A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Monday, April 10, 2017

ESC 2017: some songs and a big fat scandal

The 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv is one month away and there are still so many things to look forward to. And yet I think I already know what this edition will be remembered for. Sadly, it is not the songs.

Many people could smell trouble already when the EBU allowed Ukraine to compete with the highly political "1944" last year. I don't necessarily agree with that. We always had political messages in the ESC - Greece 1976 och Portugal 1977 spring to mind - and where does one draw the line what kind of political message is acceptable or not? Singing about world peace is also a political statement, mind you.

It was a tense moment as the 2016 final turned out to be a duel between Russia and Ukraine, the latter having already stated they would not take part in a final hosted by the former. 

The run-up for ESC 2017 suggested Russia was not too keen on being seen in Kyiv either as they failed to participate in several meetings prior to the contest and never booked any accommodation. Suddenly they presented an entry anyway, set to participate.

The Russian entrant was carefully selected: a former talent show participant suffering from a muscle disease that confined her to a wheelchair. She was armed with a ballad about peace and hope and - perhaps most importantly - she had had concerts in Crimea. 

Ukraine has very clear laws on this matter: anyone entering Crimea from Russia is violating Ukrainian territory and is seen as a criminal. Russia's singer was slapped with a travel ban to prevent her from coming to Kyiv at all instead of being arrested upon arrival.

This is where the EBU lost their marbles altogether and did everything they could to ensure Russian participation. They suggested Russia could perform via a satellite link - a suggestion so silly and against the spirit of the contest I can hardly phrase it in words - and once this idea was discarded went on to try to bully Ukraine into lifting the travel ban and a letter from the EBU sent to the Ukrainian prime minister contained a number of pretty vague threats.

1) Ukraine's international reputation will be damaged if the Russian singer is not allowed to enter. 
I somehow think neither NATO nor the EU will care an awful lot about a song contest as they make their strategic decisions.

2) Other countries will withdraw if the Russian performer is not allowed to enter. 
So let them withdraw. There are rules how to handle late withdrawals: the broadcasters in question must pay their full participation fees and could be slapped with extensive fines for pulling out at a late stage for no valid reason.

3) Ukraine's future participation in the ESC could be in danger if the Russian performer is not allowed to enter. 
Dear EBU - Ukraine is a country at war. This law was made for a reason. You can agree or disagree with it but it is in no way controversial that a country reserves the right to deny entry to people for various reasons. If the government has to choose between standing their ground or participate in a song contest, I think you are not on the winning side.

The very thought that the EBU - not a political organisation - would have a mandate to force a member state to give up their own legislation for the sake of an entertainment show is absurd and very damaging for the idea that the ESC is not a political event.

There - I got it off my chest. Let's move on to the songs instead. My big ESC 2017 review is about to begin.


  1. A brilliant, eloquent and concise summary - very well said.

  2. Well written - I just have a counter-question: When Lebanon withdrew in 2005 because they didn't want to broadcast Israel, that was actually also a matter of following the law, because broadcasting Israeli content is indeed against Lebanese law. But that was no excuse in that case ... Lebanon was still punished with three years suspension.
    So if EBU could override national law then, why shouldn't they be able to now, forcing Ukraine to fulfil their duty as host and let everyone in?
    That said, my feeling is that this is all very sad and both Russia, Ukraine and EBU have behaved shamefully and childishly. Hope the consequences for coming contests and relations won't be too serious.

    1. Perhaps the law is there, but Lebanese television gladly show several other shows where Israel participates: sporting events like the Olympics, for instance.

      The big difference between these two cases was that Lebanese tv wanted to alter the feed given to them by the EBU, which is not allowed. If an entry challenges local laws, a participating broadcaster does not have the right to cut it from its broadcast.

      In this current case, Ukrainian authorities do not allow anyone entering Crimea through Russia. So the Russian singer violated the law and would not be allowed into the host country, which is a completely different ball game and nothing the Ukrainian broadcaster could do anything about.

      Also - every piece of evidence suggests Russia never had the intention of taking part in Kyiv and only wanted to create a difficult situation for Ukraine. They deliberately chose someone who broke the law. While Ukraine is far from the perfect democracy, in this particular case they have done everyhing by the book.

    2. OK, thank you, that makes some sense.
      It's been quite confusing, because although few people seem willing to defend Russia, they still have very differing views concerning if Ukraine is actually to blame or not, and what EBU should and should not do. Hard to know who is right ...

    3. The law is always more important than the EBU rule book. When a country is confirmed as host country, then the EBU has also agreed to any special law that country might have. Not sure how much research they really do, perhaps they should do more.