Russia–Ukraine relations in the Eurovision Song Contest
Russia has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, a pan-European music competition, since 1994, while Ukraine has participated since 2003. Russia and Ukraine have had positive relations, and have exchanged the top-3 points with each other several times over the years. Barring a minor dispute over Ukraine's 2007 entry "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" (whose title was alleged to be a mondegreen of "Russia goodbye", but was defended by its performer as being meaningless), notable conflicts began to emerge between the two countries at Eurovision in the wake of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
In 2016, Ukraine's entry was "1944", a song by Jamala that was inspired by her great-grandmother's experiences during the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. The song was criticised by Russian officials, who argued that it violated Eurovision rules against political content due to its allusions to the Crimean crisis. "1944" would ultimately win the contest. While there were calls for Russia to boycott the Ukraine-hosted 2017 contest over the ongoing conflicts in Eastern Ukraine, Russia did unveil an entrant—Yuliya Samoylova.
However, after she was unveiled, it was reported that Samoylova had been banned from entering Ukraine for three years for violating a Ukrainian ban on direct travel to Crimea from Russia. The EBU attempted to reconcile the issues so that Samoylova could perform, calling upon the Ukrainian government to remove or defer her travel ban for the contest, and offering Russia the opportunity to perform their song from a remote venue. However, Russia's delegate broadcaster, Channel One Russia, passed on the offer, seeking have Samoylova perform in Kiev as with all other entrants. On 13 April 2017, Channel One announced that it would not broadcast the contest, effectively withdrawing.
Verka Serduchka was chosen to represent Ukraine at the 2007 Contest with the song "Dancing Lasha Tumbai". However, it was alleged that the song had contained political subtext, including a reference in its lyrics to "Maidan" (the site of the Orange Revolution demonstrations), and that the phrase "Lasha Tumbai" was a mondegreen of "Russia goodbye". Serduchka denied these allegations, claiming that the phrase "lasha tumbai" was Mongolian for "churned butter". On the Russian talk show Пусть говорят, which aired on Channel One Russia just after the final of the contest, a native Mongolian speaker explained that the phrase "Lasha Tumbai" does not exist in the Mongolian language. Serduchka later stated that "Lasha Tumbai" was a meaningless phrase meant to rhyme with other lyrics.
Jamala, who represented Ukraine at the 2016, won with the song "1944". The lyrics for her song concern the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, in the 1940s, by the Soviet Union at the hands of Joseph Stalin because of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Jamala explained that the lyrics were inspired by the story of her great-grandmother Nazylkhan, who was in her mid-20s when she and her five children were deported to barren Central Asia. One of the daughters did not survive the journey.
Russian officials, including multiple MPs and Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were clearly unhappy with the decision and said the song was a political statement and an allusion on the 2014 annexation of Crimea, forbidden by the rules of the contest. They threatened to boycott the 2017 contest. Despite this, Russia's entrant Sergey Lazarev congratulated Jamala on her win.
The Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which began in late February 2014, prompted a number of governments to apply sanctions against individuals, businesses and officials from Russia. In 2015, the Ukrainian government began to blacklist people who supported the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia, from entering the country. Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko stated that the country would not lift this ban for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) iterated that their goal was for Eurovision to remain inclusive, and that they were "engaging in constructive dialogue with the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (NTKU) and the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that all delegates and artists can come and stay in Ukraine". A representative of the host broadcaster told Billboard that the blacklist rules were beyond their control. On 3 March 2017, Russian politician Vitaly Milonov called upon the country to withdraw from the 2017 contest amid fears of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. He described Russia as being "unwelcome guests in a country seized by fanatics".
