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Ukraine and the bumpy road to Eurovision

April 30, 2017

 

When Ukraine first entered the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003 with Oleksandr Ponomoryov's entry "Hasta La Vista", very few could have predicted Ukraine's success at the competition.  They have made thirteen appearances, two wins, eight top ten places, and have never come lower than nineteenth position. For a relatively new comer, this country has certainly been successful, and left its mark on Eurovision history. 

 

With great success has also come to volition a rather turbulent time at the contest. Ruslana stomped to victory in 2004 with "Wild Dances", heralding a new dawn of song and style at Eurovision.  However, fans and outsiders during this time couldn't fail to notice the country was in the grips of a political revolution.  This was the 'Orange Revolution'.  There were those in Ukraine that wanted to continue its ties with Russia, and those looking to break away from the East, and forge a new relationship with Europe and the West. 

 

With all this internal pressure Ukraine brushed it to one side by embracing the contest, and showcasing to Europe that it could put on a world class show.  Could the Eurovision Song Contest boost tourism, help it achieve its long term goal of joining the European Union, and project the country into a positive light?  

 

In theory it did.  It welcomed the world to its 'awakening', it welcomed the artists of the 39 countries, the press, and the fans.  It produced hours of great quality television, and when it really mattered live, it went without a hitch.  However, the contest was a bumpy ride for Ukraine, and was frought with problems.  Ruslana, who was intended to host the show pulled out, with one reason being highlighted her poor English language.  

Various artists were accused of plagiarism.  Malta could not broadcast their semi final from the very start, due to electrical problems in their country.  

 

The EBU had to also intervene with the Ukranian song, and demanded it be changed.  The country had just triumphed with its 'Orange Revolution', and wanted its song to reflect this.  The cardinal rule of Eurovision is not to make it political. The original song would have done this.  Nevertheless, it was changed and the EBU were appeased.  This still did not deter Norway's band 'Wig Wam' waving orange cloth, and shouting "Welcome to the Orange Revolution" at the end of their performance. 

 

Fast forward twelve years, and it appears that Ukraine are in exactly the same boat again.  Except this time the journey has been a lot more rocky.  When the contest was held in Stockholm in 2016, fan favourite Russia's Sergey Lazarev was expected to romp to victory.  Instead, Ukraine won, shocking many of the pundits.  Russia cried wolf declaring that Jamals song "1944" was indeed political.  Crimea had been invaded in 1944, and annexed in 2015.  It is no coincidence that the song reflected the past, but echoed events in the present. It also argued that the new voting system allowed juries to penalise them.  They could win the public vote, and lose the jury one.  Russia threatened to withdraw. 

 

As the months have progressed Ukraines handling of the Contest has been called into question, and made press headlines all over the world. The major problems really started when the decision as to which city would host the show was delayed three times.  Meeting the deadline for the contest was getting closer.  Could Ukraine pull it off? This has not gone down with fans or the press, who couldn't prepare for the contest, as they didn't know where it was being held.  

 

When Kyiv was finally decided as the host city, the contest hit another major hurdle.  Just three months to go, and the core team organising Eurovision quit.  Their resignation letter stated that due to the appointment of a new boss, they were "completely blocked" about making any decisions.  In true Eurovision style, the drama was brushed aside, and the show was to go on. It was promised!!!!

 

All of this however, was to pale into insignificance in comparison to the furore that would occur when Russia would chose their artist.  On the 12th March 2017, Russia internally selected 'Yuliya Samoylova' with the song "Flame is Burning".  Initially it was praised and accepted by fans, and the EBU.  Shortly after Ukraine showed its cards, and declared that she was banned from performing in Kyiv, and entering Ukraine.  

 

According to the government she was issued with a three year travel ban, after illegally crossing the border to visit, and sing in Crimea in 2015.  She had entered annexed Crimea through Russia and not Ukraine.  The EBU entered into negotiations with the host broadcaster, who would not budge on this issue. 

 

Ukraine was laying the law down with the EBU.  Although a massive institution it was powerless to interfere with local laws.  The idea was then proposed that Yulia could perform at the contest live via satellite.  Just as stubborn, Russia's channel one refused this idea.  This had now turned into a political mess, with both sides refusing to budge.  Finally on April 13th, Russia announced that it would withdraw, and unlikely broadcast the event. 

 

Although the problem was solved, this has led to quite a mess, with the chief of the EBU Ingrid Delterne condemning the actions of Ukraine as "totally unacceptable", and that they had abused Eurovision for political reasons. The European Broadcasting Union has always prided itself that it was not political. It would bring nations together regardless of politics, creed, colour or belief.  This year it hasn't as 43, has become 42, these two nations have not put their differences aside, and not come together to celebrate the power of music.  

 

This year the EBU has been powerless to protect the contest from politics.  Even when the winner is decided, the ramifications, and consequences of the debacle, leading to the organising of the show will more than likely still be played out in coming months.   Eurovision will have to ensure this does not happen again, and sanctions to Ukraine and Russia may have to be given out to serve as a warning to others that the events leading to the Contest can not happen again.  

 

Whatever happens in the future, the EBU still has enough economic clout to make the contest happen.  This year will mark its 62nd year birthday.  The contest has always aired, and as long as its still loved by fans and the viewing public will continue to air.  The hosts have been decided, pictures of the stage and venue have been shown.  Ukraine is showing the world, that despite all these problems, the show must still go on.  During the semi finals, and final, they can celebrate diversity through music , and despite the chaotic months.  It can put on a world class show. 

 

After all this though, the big question that will remain in the future is that will the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest be remembered for all the drama leading to the show,  more than the actual winner, or the songs.  

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