Vitali Klitschko on Tymoshenko Case 'Ukraine Is Becoming Increasingly Authoritarian'

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, boxer and pro-democracy activist Vitali Klitschko talks about the worsening situation in his country and the case of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. While he rejects calls to boycott the upcoming European Football Championships, he says the event is a good opportunity to draw attention to the Ukraine government's failures.
Heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is also the leader of the pro-European Ukrainian political party UDAR.

Heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is also the leader of the pro-European Ukrainian political party UDAR.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Klitschko, eastern Ukraine has been shaken by bombing attacks . What's behind them?

Klitschko: One can only speculate about the originator of the bombing attack at this point in time. We will have to wait for further developments and an investigation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it understandable to you that German President Joachim Gauck has cancelled his planned trip to Ukraine  because he wants to send a message that he opposes the mistreatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko?

Klitschko: In light of the events in Ukraine it is an absolutely logical step. It is the country's leaders alone who are responsible for the damage to Ukraine's image.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should a football player like Philipp Lahm, the captain of the German national team, publicly express his solidarity with the unjustly detained members of the opposition like Yulia Tymoshenko?

Klitschko: I am against the politicization of sports. But athletes also need to be clear about what is happening in a country in which they are competing. Think about the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. At the time, regime opponents were tortured and killed by the military junta, in some instances in the very stadiums where the World Cup matches were later played. Berti Vogts, the captain of the German national team at the time, said only that he hadn't seen a single political prisoner and that Argentina was a country where order was maintained.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What does the German national team need to know about the country where it will be competing in June?

Klitschko: Ukraine is a wonderful country with great potential and hospitable people. I am still convinced that the European Championships are an opportunity for Ukriane to present itself to the entire world. Sixty percent of Ukrainians are hoping for Ukraine's rapprochement with Europe, and the majority support European values. Unfortunately, we are observing some very negative political developments. Like Yulia Tymoshenko, one opposition leader after another is being placed in prison. That damages Ukraine's image in the eyes of the world and of fans who want to travel there for the European Championship. Ukraine is transforming itself into an increasingly authoritarian regime. Publicly, the leadership may proclaim democratic values and declare the country's integration in Europe to be a priority. But in fact, the government is undertaking steps that run contrary to European standards and values.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the international community even have any influence on President Yanukovych?

Klitschko: Europe and (Ukraine's) neighboring countries have enormous influence on Ukraine, both politically and economically. The important thing is that the whole country not be punished through penalties and sanctions that also affect the people. The pressure needs to be directed against the country's leadership. Each person at the country's helm has a personal responsibility for what is currently happening in Ukraine. They must be held accountable.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Would a visit to a German national team match by German Chancellor Angela Merkel play into the hands of the Ukrainian leadership?

Klitschko: The German team would be proud if it knew that the chancellor was in the stadium. Another question is whether the visit would be an official one and if Merkel would attend as a representative of her country. A private visit to the stadium would be unproblematic.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you reject calls for a boycott?

Klitschko: This tournament is the biggest sporting event in the history of Ukraine. It has to happen. It is even an excellent opportunity to draw the world's attention to the maladministration in our country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why hasn't it been possible to cement democracy in Ukraine during the last 20 years?

Klitschko: That is a difficult philosophical question. Democratic changes are primarily dependent on the people at the highest levels of government. Throughout the years, our politicians have spoken about the democratization of our country, but in their heart of hearts they don't want it at all. Things could go a different way, though. Georgia provides an example of that. If the sincere desire for democracy exists, then a country can develop in this direction in leaps and bounds.

Interview conducted by Benjamin Bidder.
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