Eurovision is touted as being like the Oscars, Grammys, Tony Awards, “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent” all rolled into one — and then tripled. Almost 200 million watched last year (even more than the Super Bowl!) from dozens of countries, and this year there were watch parties held everywhere from London to New York. Eurovision is an annual song contest featuring singers from eligible countries that are members of the European Broadcasting Union. It is, obviously, a big deal. Celine Dion actually started her now-famous career when she won in 1988 for Switzerland with the song “Ne partez pas sans moi” (Do not go without me). Predictably, there are sometimes political conflicts that flow over into this entertainment event, such as in 2003 when the UK’s standing on the Iraq war may have contributed to a low score for the UK’s entry, Jemini.
This year’s Eurovision was held May 10th thru May 14th in Stockholm, Sweden. The winner was Ukraine, which is where this story is leading. I already mentioned that it can sometimes get political, right? Well, Russia is apparently quite angry about the Ukraine winning and is threatening to boycott next year’s event! Now I know you must be shocked to find that Vladimir Putin would lower himself to such levels of pettiness …
Apparently there is a two-fold reason for Russia’s anger. First, Russia fully expected their singer, Sergei Lazarev, to win, but instead he finished third. And then there was the song itself. This year, organizers requested that contestants refrain from getting political with their song choices. But Ukrainian Jamala, the Crimean Tatar jazz singer won with a ballad about the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Given the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine’s choice of song and Russia’s ire are both understandable. In some ways, the whole thing is reminiscent of the controversy over the Grammy’s in the U.S. this year.
Jamala, whose real name is Susana Jamaladynova, pleaded for “peace and love” as she collected her award on Saturday night. She admitted her song was highly politically charged in an interview with the Guardian the day before the contest. She has not been home to Crimea in nearly two years, saying she fears arrest, but most of her family still live there, and she said that although her song was inspired by the events of 1944*, it was also about more recent tragedies. (Walker, The Guardian, 15 May 2016)
Eurovision changed the method of judging this year. I won’t even attempt to explain the old vs. the new methods, but under the old method, Australia would have won 1st place, with Ukraine 2nd and Russia 3rd. Some comments from Russian officials were:
- “This is partly a consequence of the propaganda war of information that is being waged against Russia. There is a general demonisation of Russia – that we are all evil, that our athletes are doping, that our planes violate airspace.” (Russian MP Elena Drapeko)
- “Music lost, because victory clearly did not go to the best song, and the contest lost because political attitudes prevailed over fair competition.” (Foreign policy official, Konstantin Kosachev)
It is a sad commentary of the day when entertainment events, such as Eurovision, the Grammy’s and the Academy Awards, that should focus on showcasing talent and providing beauty and joy to the masses outside the political arena, are so highly politicized. Sadly, this is the world we live in today. Perhaps it always was.
*Jamala’s song was titled 1944 and was about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. The entire population was rounded up, put on trains and exiled thousands of miles away from Crimea, for allegedly cooperating with the Nazis during the war, despite the fact that many Crimean Tatars, including Jamala’s great-grandfather, fought for the Red Army and died at the front. The Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea only in 1989, and the majority of them strongly opposed the annexation of the peninsula by Russia in 2014. While some Crimean Tatars have joined the Russian government, many Tatar activists have been jailed or have simply disappeared; a Tatar television station has been chased out of Crimea and a climate of fear prevails.