Russia barred from competing at Eurovision 2022 following invasion of Ukraine

Earlier this week, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the annual Eurovision Song Contest, announced that Russia would still be welcome at Eurovision this coming May, explaining that “the Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political cultural event which unites nations and celebrates diversity through music.” However, the EBU also stated, “We of course will continue to monitor the situation closely” — and on Friday, it was announced that Russia has now been barred from competing at EVSC 2022, following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a new statement, the EBU said: “The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has announced that no Russian act will participate in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The Executive Board of the EBU made the decision following a recommendation earlier today by the Eurovision Song Contest’s governing body, the Reference Group, based on the rules of the event and the values of the EBU. The Reference Group recommendation was also supported by the EBU’s Television Committee. The decision reflects concern that, in light of the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine, the inclusion of a Russian entry in this year’s Contest would bring the competition into disrepute. Before making this decision the EBU took time to consult widely among its membership. The EBU is an apolitical member organization of broadcasters committed to upholding the values of public service. We remain dedicated to protecting the values of a cultural competition which promotes international exchange and understanding, brings audiences together, celebrates diversity through music and unites Europe on one stage.”

The decision reversal follows Thursday’s publication of an open letter by Mykola Chernotytsky, the chair of UA:PBC (the national public broadcaster in Ukraine), addressed to EBU president Delphine Ernotte Cunci. The letter read in part:

“Since the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, EBU broadcasters from the Russian Federation, including Channel One and the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, have been the Kremlin’s mouthpiece and key instrument of Russian-funded political propaganda. Instead of following the values of the EBU, these broadcasters constantly and systematically spread misinformation, violate journalistic standards, spread hostility, and are a leading element of the Russian government’s information war against Ukraine and the rest of the civilized world. … In addition, we would like to emphasize that the Eurovision Song Contest was created after the Second World War to unite Europe. In view of this, Russia’s participation as an aggressor and violator of international law in this year’s Eurovision undermines the very idea of the competition. Please note that Russia’s participation in this year’s competition is provided by the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, which is an instrument of the Kremlin’s power in the information war against Ukraine and constantly violates journalistic standards underlying public broadcasting. Russia’s exclusion from this large-scale song event will be a powerful response by the international community of public broadcasters to the unacceptable aggressive and illegal actions of the Russian Federation and support for the country’s state broadcasters’ hostile policy of aggression. Currently, the activities of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, as well as the Russian broadcaster Channel One, contradict the very idea of public broadcasting and provide informational support to the Kremlin’s illegal activities that threaten peace in Europe and the world. The common values and principles of public broadcasters of EBU members are not just slogans, so we expect the unanimity and support of all fellow broadcasters in this matter.”

Russia has faced widespread condemnation for its bombardment of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24. Before the EBU officially reversed its decision, Finland’s public broadcaster Yle had released a statement announcing that Finland would not participate in the contest if Russia was invited, and officials in Latvia also asked the EBU to reconsider its original decision. It still remains to be seen if Russia will be barred from the EBU entirely, or just for EVSC 2022.

Ukraine's Jamala reacts to winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016. (Photo: Reuters)
Ukraine's Jamala reacts to winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

This is not the first time in Eurovision history that Ukrainian/Russian relations have been the focus of controversy. In 2016, the artist representing Ukraine, Jamala, caught flak for her entry “1944” — a self-penned power ballad about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the ‘40s by Joseph Stalin, inspired by the harrowing real-life tale of her great-grandmother. Because Eurovision rules prohibit songs with lyrics that could be interpreted as having “political content,” some Russian politicians, as well as authorities in Crimea, accused the Ukrainian authorities of "capitalizing on the tragedy of the Tatars to impose on European viewers a false picture of alleged harassment of the Tatars in the Russian Crimea.” However, Jamala was allowed to remain in the competition, and in an upset she actually won that year with 534 points, which set a record at the time. Since each Eurovision contest is staged in the country of the reigning champion, when Eurovision 2017 took place in Ukraine, Ukraine barred Russia’s contestant from entering the country.

More recently, last week, Ukraine's previously chosen Eurovision act, Alina Pash, was suspended amid claims that she travelled to the Russian-controlled Crimea in 2015. (Russia seized control of the peninsula in 2014, with travel to the area only allowed through official checkpoints in Ukraine.) The controversy came just days after Pash won Ukraine’s national selection with her song “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,” which, like Jamala’s, was about her country's history. On Feb. 16, it was announced that Ukraine’s second-place qualifier, rap group Kalush Orchestra, would compete at Eurovision 2022 instead.

Maneskin after winning the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest, (Photo: Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw)
Maneskin after winning the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest, (Photo: Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw)

The Eurovision Song Contest has been one of the most-watched broadcasts on the planet since it launched in 1956, with an average annual audience of 200 million. However, Eurovision awareness is at an all-time high right now, especially in the United States, due to several factors. In 2020, Will Ferrell’s satire Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was a Netflix smash and nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Song; last year’s Eurovision winner, Italy’s Maneskin, became a hard-rock sensation, scoring a top 15 hit in the U.S. and performing on Saturday Night Live; and now a Stateside version of the competition, American Song Contest, hosted by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg, is set to premiere March 21 on NBC.

The 66th annual Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Turin, Italy, on May 14, 2022.

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