Last Column of 2008: Season’s Greetings!
Every writer as the New Year approaches has to spend at least some time reflecting on what transpired over the past 12 months, establishing a theme of sorts, usually one that can be categorized as ‘catch-all’ or ‘favourites’. Is ‘change’ an appropriate theme for mine? Thinking back I realize the world this year underwent some fundamental changes – citizens in the United States just elected a person of colour as president, the idea that American-style credit capitalism is the solution to all our problems has received a serious (if not fatal) blow – but many things also remained the same (Ukrainians remain slaves to the elite political class, war continues to be the solution of choice for many leaders around the world and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow, here as much as anywhere).
So what to write about? Hope? Hope for change? If so, where to find such hope? Would you believe it if I said sports – in particular, football?
Ukraine’s government and citizens today stand face-to-face with their most difficult period in a decade. Droves of capital has fled an already weak market, unemployment continues to rise rapidly and the government has less sense of semblance and purpose than it did when the Orange revolution forces came to power on a wave of huge public support just four years ago. But what they have now is a mission, something a friend described and I repeated in this column as ‘an inconvenient burden’: the 2012 European football championships. Without it, this country would be utterly lost and could easily be given up for dead despite what its anthem suggests.
Preparations for Euro 2012 have advanced considerably since the summer when UEFA President Michel Platini and his entourage toured the country and nearly decided to yank the tournament away from Ukraine and co-host Poland. The airport in Boryspil is undergoing serious modernization and expansion, roads and stadiums are being rebuilt, tourism infrastructure is developing and though much remains to be done, there is a glimmer of hope.
But something more fundamental needs to come out of this, out of the past 12 months of bickering, delays, continued corruption and greed at the highest levels of government and society and that is the desire to change this country’s future irrevocably. As much work as they’re doing to change the cosmetics of the country, politicians and planners need to consider the fundamental gearing of this society, in how it seems stuck in this pathetic, top-down Soviet model of development where only the government can do anything to save its people and no one without clout or connections can move to change this place for the better.
What Ukraine needs is to give something back to sport rather than just building venues for fans and sports officials. The country needs to build sports stadiums and parks in which children and adults alike can play. It needs to support the development of sports at all levels of society so that those who make it to elite levels of sport aren’t seen as just naturally gifted but as the products of a system that cares about what its people can achieve and aspire to. However, in Pechersk district we have stadiums under threat of being torn down by unscrupulous developers, the lame duck city administration looking completely the other way and local courts siding with the developers, all of which completely undermines the very planning for the future that Ukraine so desperately needs, one in which its people have something to hope for.
I want something to look forward to in Ukraine, and not just the mere preparations for Euro 2012 if it’s all going to be just smoke and mirrors. As many have learned from watching the U.S. presidential election coverage, you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. Let’s hope Ukrainian leaders make some fundamental changes to this country in 2009 that leave no one confused as to what change in Ukraine really means.
Happy holidays and a very happy New Year to all readers of this column and of the larger audience that uses Go2Kiev.com as a source of the latest information on this fine city! See you again in 2009!