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Boris Efimovich Nemtsov

Boris Efimovich NemtsovNemtsov

Ukraine and Azerbaijan in the pillory

The European Championship and the Eurovision Song Contest are usually rather apolitical. But in 2012, the host countries are in the political pillory due to massive violations of human rights and democratic deficits. A Pro & Contra of authoritarian states hosting the events. By Stefan Bernhardt

The reputation of Ukraine and Azerbaijan has probably rarely suffered so much as before the European Championship and the Eurovision Song Contest. Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian opposition leader, is imprisoned under bad, worrisome conditions arguably due to a political motivation. In Azerbaijan, the Aliyev family rules the government as corrupt as it is authoritarian, with President Ilham Aliyev at the top, who almost inherited this office from his father, Heyder Aliyev. The cases of Tymoshenko and Azerbaijan created a high media wave. Among other things, the question arose whether in undemocratic countries, where human rights are visibly violated and the opposition is persecuted, events such as the European Championship or the Eurovision Song Contest should take place at all. Why should authoritarian, undemocratic states be given so much attention through such events?

Pro: Through international media attention, the questionable practices of these states come to light to the general public. This allows the building up of the required pressure to bring about change in these countries.

Contra: Pressure will hardly build up: once the events are over, the media will stop reporting and nobody will talk about them no more. The victims of these governments remain left to themselves. The international media attention ensures that the leaderships of these states can improve their international profiles. It is counterproductive to give them a stage to present themselves or to help them improve their international reputation.

Pro: Because of the international attention, human rights organizations and democracy movements on the ground can gain more international solidarity and support. Organizations and movements that aim to bring the two states closer to Western values can be set up better with this help.

Contra: These groups can present their concerns and the problems of the country to a broad experience.  However, these issues will be as quickly forgotten once the events are over, at best, but are usually forgotten while the events are still on. They also don't need international, but rather domestic support, coming from their own population. Moreover, the pressure on the opposition rises through an event like the European Championship or Eurovision Song Contest. Authoritarian leaderships, as in Azerbaijan and Ukraine, try to present a perfect image of themselves. Already in the run-up, the opposition is massively pressured, so they will not disturb a perfect impression. The work of democracy, human rights groups or movements will certainly not be supported. This is demonstrated by the negative headlines about Ukraine and Azerbaijan in recent months.

Pro: The local people benefit from the award of such events since it forces the governments to invest in the infrastructure. Something like this creates jobs and the infrastructure can be used later for economic purposes.

Contra: The local people gain the least from these events. Most who benefit in such cases are just a few officials, politicians and companies, who divert the money mostly to their own accounts. The jobs are often limited to a few years, which is insufficient to build up a new life. In addition, states generally have to pay for infrastructure on their own, regardless of whether they are financially able to do so or not. That money is then taken from elsewhere in the state budget and would in most cases be urgently needed for other infrastructure projects. It sets the wrong incentives. In the case of Azerbaijan's capital Baku, where the Eurovision Song Contest took place, houses were demolished for the Crystal Hall and the residents were hardly compensated for the forced relocation. Or how do people in rural area benefit from big sports complexes if they don't even have roads in their regions?

Pro: Having states such as Ukraine and Azerbaijan host big events also offers an enlightening advantage. Without a European Championship or Eurovision Song Contest, the citizens in the EU would not deal so much with these states. They know nothing about the violation of human rights or the restriction of fundamental freedoms in these countries. In addition, these events attract many people from the EU, which would likely never have traveled to these countries under different circumstances. This promotes a cultural exchange as well as political.

Contra: Both the European Championship and the Eurovision Song Contest are basically apolitical. Most of the fans are not interested in politics and might not be enthusiastic about the politicization of these events. Most simply want to enjoy the event offered by athletes and singers. An examination of local politics most likely only takes place in the media. Even those who travel to the venues are probably more interested in having fun, partying, and some tourist trips. Whether or not a cultural, or even political, exchange occurs is more than questionable.