(EJP)--- The mayor of Lviv, one of four Ukrainian host cities of
the current Euro 2012 football tournament, also based in Poland,
has refuted claims of widespread racism across the country’s football
stadiums, attributing such reports to media bias.
In a statement on Sunday, Andriy Sadovyi insisted that “Lviv is an
absolutely tolerant city...(with) people of different nationalities
who respect each other”.
His comments came despite reports of a WWII Jewish burial site being
desecrated in the western Ukraine city of Rivne, about 350 kilometres
(215 miles) west of the capital Kiev on Wednesday evening.
Police spokesman Petro Yezhor confirmed several unknown attackers broke
a memorial plaque and street lamps at a site commemorating the murder
of 17,500 Jews during the Holocaust. The local Jewish community described
the act of vandalism as “horrific”.
Human rights organisation Simon Wiesenthal Center has also called on
football fans to boycott two of Lviv’s restaurants accused of perpetuating
anti-Semitic sentiment, something Sadovyi similarly denies.
One of the restaurants in question encourages patrons to don black
hats with artificial sidelocks reminiscent of religious Jewish payot.
Prices are not included on the menu, as customers are encouraged to
negotiate, which, the Simon Wiesenthal Center argues perpetuates “a
notorious anti-Semitic stereotype still prevalent in Eastern Europe.
Nationalist Ukrainian groups have long been associated with anti-Jewish
policy and are known to enjoy a stronghold of support in the Lviv region,
on account of the resistance they mounted against Soviet forces in
World War II, during which period 1.4 million members of Soviet Ukraine’s
2.4 million-strong Jewish community were executed, starved to death
or died of disease.
Sadoyvi insisted racial tensions such as he remarked were evidenced
in last year’s London riots, which saw the city engulfed in violent
protests, were unimaginable in Lviv and responsibility for inaccurate
reports of racism was largely attributable to British press outlets.
“They had riots in the city and you probably heard about that. I can’t
even imagine such a thing in Lviv”, the mayor insisted. “Maybe some
people don’t like it, but Lviv is a city open to the world”.
Controversy over Euro 2012 racism has been further invigorated after
it was reported on Friday that Dutch black players had been subjected
to monkey chants during an open practice session in Krakow, Poland,
where the England team is based. Italian international player Mario
Balotelli was also allegedly racially harassed during his team’s opening
group match against Spain on Sunday. The families of two of England’s
first-team black players, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,
had already announced they won’t travel to matches because of fears
of racist abuse.