‘Non-Political’ Eurovision Gets Political

Russia has pulled out of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest because its candidate, Yulia Samoylova has been denied entry into Ukraine, where this year’s finals and semifinals take place May 9-13. 

Yulia Samoylova
AP Photo / Maria Antipina, FILE
– Yulia Samoylova

The Ukrainian government imposed the entry ban on Samoylova because the singer had played a 2015 concert on the Crimean peninsula, the epicenter of a territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine, and had traveled through Russia instead of Ukraine to get there.

The European Broadcasting Union suggested live streaming Samoylova’s 2017 EFC performance from Russia in an effort to mitigate. It also suggested sending another candidate. Both options were rejected by Russia’s ESC broadcaster Channel One, which is majority-owned by the government. Channel One also announced it wouldn’t broadcast the 2017 edition at all.

“Unfortunately this means Russia will no longer be able to take part in this year’s competition. We very much wanted all 43 countries to be able to participate and did all we could to achieve this,” the EBU states.

Frank Dieter Freiling, chairman of the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group, the event’s steering committee, said: “We strongly condemn the Ukrainian authorities’ decision to impose a travel ban on Julia Samoylova as we believe it thoroughly undermines the integrity and non-political nature of the Eurovision Song Contest and its mission to bring all nations together in friendly competition.

However, preparations continue apace for the Eurovision Song Contest in the host city Kiev. Our top priority remains to produce a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest with our Member [the Ukraine’s national public broadcaster] UA:PBC in May.” People have been speculating that the 2017 ESC could lead to tensions between the two countries ever since Jamala from Ukraine won last year, making the country’s capital Kiev the host for 2017.

The lyrics of her winning song “1944” address the crimes of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who had recaptured Crimea from the German army and expelled the native population.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, some pointed out the political nature of the song, which would have violated ESC rules, according to which “no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the ESC.”

However, EFC officials decided “1944” did not fall into that category.