Geopolitical Ice Hockey

Nevertheless, it happened. First of all, on 16 January , the general sponsor of the championship had to withdraw. Another two sponsors followed the example of the car producer, namely manufacturer of the personal care brand N…

Nevertheless, it happened. First of all, on 16 January , the general sponsor of the championship had to withdraw. Another two sponsors followed the example of the car producer, namely manufacturer of the personal care brand Nivea and vehicle oil manufacturer Liqui Moly. All three companies stated that they would not support the world ice hockey championship in case it takes place in Belarus. Organization of the championship is not probable because of violations of human rights in this country. The championship was planned to be held in Minsk and Riga from 21 May to 6 June.
Already on 18 January the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) officially announced that it abrogated a right to Minsk to the championship. The Council of the IHF decided it would not be able to secure wellness and safe movement of the players, referees and representatives of media in the capital of Belarus and because of political pressure in the country and complicated COVID-19 situation in the country.
Latvians have been declaring for some time they were ready to organize the championship alone. This has been supported again by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs on 12 January, who indicated that repressions against demonstrators, sportsmen among them, would make the sport event in Belarus immoral. Riga is ready to accept 16 teams in two arenas of the city. The government of Lithuania is also ready to help the neighbour and organize some competitions in Vilnius or Kaunas. The IIHF has not made the decision yet. According to the President of the Federation Swiss René Faseli, is having negotiations with Denmark and Slovakia, thus the tournament might he held there, too.    
The topic of transfer of the championship or boycott have been discussed by politicians from different countries and sport functionaries. Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Czechia that already have a right of participation, told that they would boycott Belarus. The European Parliament instigated the national sport federations in September to revoke its decision to hold the championship in Minsk; some members of the US Congress also supported this instigation.
On 11 January, probably seeking ‘clarity‘ René Fasel went to Minsk. He is still making excuses about the style of his visit, because he not only promised the dictator to do everything the championship was held in Minsk and even hugged the dictator (Alexander Lukashenko was boasting he had made special relations with the president of IIHF; besides, René Fasel, same as the dictator of Belarus is the president since 1994), and President of the Belarussian Ice Hockey Association Dmitri Baskov, who is suspected of killing 31 years old painter Roman Bondarenko, who was a participant in the protests in the square “Time of Changes” in Minsk on the eve of 11 November, when he arrived to tear off  the white-red-white national flag of Belarus together with other officers dressed in civil clothes.  The shock troops beat up a young man, who went to the yard so hard that he died in hospital the next day.        
Thousands of people came to say good-bye to the killed man. Special troops of Belarus were chasing them brutally and pulled apart a memorial dedicated to the diseased that was made spontaneously next to the Church of the Resurrected Christ.    
The government tried to describe this event as a domestic conflict, in which Roman Bondarenko was taking part being heavily drunk, then fell unsuccessfully and when the militia came, they called the ambulance. Video cameras recorded that actually the officers arrived only after a young man had been beaten up by unknown people and kidnapped. The regime put to prison the doctor Artyom Sorokin and journalist Katerina Borisevich, because they made the medical certificate about absence of alcohol in the blood of the diseased public.   
The telegram channel NEXTA Live (a criminal action was initiated against administrators in Belarus)  published a voice record of the phone conversation, most probably, of the president of Ice Hockey Association and his friend kickboxer Dmitry Shakuta, who were noticed in the square “The Time of Changes’ in the evening of the tragedy. Dimitri Baskov informed his comrade about a call from some Natasha, who told him that Kazakevich was in the square (it is most probable, the Fist Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Gennady Kazakevich), who had warned everybody who was there on the eve to deny this. 
President of Ice Hockey Association Dmitri Baskov combines coaching of the team of Alexander Lukashenko ice hockey with raids in the group of shock troops in yards of Minsk, ‘fighting’ with graffiti and Belarussian three-colour flag. Dmitry Shakuta is playing ice hockey in the team of the    dictator’s of Belarus son Viktor.
We should not have any illusions about the regime of Belarus – after the scandal regarding the world championship on 14 January  Alexander Lukashenko approved a new code of administrative charges, according to which fines for showing a white-red-white flag in public for natural persons shall reach 190 euros and 560 euros for legal entities. Another absurdity of Belarus – a three colour flag of Belarus is officially banned, although Alexander Lukashenko, who debuted in this position in 1994 swore his presidential oath next to that flag.   
