for arbitrary justice and numerous human rights abuses against jailed former interior minister Lustenko.

This is just another challenge to the egregious state of Ukrainian democracy which came to a tipping point with the ailing health of jailed former-PM Yulia Tymoshenko and Euro 2012.  Without delving into the complexity that is Ukrainian politics and history, this ruling is an important step towards actual democratic reform which did not result from Euro 2012 boycotts.

Previously, this writer held only bleak opinions towards possible reform in Ukraine.  Tymoshenko’s arrest was truly politically motivated justice (as German MP Lamers stated yesterday) and received strong criticism in the months leading up to Euro 2012. This was a fascinating time, observing the intermingling of football and politics and the very public debates between FIFA and Europe as to whether football itself was even political.  Strong European actors began boycotting the games and publicly criticizing the Ukrainian government’s imprisonment of Tymoshenko, Lustenko, and many other opposition party members.  These boycotts were rather contentious as well, with many criticizing the effectiveness of them and the undue punishment it caused to local workers, etc.  However, without a doubt, this example once again showed that politics is highly intertwined with football and serious and contentious issues are indeed at play during any of these Championships.

German Boycotts 

At the time, it seemed hopeful that the boycotts (particularly Germany’s) would have a strong influence on reforming Ukrainian governance and ensuring proper health care and justice for Tymoshenko.  Even if German doctors are now allowed in to Ukraine to treat the ailing Tymoshenko, the Euro 2012 has come and gone and Ukraine is still as politically unjust as it was before. The boycotts did not work and the harsh words from Europe were seemingly just wind.

This left this European Union and international norms believer, like myself, quite disillusioned… always hoping that sanctions and boycotts (i.e. non-violent forms of pressure) truly do make an impact in the international community.

Jailing the Opposition

However, the ECHR’s recent decision has already and will continue to have huge ramifications on the future of democracy in Ukraine.  While there is still time to challenge this decision, the ECHR has heavily and publicly criticized both the regime and the justice system of Ukraine leaving no doubt that the jailing of opposition members (not only Tymoshenko) is unjust and needs to be overturned.  This is not simply political posturing now, this is a legal and normative matter which will be strengthened by Tymoshenko’s case itself that is soon to be put before the ECHR.

It is only now a matter of time until Ukraine has to act.  Recent protests and a call for early elections in October 2012 indicate change is about to occur.  Without a doubt, these elections will be heavily monitored and scrutinized by the West, making it hard to commit too much corruption next time around.  However, it is unsure of what will actually happen and if any change will have a lasting impact.  Either way, the pressure is building and there is no way for the current Ukrainian regime to avoid the increasing pressure from major European nations and institutions.