The spat between Ukraine and Russia is simply the latest in a longstanding tradition of political posturing around the contest
Few regulations have been bent, manipulated and outright broken quite like the Eurovision song competitions ban on lyrics, speeches[ or] gestures of a political or similar nature.
Over the six decades of the competition there have been peace, war and the fall of the Berlin Wall but this year politics has gripped Eurovision in a more brazen manner than ever.
A high-profile tussle between the host nation, Ukraine, and Russia reached fever pitch on Friday when the Russian broadcaster Channel One announces that it would not broadcast the tournament next month. The move was in retaliation for the hosts decision to ban Russias contestant, Julia Samilova, after it emerged she had visited Crimea, annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014, and performed there.
Russias decision has removed any opportunity of it competing this year, according to the European Broadcasting Union( EBU ).
We strongly condemn the Ukrainian authorities decision to impose a travel banning on Julia Samilova 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, said Frank Dieter Freiling, the chairman of the Eurovision song contest reference group, the events steering committee.
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.
It is the first time the host country has banned another states entrant, and many within Eurovision accused Ukraine of politicising the contest.
However, others find the decision to put forward Samilova as an equally political move on the part of Russia, forcing Ukraine to choose between upholding its laws and appeasing Eurovision. Russia had originally been promised not to select a contentious entry in the interests of peace and it was only on the night of the deadline that it finally is moving forward Samilova.
Ben Royston, who formerly ran the largest Eurovision news website and has sat on several juries to select Eurovision entry songs as well as working on both Swedens and Azerbaijans past campaigns to win the competition, said: Politics has always been synonymous with Eurovision, and this latest posturing was simply part of a long tradition.
Royston pointed out that many countries consider Eurovision both as a platform to promote their national identity and cultural activities and as a style to prove themselves as a modern political country. In 2011, Azerbaijan stimulated it national policy to win Eurovision, which it managed two years later.
In previous years, the conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and then Russia and Georgia, have all filtered into the competition. In 2009, when Moscow was hosting a year after after the Russia-Georgia war Georgia receded its entry after the organisers told it to change the lyrics and title of its ballad We Dont Wanna Put In after it was perceived as too much of a pointed criticism of Russias president, Vladimir Putin.
Similarly, Armenia chose not to go to the contest when it was held in Azerbaijan because of their ongoing territory dispute, and last year the Armenian contestant was reprimanded after she waved the flag for the territory the two countries claim.
However, rather than disqualifying Russia for putting forward an entry who would clearly inflame Ukraine, EBU suggested that Samilova perform by spacecraft, though that proposal was rejected by both Ukraine and Russia.
In a statement to Russias state-owned Channel One after Ukraine announced its banning, Samilova said she did not understand why Kiev watched some kind of threat in a little girl like me.
But according to Royston, the real narrative this year is how Russia have manipulated that situation to politicise the contest.
He said: They opted a wheelchair-bound contestant who had induced 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 main victims of your laws? It seems clearly all part of the Russia PR machine.
Russia, however, has argued that its option of Samilova was in Eurovisions spirit of espousing diversity, and the decision to deny her a visa seriously devalues the upcoming contest.
Russia is one of the largest financial contributors to Eurovision through participate fees and broadcast viewing figures, which are the largest among participating countries. However, in recent years the nation broadcaster has been under pressure from various Russian legislators to boycott Eurovision altogether for its perceived endorsement of LGBT values, which contravene Russias own statutes banning gay propaganda.
Catherine Baker, a lecturer in 20 th-century history at Hull University who specialises in the Eurovision song contest, said it would be a disgrace if the organisers chose to clamp down on politics after this latest showdown.
Every year Eurovision is telling narratives about what it means to be European and thats a sort of political communication, said Baker. One of the criticisms that Eurovision always get is that its simply kitsch and doesnt entail anything. If you limit that space further and take a harder line on what counts as political, you chip away more and more at the things that popular music can actually be about.
It would end up injury the tournament and play into the criticism it is just meaningless entertainment.
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