Diplomats break down barriers with football

  • 2013-10-04
  • By Rayyan Sabet-Parry

Photo by Adrienne Warren

RIGA - Victor Guzun has a mean right foot when it comes to football. It also just happens that he’s the Moldovan ambassador for Estonia.

Every week, Estonia’s diplomats meet for a lively game of football in Tallinn. Officials swap the usual suit and tie for sports gear, with countries represented include everywhere from Macedonia to the U.S.

“We like to keep together,” says Guzun, who started the weekly kick-around. “Winter is long in Estonia, so to keep moving all the time is important.”

“It’s a small, diplomatic core, so we like to connect people. About 40 percent of the players are Estonians. There’re journalists, businessmen and there’s even one guy from the church who plays with us. Here everyone’s equal.”

The ambassador who scored the winning goal last week insists diplomats can put their everyday jobs behind them and focus on the football. Dressing room conversation ranges from going for a drink together, to meeting with high level officials in the government.

The initiative goes beyond just football, of course. Moldova is hoping to seal a major association agreement with the European Union on Nov. 28-29 at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. The move would create stronger trade ties with the EU and marks a big move away from its Russian neighbors.

The country recently made headlines after Russia imposed an embargo on its wine sales. Russia blamed the ban on impurities. Some European Union countries responded by increasing its imports with Moldova.

The next day, Guzun swapped his sports gear for the more common suit and tie and attended a lively debate on the Eastern Partnership, organized by the Tallinn-based International Center for Defense Studies. He criticized the embargo and praised European neighbors for their solidarity on the matter.

EU and EaP officials say a stronger Europe will also benefit Russian shores economically.  Poland’s ambassador to Estonia said his country’s GDP grew 47 percent after joining the European Union, while Lithuania’s ambassador to Estonia emphasized that trade increased with Russia after they joined the European Union.

Russia is unconvinced, however. President Vladimir Putin’s own Eurasian Union project has already drawn in the likes of Armenia, though many say under pressure, and other countries may be interested also.  

Ukraine is another country that’s hoping to seal the landmark agreement with the EU at the Vilnius Summit. The country hasn’t been without its woes, either. Russia warned of ‘protective measures’ against the country if the deal is done. The European Union has called on the world’s largest country to put an end to the ‘threats.’

Despite the politics, the Vilnius Summit looks likely to provide a platform to seal some landmark agreement for the two countries.

“See you in the European Union,” said a confident Viktor Kryzhanivsky, the Ukrainian ambassador to Estonia at the end of the ICDS meeting last week.