Saturday’s marathon Eurovision song contest saw The Kalush Orchestra pip the United Kingdom with their entry “Stefania”, and many sought to link this victory with Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
DW compiled the 10 times that politics trumped performance in the Eurovision song contest:
- A long-running debate in Eurovision is the apparent bloc voting by neighboring countries. Late UK presenter Terry Wogan famously stepped down from commentating Eurovision in 2008, saying it was “no longer a music contest.” Some of the main perpetrators are Cyprus and Greece, Scandinavia, the Balkan states and the former Soviet bloc. The change in voting in 2016 aimed to minimize geographical bias.
- Language has long been a fundamental flaw at the heart of Belgium’s ongoing existential Eurovision crisis. For years, in a bid to keep the peace at home, Belgium has alternated between sending an entry to sing either in Flemish or French. Back in 2003, however, the Belgians avoided any linguistic woes with their entry “Sanomi,” which was sung by the band Urban Trad in a fictional language.
- In 1969, Austria took a political stance against Spain and withdrew from Eurovision. The country refused to take part in Madrid to show its opposition to the Franco regime. Spanish General Francisco Franco ruled over Spain as a military dictator for 39 years from 1936 until his death in 1975. An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 people died as a result of his human rights abuses.
- This 2017 contest, held in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, marked the first time that a host state banned another country’s entrant. Ukrainian security services denied entry to 27-year-old, wheelchair-bound Yulia Samoylova of Russia after reports surfaced that she had toured Crimea after Russia annexed it in 2014. In response, Russia’s state-owned broadcaster Channel One will not air the contest.
- Russia and Ukraine had their share of Eurovision drama in 2016 when Ukrainian entrant Jamala beat Russia’s Sergey Lazarev. The song “1944” about Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars during the World War Two was initially deemed controversial due to the contest’s ban on explicit political messages. Jamala was victorious, however, with 534 points. Russia finished third, with Australia second.
- Even though the song contest is known as a celebration of diversity, at the 2014 event in Copenhagen, the victory of Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst (the stage persona of Tom Neuwirth) saw a backlash from numerous countries. Radical groups in Russia, Azerbaijan and Belarus all campaigned — without success — to keep the then 25-year-old from entering.
- Citing “dissatisfaction with the rules,” Turkey refused to participate in the 2013 contest. Following Conchita Wurst’s victory, a Turkish MP from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP reported the country would no longer take part in the Eurovision Song Contest. Turkey had participated in the contest 34 times since its first appearance in 1975 and even won in 2004.
- Georgia was disqualified from the Moscow 2009 contest over their disco-funk entry, “We Don’t Wanna Put In” after the Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union (EBU) deemed the lyrics too political. As well as an apparent play on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name, Georgian female trio 3G, along with male vocalist Stephane sang of a “negative move” that was “killing the groove.”
- In 2001, Estonia became the first former-Soviet republic to win Eurovision. “We freed ourselves from the Soviet empire through song,” Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said, following the victory in Copenhagen. “Now we will sing our way into Europe,” he added, referring to the talks that led the country to join the European Union in 2004. Estonia’s independence was restored in 1991.
- Russia’s ban from the 2022 Eurovision was a consequence of its invasion of Ukraine. But even before that, politics also marred Ukraine’s national selection this year. Alina Pash, who had first won the selection contest, was found to have travelled to Crimea from Russia in 2015 — breaking Ukraine’s rules set in 2019. She pulled out, allowing runner-up Kalush Orchestra to represent the country.