(BRUSSELS, Belgium) — Outrage over Ukraine’s treatment of an opposition leader has sparked calls in Europe to do the unthinkable: boycott Europe’s biggest soccer tournament. What was supposed to be Ukraine’s coming-out party may now turn into its biggest embarrassment.
European leaders met in Brussels Monday to debate whether to shun this year’s Euro Cup, which Ukraine and Poland will jointly host in less than a month, over Kiev’s mistreatment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko, the photogenic blonde opposition leader who helped spark the 2004 Orange Revolution, was convicted last year of abusing her office and sentenced to seven years in jail. Many in the West decried the trial as politically motivated. Authorities responded by doubling down with more charges. Though Tymoshenko is popular in the West and has a significant following in Ukraine, it has been said that the jailed political leader is no angel and has been accused of questionable practices and dealings before.
Tymoshenko went on a long hunger strike after she said prison guards beat her in jail last month. Her daughter Eugenia said she was very ill and had been denied proper medical care.
As a result, several countries have already threatened to pull out. Some have said they just won’t send any political leaders to attend the matches. Others are suggesting they not send their national teams. Even the opposition in co-host Poland have suggested Ukraine isn’t fit to host the games. From jail, Tymoshenko has asked that political leaders not attend, but she very much would like the teams to come and the games go on as planned.
The growing diplomatic row has already stung. Ukraine had to cancel plans for a regional summit last this week after a number of leaders said they wouldn’t attend in protest.
Organizers had hoped these games would showcase progress in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War, but they may instead be shedding light on the fact that old school strongman politics are alive and well in this part of the world. Some have worried, however, that such a move will only drive Ukraine closer to Moscow.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN