Category Archives: Former Soviet Area

Step’anakert is well worth a match

The Step’anakert Stadium – Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackwych/

Damiano Benzoni

The two teams enter the field, their flags ahead of them. On the right the home teams’ red, blue and orange tricolour with a white zig-zag chevron, on the left the seven alternate green and white stripes with a red canton depicting a white hand and seven stars, the flag of the guests. Then, the teams align themselves for the national anthems. The green jerseys of Abkhazia sing Aiaaira, “Victory”, while the red jerseys of the hosts Nagorno-Karabakh sing Azat ow ankax Arc’ax, “Free and Independent Arc’ax (or Artsakh)”, referring to the ancient name of their nation when – between 189 b.C. and 387 A.D. – it used to be a province of the Kingdom of Armenia. On the terrace, some supporters hold a banner: UEFA, we also want to play football. The two squads are the national teams of two de facto independent unrecognised countries. Two countries fighting to have their sovereignty recognised by the international community. Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh mutually recognise each other and have such agreement with two other post-Soviet breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Transnistria. While Abkhazia is also recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, Nagorno-Karakakh isn’t recognised by any UN member. Continue reading

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Tajikistan: All the president’s son’s men

Photo: Футбол Тоҷикистон http://footballtj.wordpress.com

Damiano Benzoni

Rustam Èmomalī used to be a striker for two-time Tajik champions Istiķlol Dušanbe, a team of which he has been captain, president, owner and founder. In November 2010 he was named vice-president of the Tajik FA and later was unanimously voted president. He is part of the FIFA Committee for Development and is the representative of Tajikistan at the Asian Olympic Council. In 2011 he left his political party in order to take up a post as the head of the state customs agency department responsible for fighting smuggling and custom violations: a huge responsibility since Tajikistan is crossed by traffic of heroin and opiates coming from bordering Afghanistan. In the past he was a member of the Dušanbe city council, a counsellor for the State Committee on Investments and State Property, a member of the executive committee of the ruling party and a deputy chairman of the Youth Union – the organisation which took the place of the Soviet Komsomol. Rustam Èmomalī is the son of Èmomalī Rahmon, the authoritarian president of Tajikistan. According to some observers, he’s his designed heir. Continue reading

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Fistfights, kicks and the Ukrainian elections

Damiano Benzoni

From Euro 2012 to the elections: the big event for Ukraine, after the Spaniards won their Kiev final against Italy, has become the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 28th. It will be a crucial election for the Verchovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, and it will be played between the danger for electoral fraud and the tug of war played by the West and Russia on the former Soviet republic. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, at a conference in Jalta last week both parts put Ukraine back up against the wall. On one hand, the EU and the US are asking for a clear acceleration of the stagnating democratic progress of the country and for a solution to the situation of former prime minister Julija Tymošenko, whose imprisonment is seen as a move masterminded by president Viktor Janukovyč to sideline a dangerous political opponent. On the other hand Moscow, leveraging on the high energy costs Ukraine has to face, is trying to force Kiev into joining the Eurasiatic Union. Continue reading

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Georgian Dream and Shuk’vani’s nightmare

Damiano Benzoni

A loss in a judo bout, a flight from the window and unbearable political pressure: the story of the Georgian judoka Betkil Shuk’vani may be the most eventful and politicised of the whole London Olympics. It’s quite difficult to establish the truth about what happened, as the two contending parts have divergent versions: the facts tell the story of an athlete who disappeared from the Olympic village in London only to reappear a fortnight later in Tbilisi. In a press conference, Shuk’vani accused the most important members of the country’s Olympic delegation of intimidation and pressure caused by his political affiliation. He told he escaped the village in order to avoid beatings by a member of the Georgian ministry of Sport and Youth Policies. The story was given coverage by the Italian version of the Russian news agency Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and by the Georgian website Ambebi. Continue reading

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Under the shadow of five rings

Photo: David Byrd

Damiano Benzoni

They already got underway yesterday, with the football tournament, tomorrow they’ll be off to their official start: the Olympic Games of London 2012 will see more than ten thousand athletes from all over the world competing with each other. Two hundred and five flags will parade at the British capital’s Olympic Stadium, representing all the nations involved in the event. The parade is traditionally opened by the Greek delegation, which will be led by its flag-bearer Alexandros Nikolaidis, two-time Olympic silver, one-time European champion in taekwondo and first torch-carrier at the Beijing 2008 Games. The Olympic Committees will then parade one after the other in alphabetic order, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The Parade of Nations – as of tradition – is closed by the hosting delegation, and the last flag-bearer will be the Scottish track cyclist Chris Hoy, four Olympic golds. Between Iceland and India four athletes should parade without a national standard, walking behind the five rings of the Olympic flag instead. Continue reading

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