UKRAINE'S ORANGE BLUES - DONETSK GETS READY FOR THE SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP

16.07.11


WORLD AFFAIRS.  One year from now, the UEFA soccer championship will come to Ukraine—in particular, to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk. Whether or not Ukraine will be ready to host more than 700,000 visitors is the question that most concerns the Union of European Football Associations. No less important, however, is the impact that a sudden influx of so many foreigners will have on the country and the Yanukovych regime.

A recent expert assessment of each city’s preparedness for the games assigned the following scores (on a five-point scale) for several categories of importance to tourists:

Kyiv’s in good shape; Lviv will, once its airport and stadium are finished, also be fine. Donetsk and Kharkiv, however, are in big trouble. Their airports, stadiums, and roads already are, or soon will be, up to snuff, but the things that resist easy improvement are hotels, the quality of the city, and amusements. You can build an airport in a year, but it takes a tad longer to make a city interesting or attractive. And remember: Donetsk is President Viktor Yanukovych’s hometown. How would it look if foreigners came away thinking the place is a dump? They might even draw some funny conclusions about the president and his political cronies, almost all of whom hail from Donetsk. To add insult to injury, the two cities that tourists will definitely like, Lviv and Kyiv, are populated by inveterate troublemakers who hate him.

The fact of the matter is that neither Donetsk nor Kharkiv is at the top of any tourist’s list of must-see places. Both cities are a bit too Soviet in appearance and, as the ratings suggests, they’re not exactly hip playgrounds. Unsurprisingly, they neither have the requisite number of hotels, nor need them. Building a ton of new hotels would be no problem for the wealthy Regionnaires and oligarchs who run both towns, but what do you do with them after the games are over and tourists revert to form and stop coming?

The Donetsk city fathers, never at a loss for good ideas, have put on their thinking caps. Some soccer fans will be housed in dormitories and health centers. Others will have to rough it in a “fan camp” that’ll accommodate 7,000 foreigners. (Tourist alert: This camp is decidedly not to be confused with a camp that will accommodate the city’s homeless during the games.) According to Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, “Every tent will have four rooms with beds.” And, just in case you were wondering, hizzoner says, “There’ll also be toilets and showers.” The cost will range from 15 to 30 euros per day. Sound attractive? You betcha! But remember: it could’ve been worse. The original idea was to set up 200 army tents with 50 persons per tent, along with field kitchens and a field hospital.

Now consider this. Who, in all likelihood, will avail themselves of the fan camp? Rich Europeans or football fanatics? One thing’s for sure: poor Donetsk will have a major headache controlling the hard-drinkin’, hard-cussin’ Brits, Germans, and others squeezed into the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the city. Oh, and unless these tents have air conditioning, expect the beer to flow in even more copious amounts.

What makes things worse for Donetsk is that it has thus far been spared much exposure to the Western world. Lacking both English-language skills and international savoir faire, the town is unprepared for both the best and the worst that Europe has to offer. Just how the authorities will cope with thousands of drunken, rowdy, and bored football fans is unclear, but what is almost dead certain is that Donetsk’s young people will get a charge out of meeting so many young Europeans and seeing their stuffy city fathers sweat and scramble. Gosh, young eastern Ukrainians may even pick up a few bad habits, such as questioning authority and thinking for themselves.

Finally, there are Kyiv, where the final is supposed to take place on July 1, 2012, and Lviv. Both cities will be swamped with even more than their usual fill of tourists, journalists, business people, and diplomats. You can be certain the national democratic opposition, intellectuals, and students will use the games as an opportunity to build bridges to the West and push back the Yanukovych regime. It won’t be easy to resist their knee-jerk repressive impulse, but the Regionnaires will have to grin and bear it and be on their best behavior. But here’s the real problem. Civil society will get aroused just in time for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 2012. If the Regionnaires try to falsify the vote—and falsification may be the only way they can stay in power—will the people take it lying down or will they act like European football fans?

Alexander J Motyl



Ukrayinska Dumka

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