The Ukrainian organisers have banned the Russian singer from entering the country
While known for stoking up international rivalries down to unfavourable voting patterns, the Eurovision Song Contest usually takes place every May without developing into a full-blown political dispute. But not in 2017, with the Ukrainian organisers having banned Russia’s singer.
Yulia Samoylova, the 27-year-old singer who was slated to represent Russia with Flame is Burning, has now been denied entry to Ukraine for three years, ruling her out of the May 11-13 festival.
According to Ukrainian law, anyone who enters the disputed territory of Crimea, unilaterally annexed by Russia in 2014, by any other means than through the Ukrainian border may be banned from entering the country.
Samoloyova, a wheelchair user due to spinal muscular dystrophy who was a runner-up on the Russian version of The X Factor, has publicly stated that she toured Crimea.
News of her ban has been met with fury in Moscow. “This is yet another openly cynical and inhuman act by the authorities in Kiev,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, adding that the Ukrainian government was “seriously frightened by a fragile girl.”
The European Broadcasting Union, the body in charge of organising the annual song contest, said that it would lobby Ukraine to admit Samoylova. “We are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the contest, and the notion of inclusivity that lies at the heart of its values.”
The banning of Samovloya is just the latest in a long list of scandals to have rocked the Eurovision Song Contest in its 61-year history. Here are the seven biggest controversies in ESC history...
Four decades after the British crooner’s song Congratulations was pushed into second place by Massiel, the Spanish singer winning with La La La, a documentary claimed it was all a fix up, with dictator Francisco Franco responsible. Reports claim that Franco, hoping to boost Spain’s image across Europe, paid off national juries to hand the country its first win.
In 2009, Georgia’s official entry was thrown out by the EBU from competing when the song’s lyrics were judged by a multinational panel to have violated the contest’s ban on songs with overtly political content. The song, Stephane and 3G’s We Don’t Wanna Put In was seen as a barefaced attack on the Russian leader in the wake of the nine-day Russo-Georgian War in August 2008.
In 1978, Israel won the first of back-to-back wins, with the song Abanibi, by Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta, taking the top prize in Paris. Not that anyone in neighbouring and watching Jordan knew, as when the song went out live on air, the Jordanian national broadcaster cut the transmission and displayed a still image of flowers instead. When the Israeli delegation went on to claim first place, and the right to host the 1979 show, Jordanian TV cut away from the show, with an announcer claiming that Belgium, runners-up on the night, had won instead.
While the only song most people remember from the 1974 Eurovision was Abba’s Waterloo, arguably the most famous winner of all time, the Portuguese entry from that year has major significance for a number of countries around the world. Just weeks after Paulo de Carvalho’s And After the Goodbye came joint last, the song was used by Generals to signal the start of the Carnation Revolution of April 25, which led to the overturning of the Estado Novo regime and saw almost all of Portugal’s colonies gain independence the following year.
Back when the host of the show would pick up a phone and literally dial through to the national juries watching across the continent, a technical glitch in 1963 has led to one of the most enduring Eurovision conspiracy theories of all time. British host Katie Boyle said she had been unable to hear the audio from the Norwegian jury – although audience members claimed to have been able to. When the Norwegians were finally reached, they had changed their votes, granting Denmark, their neighbour, the first of their three wins and denying Switzerland their second.
Perhaps the most controversial political statement ever made on the Eurovision stage took place after the Israeli performance in 2000. Ping Pong, having wrapped up their song Be Happy, unwrapped Syrian flags live on stage and called for peace between the two countries – to the utter surprise of everyone watching back home. Israel’s national broadcaster, the IBA, disowned Ping Pong outright, but the band revealed that two of their members were journalists working for the Ma’Ariv newspaper who had entered the whole contest as a joke – beating more than 80 other hopefuls in the process.
In 2012, Azerbaijan, which ever since its first entry has spent lavishly to produce a huge number, was hosting the contest. Political critics were already pointing out the country’s notorious history of human rights violations before the Aliyev regime forced citizens out of their homes to clear the ground to build a new arena to house the contest. During the voting, German comedian Anke Engelke, presenting the votes live from Hamburg, offered a thinly veiled criticism of the hosts by saying: “Tonight nobody could vote for their own country. But it is good to be able to vote. And it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey, Azerbaijan. Europe is watching you.”