I usually update my blog once a week but I couldn’t wait. I really couldn’t wait. I was told the news that at approximately 10:57 British time, Michel Platini announced that Poland and Ukraine will be hosting the European Championships in 2012. I am over the moon, ecstatic. There are many reasons for my euphoria and for the euphoria of 85 million people in these two countries and I wonder if European football’s ruling body UEFA really knows what it has done. The positives that will flow from this decision are immense. They truly are ground-breaking, earth-shattering and momentous in every sense of these words.
Firstly, it will bring a smile to the faces of the citizens of two countries that have not had much to smile about in recent years. In both Poland and Ukraine we have two countries, albeit at different stages of political growth, struggling with their (relatively) newly-found sense of freedom. Poland is belatedly dealing with a post-communist backlash, Ukraine is trying its utmost to deal with the responsibilities that go with being a democratic state. Life has been tough for many years, but the smiles and tears of joy that I saw in Warsaw today were something I will remember for a long, long time.
Secondly, it will give these two Slavonic states an almighty kick up the backside. Poland and Ukraine need to improve their infrastructure, build stadia and gentrify their inner cities. Ministers of both nations have already pledged funds for the building of new roads, highways and arenas. In fact, a mere hour after the announcement, Poland’s Finance Minister Zyta Gilowska pledged PLN 1 billion to help fund the transformation of the former Stadion X-lecie, currently Europe’s biggest open-air market, into one of the most modern sporting arenas in Europe, the National Stadium of Poland.
Thirdly, the fact that Poland and Ukraine won this bid has suddenly created a wave of solidarity across the much-divided political stage in both states. Suddenly, members of the Left Democratic Alliance (SLD) including their leader Wojciech Olejniczak, sworn enemies of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, have open come out to heap praise on the President of Poland (former PiS leader) who went to Cardiff to support the joint bid. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko also made the visit to the Welsh capital. The support he was given by allies of Viktor Yanukovych may have been less eager, but the fact that it was there is truly astonishing.
Finally, and most importantly, the organisation of Euro 2012 will do more for Polish-Ukrainian relations than any politician, any political party or any other event in the entire history of the two nations has ever done. Although there is a lot of common history shared by these two proud nations, there is also a great deal of bad blood. In fact, my grandmother lived to tell me of the ongoing Polish-Ukrainian skirmishes of her childhood and of the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-1919. As much as the politicians, sectarians and partisans strove to shore up nationalist fervour against the other nation, the people themselves lived side-by-side for hundreds of years in places like Lviv, Tarnopol or Kiev to name a few. The area formerly known as Galicja-Wołyń was interspersed with Polish-Ukrainian villages where people of both nationalities (as well as the Hutsuls, Boykos and Lemkos) lived in peace and harmony.
Several wars, partitions, loss of independence, over-bearing neighbours and communism have done much to erode what was once a beautifully cosmopolitan corner of Europe. Hopefully, this great sporting event will allow Poland and Ukraine to work together on something that will have a longer-lasting legacy than any treaty could ever offer. The idea of building communication networks, lines of transportation and economic ties between these two countries just for the sake of a small white ball, I believe, is one of the most noble concepts I have ever come across in my love of the history of these two countries. This truly is a great day to be a European.