UPDATE, APRIL 30, 3:10PM: The culture minister, Uffe Elbæk (Radikale), has told Berlingske Nyhedsbureau that he "clearly expects" to participate in the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, despite calls for a boycott over the the imprisonment of Ukrainian opposition leader Julia Tymoshenko.
ORIGINAL, APRIL 30 11:11AM: The upcoming football European Championship in Poland and Ukraine risks a political boycott from European ministers in protest against the imprisonment of Ukrainian opposition leader Julia Tymoshenko.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first to announce that she would boycott the sporting event unless Tymoshenko is released from the seven-year sentence she received last October on charges of mishandling a 2009 energy deal with Russia.
The conviction is widely regarded to be a political vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovych, who defeated Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election but whose presidential win in 2004 was annulled as a result of the Orange Revolution protest movement that was co-led by Tymoshenko.
After Merkel took the lead, Danish ministers are now considering whether it would be appropriate to attend the European Championships, given Tymoshenko’s politically-motivated jailing and subsequent reports of abuse in prison.
“Merkel’s comments definitely leave an impression,” the culture minister, Uffe Elbæk (Radikale), told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “What’s happening in Ukraine is totally monstrous. I take it very seriously but it is a very delicate balancing act. If we send our football team to Ukraine, then I have a duty to support the team. On the other hand, we need to defend human rights and draw attention to the state of affairs in Ukraine.”
While Elbæk said he would wait to hear the views of his European colleagues on the matter before making a decision, MP Per Stig Møller (Konservative), who has served as both the foreign and culture minister, said a boycott would be the only right decision.
“I don’t believe that as a minister or MP it is appropriate to go to Ukraine and officially attend the European Championship,” Møller told Jyllands-Posten. “Doing so would be to support a government that has subjected Julia Tymoshenko to atrocious treatment.”
Tymoshenko is reportedly on hunger strike in a jail in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and claims to have been punched and had her limbs twisted while being taken to a hospital for treatment of a back problem – claims that are supported by photographs that show bruising on her arms and stomach.
Møller argued that Tymoshenko’s only crime was to present a political threat to the power of Yanukovych and said that the current Ukranian president has imprisoned her in order to avoid meeting her at future elections.
“The punishment means that Julia Tymoshenko will not able to run in the next election. It is completely unacceptable and undemocratic," he said. "That is why I believe that ministers should not attend. The government needs to come to this conclusion on their own otherwise we will bring it up in the foreign policy committee.”
Møller did not think, however, that players should get involved in the political debate, as the president of the German football club Bayern Münich, Uli Hoeness, has encouraged his players to do.
Before serving as Ukraine’s prime minister from 2005-2010, Tymoshenko was a successful businesswoman in the gas industry. She became one of Ukraine’s wealthiest people.
Yanukovych has rolled back many of the democratic reforms that were secured as a result of the Orange Revolution after his election in 2010.