Culture minister will attend Euro 2012 in Ukraine

Uffe Elbæk opts not to boycott the European Championship

Denmark’s culture minister, Uffe Elbæk (Radikale), will be in the stands when the Danish national team takes the field for it opening match of Euro 2012 against the Netherlands on Saturday at the Metalist arena in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

“My own position is clear and so the government's position is clear," Elbæk told Politiken newspaper. “Something serious would have to happen before I would change my mind.”

Both the EU and the United States have issued statements condemning Ukraine for alleged human rights violations and mistreatment of Ukraine's former prime minister, Julia Timosjenko, who was sentenced by the government to seven years in prison for abuse of power.

A number of governments, including those of Sweden, France, Germany, and Holland, are boycotting the tournament and some national politicians have encouraged Denmark to do so as well.

Mykhailo Skuratovskyi, the Ukrainian ambassador to Denmark, told The Copenhagen Post that he is pleased that a member of the Danish government is planning to come to Ukraine and that events like Euro 2012 are a time to put politics aside.

“Since the time of the very first Olympic Games in ancient Greece, opposing armies that had only the day before been engaged in life and death struggles would put aside their differences for the duration of the Games and fight their battles on the playing fields rather than the fields of war,” said Skuratovskyi.

Elbæk said he sees the visit as an opportunity to combine his support of the national team with meetings with activist and opposition groups.

Amnesty International is officially neutral when it comes to the boycott, but Trine Christensen of the group’s Danish office told Politiken that she can see benefits of Elbæk making the trip to Ukraine.

“If it is used as a platform to focus on the issues, as Uffe Elbæk says he is interested in doing, then the visit could actually have long term benefits,” Christensen said.

Christensen said it would be risky to publish the names of groups that Elbæk may meet with, but they include gay rights groups, human rights activists and the relatives of prisoners.

“I want to talk to talk with the good people of Ukraine, if it is at all possible, both before and after the match,” Elbæk told Politiken.

The final decision on the government's position on the boycott is up to its coordinating committee, not the culture minister, but Elbæk said that he believed that the committee would support his position.

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