The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the biggest music shows of the year, brining in over 200 million viewers. This year it has been cancelled owing to the pandemic — perhaps for the best given how politicised it has become.
The contest was originally created to heal the divisions following WWII. Throughout its 64-year history however, politics has often interfered with the show’s nobler aim of bridging divisions. Let’s take a look down memory lane at some of the most prominent moments of friction.
1. The attempted disqualification of ‘1944’
Jamala, the eventual winner of Eurovision 2016 held in Stockholm, Sweden won the contest with a song that was based on the events of Stalin’s treatment of the Crimean Tartar race during the Holodomor genocide. From the minute this song won Vidbir, the Ukrainian national song final, Russia was pleading with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for its disqualification. They had called for this in light of the ongoing dispute over the Crimean territory following a botched referendum in 2014 where Russia was accused of meddling. In fact, the winning song did not break any rules. It did not mention Stalin or the genocide directly, nor the year that it happened.
2. Removal of Russian entry in 2017
It was perhaps always a matter of time before Russia did something to provoke the wrath of the hosting nation. When it was discovered that Julia Samoylova had performed in Crimea, Ukraine her performance pass was revoked. The reason cited was that she did not have the correct travel papers and so broke the law. Despite trying different legal avenues (to no avail), Russia was forced to withdraw from the 2017 competition. However, in 2018 it returned triumphantly with the same song but was given the first non-qualification in the history of the contest. Despite the setbacks, Samoylova did succeed in returning to the Crimea to perform on Victory Day.
3. Genocide issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan
The longstanding grievances between Armenia and Azerbaijan involving the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, touched Eurovision in 2016. Things came to a head when the Armenian entrant, Iveta Mukuchyan decided to fly the Armenian version of the Nagorno flag in her semi-final. This time, rules had been broken. She was in direct breach of the European Broadcasting Union referencing group rule 1.2.2h which states that: ‘no messages promoting any organisation, institution or political cause or other company brand or product shall be allowed in the shows’.
4. LGBT phobia
Many contestants who have taken part in Eurovision have come under the LGBT umbrella. The two most famous were Dana International, who won in 1998 for Israel and Conchita, who won in 2014 for Austria. Since then, many right-wing governments have commented on the issue and have cited it as a reason for withdrawing from participating in Eurovision.
It has been rumoured for many years that previous fan favourites Turkey would be returning to the contest after a period of absence. However, in an article published by Pink News, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that his country will not be returning to the contest.
Ibrahim Eren, the Turkish Radio and Television head made a controversial statement largely aimed at the transgender community:
‘As a public broadcaster, we cannot broadcast at 9pm, when children are watching, an Austrian with a beard and a skirt who claims not to have a gender and says, “I am a man and a woman at the same time” ‘.
5. Rejected final entries
There have been many rejected final entries because of their overtly political nature. The first that comes to mind is the 2009 Georgian entry from Stephane & 3G, ‘We don’t wanna Put In’. The song was released to poke fun at the Russian president, Vladimir Putin and included risqué choreography showing imitations of shooting people in the head. They were asked by the European Broadcasting Union to either change the lyrics or find a new song. GPB, the Georgian national broadcaster refused and the entry did not appear on stage in Moscow.
Another ‘forbidden’ entry came from the Ukrainian-born singer, Diana Mess in 2015. Her defiant statement came in the form of a protest song ‘World Support Ukraine’, filmed outside the Houses of Parliament. Its release echoed the contested 2014 annexation of Eastern Ukraine by Russian forces. Having submitted it to the BBC in the hope that it would be accepted for Eurovision, the song fell short of the EBU’s political guidelines.