A Ukrainian diplomat yesterday (5 June) slammed a BBC documentary depicting the presence of racism and hatred at stadiums in his country. The documentary was released just days before Friday's start of the Euro 2012 football cup, which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland.
Volodymir Rydvan, who is also a colonel and Ukraine’s representative of the Ministry of the Interior, did not mince his words, calling the BBC TV documentary, released by its prestigious Panorama programme, a “provocation”.
Speaking at a public event, organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), a Brussels think-tank, Rydvan said the BBC documentary was analysed by the Ukrainian authorities, who consider that it has been compiled from footage partly instigated by the camera crew. He pointed to scenes depicting people making the Nazi salute and children making monkey-like gestures as examples.
“You can approach any child in the street here in Brussels and ask him how does a monkey jump, make a movie, then you can add this part as this person was on the stadium, and that this movement is directed to football players, who are different by the colour of their skin,” he said, referring to scenes from the BBC documentary.
The Panorama documentary, called “Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate”, was broadcast on 28 May and testified to the presence of racism and anti-Semitism in Polish and Ukrainian football stadia. The film featured several video clips of apparent Nazi saluting during football matches in Kiev and Kharkiv – both of which will host Championship matches – and violence by football fans. It also featured commentary by British celebrity player Sol Campbell, who recommends viewers not to go to Poland or the Ukraine for Euro 2012.
“Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it… because you could end up coming back in a coffin," Campbell tells reporters in the documentary.
“Racism and xenophobia is a matter of criminal code in Ukraine. The racist action is a crime […] The Ukrainian people is tolerant toward the different races, and this tolerance is grounded in the long period – thirty years – of the state policy of the Soviet Union internationally. We had a lot of foreign students during the Soviet Union times, and we have a lot of students now, especially from Africa and Asia, studying in Kyiv,” he said.
Agnieszka Wawrzyk, representing the Polish Ministry of Interior, also told the audience that her country was “not a racist country”.
Mixed feelings in Poland
The BBC documentary was intended for to be broadcast by TVP, the Polish national broadcaster, to be followed by a discussion between journalists, football players and representatives of football fans.
But since it has already gone viral on the Internet, lively discussion in Poland has already started. Some praised the BBC for addressing the problem. Others criticised its work, calling the documentary biased and misleading.
In April, the Warsaw based anti-racism group 'Never-again' published a report entitled “Hateful” which documents the number of racist and discriminatory incidents in Poland. It covers an 18-month period from September 2009 to March 2011, detailing 195 racist incidents involving football in Poland and Ukraine. Of these, 133 took place in Poland and 62 in Ukraine, with the majority (105) being of a fascist and far-right nature, 36 anti-Semitic, and 20 racist. The rest were a mixture of Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-Roma and prejudice against the disabled.
The report says the incidents “give cause for concern” and highlights the denial of the problem as a key issue in the region.
“It is amazing to note that even in the face of such overwhelming evidence, activists are still too often encountering a refusal to accept even the most obvious problems,” the report reads.
Rafal Pankowski, a representative of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), said the statistics included in the report were just “the very tip of the iceberg”, adding that they demonstrated “the scale of the problems of racism and intolerance” Eastern Europe faces.
The BBC documentary was criticised not only in the countries co-hosting the football cup. Louis Jacob, columnist for the Irish "Sunday Independent" newspaper, said that in terms of credibility, the film was at the level of the popular movie “Borat” by Sacha Baron Cohen. A 2006 mock-documentary comedy, which depicted Kazakhstan in a burlesque and outrageous way, bearing little resemblance to actual country.
The problem of racism is not sharper or deeper in Ukraine, than in EU countries, argues Roman Rukomeda, a political analyst for the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy ‘People First’.
“There are more than 100 nationalities living in Ukraine for centuries. And they have found a modus vivendi among Ukrainians long ago. European media could do a better job by paying attention on more serious problems in Ukraine in the context of Euro-2012.
“One such problem is the incapacity of Ukrainian authorities to prepare the infrastructure for Euro-2012 in time. For example, Ukrainian top authorities’ representatives reported a 100% readiness of Euro-2012 sites. The reality is different, though. First example, - the fans camping site in Kyiv (one of the islands on Dnipro River) for accommodating some five thousand Swedish football fans. The level of preparedness of this camping is dismal, as you can judge from these photos.
“Second example, - the tourists jewel of Kyiv – the Andriyivskiy descent, - was partially destroyed by bulldozers of private construction companies by the silent authorities agreement several months ago. Thanks to the efforts of local civil society activist, the authorities abandoned their project to build the office center in this historical heart of Kyiv. They promised to complete the reconstruction just before the start of Euro-2012. And they opened the Andriyivskiy descent just in a week before the Euro-2012 …and immediately closed it. The reason – in the center of this historical street burst water pipes created an improvised fountain.
“The third example, - Ukrainian roads, on which there was spent the great amount of all budget costs on Euro-2012 are still not fully complete. All European tourists travelling by car will be able to get a personal experience.
“To sum up: a constructive and substantiated non-political criticism of Ukrainian authorities on Euro-2012 can have the much bigger effect than the artificial exaggeration of problems of less relevance”, the analyst concludes.
Ukraine and Poland will co-host the Euro 2012 football cup from 6 June to 1 July 2012. The football event has been marred by tensions over the sentencing of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison over allegations that she abused her office in relation to a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.
The trial was "politically motivated" and did not respect international standards, the EU has said, adding that it "would reflect" on its policies towards Ukraine.
The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of Tymoshenko.
On 30 March, the document was initialled, but full signature depends on changing the system of "selective justice" and the parliamentary elections in Ukraine due on 28 October 2012.