Sports and politics always go hand in hand
Aliaksandr Lukašenka, the pariah among leaders of European countries, banned from entrance to the European Union and several other democratic countries, was seen in the VIP lounge of the Euro 2012 final in Kyiv. A big shame for the Ukraine and for the UEFA which remained largely unnoticed internationally.
Before the start of this year's European football championship, the influential German magazine Der Spiegel has dedicated several issues to the question whether or not the tournament might have been boycotted because of human rights violations in Ukraine.
Every or almost every issue featured a long article on the evolving situation with Yuliya Tymoshenko, the business of president Yanukovych's clan or about the prominent feminist group Femen.
Eventually, the German senior political leadership has indeed ignored all games of the German national team held in Ukraine.
Der Spiegel also talked to the German football players.
Philipp Lahm, the team captain, said he would “think twice” if he would be invited to shake hands with Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych.
“My views on democracy and human rights, on issues such as freedom of speech and personal liberty are not reflected in the current situation in Ukraine,” said Lahm.
“When I see how the regime treats Yuliya Tymoshenko, this has nothing in common with my ideas of democracy,” he continued
All this was said about Ukraine, the country with incomparably higher democratic standards than the neighboring Belarus.
It needs to be said that Ukrainians enjoy a much larger degree of media freedom with numerous nationwide independent newspapers, TV and radio stations. At the same time, Belarus only has a handful of small independent newspapers which are difficult to obtain and which are under constant threat of being closed down.
Belarusian politicians not loyal to the regime of Aliaksandr Lukašenka, even including the former head of state Stanislaŭ Šuškievič, have no chances to speak on national TV or radio.
The opposition is represented in Ukrainian parliament, while
there is not a single representative of the opposition in what is being called the parliament of Belarus.An outrageous fact given that democratic opposition has its own MPs even in countries like Iran or Venezuela.
Finally, Ukraine has a history of nearly a dozen competitive elections held over the past two decades.
The last election in Belarus, that was internationally recognised as relatively free and fair, took place seventeen years ago.
To the question, whether one can separate sports from politics, Lahm said: “These things are interrelated, they cannot be apart.”
“We, the players of the national team, represent Germany, and we advocate for a democratic society, for such values as fairness and tolerance, for integration,” he noted.
Ukraine 2012 and Belarus 2014
In this context, how can one not think about the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship, which will take place in Belarus.
For Lukašenka, the 2014 ice hockey championship will have the same meaning as the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow had for Leonid Brezhnev,or as the Berlin 1936 Olympics had for Adolf Hitler. It is supposed to be a demonstration of the dictator's greatness and superiority over his enemies. It is planned to become a very personal propagandist celebration.
This means that the Belarusian opposition as well as the international community should use the championship for a serious campaign of informational pressure on the regime. The world's media attention will be directed to Belarus, and it creates a chance to bring to light the crimes and terror against civic society going on in the country.
Boycott or not?
It would, of course, be quite impressive, if the championship would have been moved to a different country. Lukašenka would thereby be loudly and publicly stripped of what is about to become his personal celebration.
the championship taking place in Belarus will give even more opportunities to help promoting human rights in the country.
The closer the championship, the greater will be the interest to Belarus. The opposition must saddle up this wave.
There is still the possibility for the leading hockey teams to boycott the 2014 championship, just as the Western countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion to Afghanistan. And it would be a good thing.
the effect is much stronger if the ice hockey stars from the teams of Canada, the Czech Republic or the United States would give interviews and make statements like Philipp Lahm.If they would publicly state their support to political prisoners in Belarus, call for democratic elections in the country. The sportspeople are in a unique position to act as ambassadors of the free world in Belarus.
And if Lukašenka is still president of Belarus in 2014, for him the ice hockey championship would thereby turn from a ‘Triumph of Will’ into a nightmare.