Swedish veterans join dictator for ice-hockey tournament

Members of Björklöven's veterans' ice-hockey team from Umeå in northern Sweden are heading to Minsk on Wednesday to participate in President Alexander Lukashenko's very own Christmas International Ice-Hockey Tournament.

Lukashenko himself is expected to participate. He will play with a team largely consisting of members of the Belorussian ice-hockey team that beat Sweden in a shock result at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

“I haven’t heard of anybody who doesn’t want to go just because it’s Lukashenko’s tournament,” Björklöven player Igor Matusjkin told Västerbottens-Kuriren.

“And the tournament is of a high standard because it’s the president’s own tournament,” Matusjkin added.

Alexander Lukashenko came to power in Belarus in 1994. Since then he has kept a tight grip on the country, ensuring that opposition activists are closely monitored by the KGB.

In connection with the March 2006 general election the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declared that Lukashenko “permitted State authority to be used in a manner which did not allow citizens to freely and fairly express their will at the ballot box.”

But the management at Björklöven does not seem to have dwelled too much on the political implications before travelling to a show tournament organised by “Europe’s last dictator”.

“We have just looked at the hockey side of things and left politics aside,” Kenneth Lundberg, player and head of operations at Björklöven, told Västerbottens-Kuriren.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, last year’s tournament was a great success.

“Guests from Austria and Finland have been impressed by high sports level of competition especially the skills of the Belarusian team.

“They have underlined that this is the first amateur tournament of such excellent organization and high attendance they had ever attended.”