IP hop folk ensemble Kalush Orchestra will perform Stefanie – an appealing song that combines a traditional melody with modern rap rhythms.
However, when the band takes the stage, it will be difficult for millions of viewers not to think about the horrors the people of Ukraine are currently suffering as a result of the Russian invasion.
This will not be the first time political tensions between Russia and Ukraine have spilled over onto the Eurovision Song Contest stage.
In 2014, Russia had recently annexed Crimea, which until then had been an integral part of Ukrainian territory.
I attended this year’s Eurovision in Copenhagen and when it was announced that the Russian entry, the Tolmachevy Sisters, had reached the finals of the competition, the news was met with loud boos from the audience in the huge arena.
The following year, the Austrian host broadcaster introduced “anti-boo technology” so audiences at home could no longer hear loud political protests.
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In 2016 Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest 1944, a song written and performed by Jamala with some emotion. She is a Tatar from Crimea and her victory song reminded viewers of Joseph Stalin’s policy of deporting Tatars to the frozen expanses of Siberia and replacing the native Crimean population with Russian settlers.
Unsurprisingly, the Ukrainian entry was deemed highly provocative by the Russian media and a formal complaint was filed with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
The following year, when Ukraine hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, Russian contestant Yulia Samoylova was barred from the grand finale amid allegations that she entered Ukraine illegally via Crimea.
In February, Alina Pash, the originally Ukrainian contestant that year, withdrew from the competition after allegations that she had also violated restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian government and had traveled to Crimea illegally to perform. A few days later, the Russian army invaded Ukraine in what Vladimir Putin still calls a “special military operation,” but what the rest of the world knows is a war.
Pash soon issued a statement pledged her unwavering support for the Ukrainian resistance – but by that time she had already been replaced by the Kalush Orchestra.
At that time, Oleg Psyuk, the lead singer of the Kalush Orchestra, was heavily involved in providing transportation and medicines to Ukrainian refugees.
Another band member will not perform on the stage in Turin next week because he serves in the Ukrainian Defense Forces.
Psyuk has called this year’s competition “the most important Eurovision Song Contest ever for Ukraine”. He urged all viewers of the final to “do everything to help the Ukrainian resistance”.
In the past, some warring countries could compete at Eurovision, but on this occasion Russia was excluded from participation. The EBU ruled that Russian participation would only “discredit” the competition given the current circumstances.
Eurovision has a special significance for those Eastern European countries which, like Ukraine, have emerged from half a century of political and social oppression by the former Soviet Union.
The Song Contest was one of the few Western TV entertainment shows that Eastern Europeans were allowed to watch in those years. Eurovision offered a tantalizing glimpse into life in the west, and it still retains much of that mystique and glamour.
I was a member of the EBU’s Eurovision Committee in the years following the fall of the Iron Curtain and I well remember the passionate pleas for inclusion made by Eastern European delegates. This is one of the reasons why participation in this year’s competition has both real and symbolic meaning for many Ukrainians.
All of this reminds me of the last time the agony of Eastern Europe was on the Song Contest stage. In 1993 the grand finale took place in Millstreet, Co Cork. There were three entries from the former Eastern Bloc, one of which was Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the time, civil war was raging in Bosnia and when the Eurovision delegation tried to leave Sarajevo, their plane came under direct fire from Serbian snipers and artillery positions. As a result, the composer and conductor of the Bosnian song stayed behind on the airport runway.
Bosnia-Herzegovina didn’t score many points that night in Millstreet, but having their delegation in attendance was an achievement in itself. It may have been an unlikely setting, but the rest of Europe could see the pain and defiance of a tortured country.
After all the songs were performed, the voting took place. A voice was heard over a crackling telephone line saying: “Hello Millstreet, Sarajevo is calling” – and the Irish audience erupted in spontaneous and enthusiastic applause.
Almost 30 years have passed since then, but regardless of whether Ukraine wins the 2022 competition or not, I expect a similar reaction in Turin this week.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/eurovision-gets-political-and-its-not-the-first-time-41630645.html Eurovision is going political – and not for the first time