Eurovision Song Scandal 2017: to Let or not to Let?

This year the Eurovision Contest is cloaked in a scandal unfolding around the Russian contestant. The Russian Eurovision participant, Julia Samoilova, should be banned from entering the territory of Ukraine as the Eurovision 2017 host country. And while Russia tries to dictate its rules, Ukraine has to deal with Eurovision attacks.

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Julia Samoilova, the Russian participant in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) hosted by Ukraine, was banned from entering Ukraine for three years by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The ban came into effect on March 22, 2017, when the SBU uncovered that Samoilova had participated in a festival held in Kerch, Crimea, on June 27, 2015. She crossed the border of the annexed Crimea from the side of the Russian Federation thereby breaking the applicable legislation of Ukraine. The reaction of the Ukrainian authorities to the legal violation raised a wave of censure and indignation from the ESC organizers. While the latter try to resolve the situation by pressuring and threatening Ukraine, the country remains firm in its decision: Samoilova will remain banned from entering the country and cannot participate in the Contest this year.

The greatest scandal though unfolded not between Russia and Ukraine, but between the officials of the ESC and Ukraine because of Samoilova’s ban. Its climax was an open letter of Ingrid Deltenre, the Director General of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), to the Prime Minister of Ukraine. The letter’s tone was extremely angry and firm. The content urged Ukraine to allow the banned contestant to participate in the Eurovision. The Director General stated in her letter that she and the EBU “have not been made aware of any information that Julia Samoilova poses a security threat to Ukraine”. While she was indeed not informed about it, there is no legal or common sense obligation for the Ukrainian side to provide such information to the representative of the EBU. Moreover, all European countries and, consequently, the EBU as an organization operating on the territory of the EU, have refused to recognize the Crimea as belonging to the Russian Federation. So any crossing of the Crimean border contrary to Ukrainian legislation is considered as law breaking by both Ukraine and the EU. Based on this, the appeal of Ms Deltenre can be regarded as groundless.

Besides prying into the internal affairs of the country, Ingrid Deltenre has also pointed out that “no previous host country has prevented an artist performing at the Eurovision Song Contest”. This very quote illustrates the Director General’s incompetence. Journalists of Channel 24 (a Ukrainian news channel and online news outlet) pointed out the inconsistency of Ms. Deltenre’s statement by reminding viewers of the scandal with Eurovision contestants in 2009. That year Russia was the host country of the Contest. “Then the Georgian group Stephane & 3G was banned from participation with their song ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’”, wrote Channel 24. The explanation for the ban was simple: Russia stated that the song had political implication and the EBU stated that the songs presented “can’t harm reputation or the European Song Contest in general”. Hence, a ban on the song and Georgia’s refusal to participate. And the situation is repeating itself. Russia is again involved and is trying to impose its terms while the EBU gladly agrees with everything, trying to punish Ukraine for Russian’s provocation.

Usually, Russia holds a competition for artists aiming to represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest, in order to promote a fair and democratic way of choosing the artists. This year everything was different. Julia Samoilova was chosen by the country without any competition or explanation. Furthermore, she is no ordinary artist: Samoilova is a disabled person in a wheelchair. Such an outrageous PR step by Russia was instantly revealed by the media. The tactics were obvious: if Ukraine prohibits the singer from participating in the Contests, it loses its face in Europe’s eyes because it discriminates against a wheelchair user. If Ukraine does not ban her, Russia aims to gain the pity of European viewers and win the competition. In both cases Russia wins and Ukraine loses. As Eurovision has always been claimed to be an apolitical contest, such impertinent and explicit provocation by Russia towards the host country would have been a clear implication of political relations with Ukraine.

When one is provoked, one tries to defend oneself in every possible way. And this is what Ukraine is trying to do. The authorities are trying to safeguard the existing borders of the country by issuing bans on all people who have broken the law. Julia Samoilova was not the first Russian performer to be banned from the territory. The list of journalists, politicians, singers, church representatives, actors, directors, and many others includes M. Boyarsky, I. Okhlobystin, F. Kirkorov, O. Gazmanov, G. Depardieu, and many others. Threats towards Ukraine’s expulsion from this and the upcoming Eurovision Contests declared by EBU officials have no grounds and contradict the statements made before. The EBU stated that it “fully understands and respects the laws of Ukraine” though currently its actions prove the opposite. Furthermore, the Supervisory Board of Ukraine’s public broadcaster as a member of the EBU has also appealed to Ms Deltenre with an open letter response. It called upon “Ms Ingrid Deltenre and the European Broadcasting Union to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine” and stressed that “the Ukrainian participants of Eurovision always respect the laws and regulations of the host countries”.

The Eurovision Song Contest should not be an arena for political battles, but this year it was made so. While Russia tried to provoke Ukraine with its contestant and support of the EBU, Ukraine remained firm: Julia Samoilova is and will remain banned from crossing the border. In this conflict Russia acted like a little child, who tried to turn the situation to its advantage, but failed, and even the support of the older brother EBU did not help. Now Russia just feels offended even though it understands that it lost the battle. So the conflict is over: Julia Samoilova does not participate in Eurovision 2017, and the EBU has stopped threatening Ukraine because the show must go on.

Written by Kate P.

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