Russian selection, travel ban
It was reported on 13 March 2017 that Ukraine was investigating Yuliya Samoylova, Russia's entrant at the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, for having violated a ban on direct travel to Crimea from Russia; she had visited Kerch in 2015 to give a performance. Ukrainian officials have speculated that Russia's choice of Samoylova may have been a deliberate political statement, having knowingly picked a singer who had performed in the disputed territory in order to instigate a political controversy; interior minister adviser Anton Gerashchenko stated that he could not "exclude that actions could be taken by our side to deny her entry" if Russia was using the entry as a "provocation", while the deputy director of ATR, a Ukrainian television broadcaster that serves the Crimean Tatar population, argued that it was a "cynical and immoral move". Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin stated that he considers the choice of Yulia Samoilova as the Eurovision participant is most likely to be a provocation from Russia. Later the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko stated the same. Ben Royston, who had advised past Eurovision delegations in Azerbaijan and Sweden, argued that Russia's choice of a performer with a disability may have also been deliberate, explaining to The Guardian that "[Russia] chose a wheelchair-bound contestant who had made pro-Russian statements about Crimea on social media. She was never going to be allowed in Ukraine, but they chose her anyway. And now Russia are very publicly saying: 'How can Ukraine let this poor sweet girl in a wheelchair be the victim of your laws?' It seems clearly all part of the Russia PR machine." Russia has denied that their choice of performer was meant to be a political statement, and stated that their choice of a performer with a disability was meant to be an expression of diversity.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed on 22 March 2017 that Samoylova had been banned from entering Ukraine for three years for illegally travelling to Crimea from Russia, thus violating article 204-2 of Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses. The EBU responded by stating that it was continuing to ensure that all entrants would be able to perform in Kiev, but that "we are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the contest and the notion of inclusiveness that lies at the heart of its values", and also stated that EBU will respect the laws of hosting country. Frants Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defence and Security, threatened that Russia would boycott Eurovision unless its organisers declared the government decision to be "unacceptable". He also accused them of being "completely politicised and biased".
Attempts to reconcile
The EBU offered a compromise to Channel One Russia on 23 March 2017, in which Samoylova would be allowed to perform remotely from a venue of the broadcaster's choice; it would have been the first time that a Eurovision entry had been performed from an outside venue via satellite. However, Channel One declined the offer, arguing that Samoylova should be allowed to perform on-stage in Kiev as with every other entrant, and accusing Ukraine of violating assurances in the Eurovision rules that all performers would be issued the appropriate visas so they could enter the host country. Vice Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko had stated that it is illegal for persona non grata to participate in tours or television programmes. Jon Ola Sand, executive supervisor of Eurovision, stated in an interview with Denmark's national broadcaster DR, that he and other members of the European Broadcasting Union had contacted the Ukrainian Security Services about the possibilities of delaying the imposed ban until after the 2017 contest had concluded.
EBU general director Ingrid Deltenre stated that Ukraine's behaviour was "absolutely unacceptable", and abused the Eurovision Song Contest ethos for "political action". Deltenre further went on to say that the EBU were in talks with Ukrainian prime minister Volodymyr Groysman and president Petro Poroshenko, in regards to delaying the ban until after the contest. On 1 April 2017, Deltenre threatened to ban Ukraine from future competitions if Samoylova is not allowed to participate. In response to this UA:PBC urged the EBU to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.
In an interview with German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published on 26 March 2017, Eurovision Reference Group chairman Frank-Dieter Freiling noted that Russia's participation in the contest seemed to be unclear, acknowledging that Samoylova had not participated in mandatory previewing sessions prior to the ban, nor had the Russian delegation reserved any accommodations in Kiev for the contest. He suggested that Russia may have been aware that their selection would be problematic.
Reactions from other EBU members
- San Marino – Carlo Romeo, Director General of the Sanmarinese national broadcaster San Marino RTV (SMRTV), reacted to the decision to ban Samoylova as unacceptable behaviour, that the broadcaster does not care about conspiracy or provocation towards the Russian entrant, and that the song contest is about being on "neutral ground".
- Denmark – Jan Lagermand Lundme, Head of Entertainment of the Danish national broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR), stated in an interview on 25 March 2017 that the 2017 contest has become a "political battleground", and was fairly satisfied with the work the EBU was carrying out in order to resolve the issue on the ban imposed by Ukraine.
- Germany – Head of Entertainment for the German broadcaster ARD, Thomas Schreiber, reacted to the situation during an interview with Deutsche Welle. Schreiber stated that the situation between Russia and Ukraine was of a critical nature, and that he felt that both the Russian broadcaster and the Ukrainian authorities were to blame and that the resolution was dependent on the goodwill of both parties.
- Serbia – Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) stated in 14 April 2017 that they regret the situation and believed that Eurovision should be a place of unity of the nations, and not to divide them. RTS went on to mention about a similar period of difficulty they endured, when they were expelled from the organisation between 1992 and 2004 for political reasons.
Despite there being unstable relations between the two nations over the years, both have still exchanged points with each other. The tables below show the points awarded between Russia and Ukraine since the latter debuted in Eurovision Song Contest 2003.
- SF: – Semi-final
- F: – Final
- T: – Televote
- J: – Jury vote
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