The Ukrainian authorities have acted on their threat to ban Yulia Samoilova – the wheelchair bound signer the Russians have picked to represent them in this year’s Eurovision song contest in Kiev – from travelling to Ukraine.
The grounds for this ban are that Samoilova violated Ukrainian law by taking part in a concert in Crimea in 2015.
In reality no one doubts that the decision to ban Samoilova two years after her concert in Crimea is intended to prevent her participating in the forthcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev. Samoilova could have been banned from Ukraine at any time over the last two years since her concert in Crimea, in which case presumably the Russians would not have picked her to represent them in this year’s Contest. The decision to ban her on the eve of the Contest highlights the true reason for the ban, which is to prevent any Russian participation in the Contest at all.
Unofficially the Ukrainian authorities have admitted that they were concerned that participation of Samoilova in the contest would have triggered protest actions by Ukrainian radicals who are now on a roll, imposing a transport blockade on Donbass and blockading branches of Russian banks.
It has become crystal clear over the last few weeks that the Ukrainian authorities are incapable of controlling the radicals or of taking action against them, and their response to their escalating protests is invariably to capitulate to their demands.
The strange fact about the ban on Samoilova is that there were voices in Russia which have already been questioning whether it was wise for Russia to attend the contest at all. A few weeks ago Valery Milonov, an influential deputy of Russia’s parliament, wrote to Russia’s Channel One television station urging it to boycott the Contest
The reality is that we will be unwelcome guests in a country seized by fanatics, who dream of destroying all the good between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples
The legendary Russian singer Iosif Kobzon – who is sometimes called the Russian Frank Sinatra and who is also a parliamentary deputy – backed Milonov’s call, saying
I’m categorically opposed to performing in front of an audience that will spread Russophobia. We must ignore this festival. It’s taking place in a country which is killing people in the Donbass
In the event the calls for a boycott went unheeded in Russia, but have now been acted on by Ukraine itself.
The ban on Samoilova puts the organisers of the Eurovision song contest in an awkward position. They had previously said that there was no question of Samoilova’s right to participate in the Contest. Excluding her from the Contest appears to violate one of the Contest’s basic rules, which is that politics are excluded from it. The Russians have previously hinted that unless the Eurovision organisers stand behind Samoilova they will boycott all Eurovision Contests in future, and in any rational world the organisers would be taking the hint and would act according to their rules and principles and in their interests by insisting on Samoilova’s right to take part in the Contest.
In reality the politicisation of the Contest has been underway for a long time, and was on full display last year. A report last year in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror openly admitted that the stops were being pulled to stop the Russian contestant in that year’s contest winning because that would be ‘unpopular’ with some people
A Eurovision source told the Mirror: “The feeling is that the European Broadcasting Union know how unpopular a Russia win would be and will do everything possible to help the other favourites to victory.”
In the event the contest was won by Jamala, a Ukrainian Tatar singer, with an overtly political song about Stalin’s persecution of the Crimean Tatars, despite her failing to come first either amongst the juries or amongst the television audiences.
This episode continues to cause ill-feeling in Russia, where just a few weeks ago pop singer Philipp Kirkorov, who co-wrote last year’s Russian entry, also called for a Russian boycott of this year’s Contest on the grounds that it had become so politicised
I wouldn’t send anyone. I’m deeply disillusioned by how politicised and biased the contest has become
This unhappy history argues against the Contest organisers taking a strong stance on Samoilova’s behalf.