René Fasel, who undergone a particularly heavy pressure of Swiss media (a journalist Sandro Brotz reminded that a Swiss citizen is also among political prisoners in Belarus), swore that he was seeking cooperation between the government of Belarus and opposition, he wanted to contribute to solution of social and political problems by way of ice hockey championship and finally he admitted that things turned the other way round, a photo with the dictator and president of the Ice Hockey Association potentially a murderer, looks silly and he is ashamed of that.   
The President of IIHF got an earful not just from the press. Vice-President of IIHF Kalervo Kummola told to the publication Yle that the picture of his boss in Minsk was a total shock to him. The Canadian politician Christopher Alexander called his hugs in Minsk pathetic and moronic; the member of the European Parliament from Sweden Karin Karlsbro called actions of René Fasel discreditable and encouraged his Ice Hockey Federation to react to this. The leader of Belarus opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called transfer of the world championship from Minsk the victory of citizens of her country and told that Belarussians would organize it some day when they finally get rid of the dictator.
Belarussian writer Aliaksandr Filipenko in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an open letter, where he indicated that he understands that in Minsk, where the civil conflict has been going on for over four months, the president of IIHF got involved into an important thing organizing the tournament that had to legitimize the power of the dictator, however maybe he could find some time and visit the yard, where people were arrested just for drinking tea at the same time when he was giving hugs and taking pictures with the president of Ice Hockey Association, who was suspected of a murder. And so on and so forth.   
A frivolous voyage of René Fasel to the dictator almost cost him his position. IIHF had to delete the post on about his visit and block the comments column on the online social network
Alexander Lukashenko even now remembers with some dignity the ice hockey championship in Minsk in 2014, however he said nothing about hundreds of ‘unsuitable” citizens that had been sent from the capital of Belarus by force or put into prison during the championship in order to have an ‘image’ to be shown without any reproaches. Opposition of Belarus even then encouraged to boycott the championship, however nobody listened to it. This time the dictator did not succeed.   
The championship in Minsk – maybe somewhat by surprise – tested the Baltic solidarity. Up to now the talented manipulator Alexander Lukashenko quite ingeniously was using disagreements of the Baltic nations that happen occasionally, for instance, in the field of energy or freight transit.
Lithuania that has extremely big doubts regarding security of Astravets nuclear power plant (NPP) of Belarus, is not very successful (we cannot say it was successful) in making a coalition of allies  so its electricity would be blocked in the market of the European Union (EU) – the government of Latvia kept away from its promise not to buy Belarussian electricity. The Minister of Economics Jānis Vitenbergs of Latvia made his arguments as if refusal to buy electricity from third countries would make electricity in Latvia more expensive by 15 percent.
In September 2018 after the presidential website of Belarus spread news that Belarussians are planning to direct freights from Klaipėda to Riga as a reply to Lithuania because of its initiative against construction of Astravets nuclear power plant. Klaipėda state seaport direction marketing and corporate affairs director Artūras Drungilas told to the news agency ELTA that Belarussian freights in Klaipėda port make the biggest portion of all transit freight turnover and they will try to compete, so it continues growing.
On 29 July 2019 Ambassador of the Belarussian embassy to Riga Vasili Markovych quoted Alexander Lukashenko, saying that  the trade volume  of both countries that reach 600 million US dollars per year is too little and that Belarus is planning to increase transportation of freights via Latvian ports. As if Lithuania applies pressure on Belarus regarding Astravets NPP, undertook not to buy electricity produced there and encouraged other states of the EU to do the same and the position of Latvia is not no categorical.
Even Alexander Lukashenko told that in case Lithuania did not want to cooperate with Minsk, they have to focus on Latvia. During the meeting in Minsk with Prime Minister of Latvia Krišjan Karinš on 16 October of the last year, he offered to extend cooperation between Belarus and Latvia. Latvians even planned to be the first in the EU to receive Alexander Lukashenko in Riga on 3 April and the Prime Minister of Latvia also mentioned about this.     
The dictator of Minsk has always played games with the disputes between Baltic nations. It turned out that maybe ice hockey can terminate such an experience. The suggestion of Vilnius to help Riga with the championship seems to be in time and in place.
 Arūnas Spraunius

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Autorius: Voras Online