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UKRAINE

Eurovision bans Russia from song contest over invasion of Ukraine

Russian acts will not be allowed to compete in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the European Broadcasting Union has announced.

Eurovision bans Russia from song contest over invasion of Ukraine

The EBU, which broadcasts the event, stated on Friday that Russia’s inclusion in this year’s song contest “would bring the competition into disrepute”.

The broadcaster’s board made the decision to ban Russia from the competition “in light of the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine” and after reviewing the rules and values of the event.

Russia’s exclusion from the music show comes after its prime minister Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday.

Since then, EU leaders have imposed sanctions against Russia, with further rounds expected to follow, while major sporting events have also been cancelled in the country.

READ ALSO: OPINION: This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

In explaining their decision, organisers said Eurovision “promotes international exchange and understanding, brings audiences together, celebrates diversity through music and unites Europe on one stage”.

Russia’s removal from the event marked a U-turn for members of the board, who had previously remained impartial on the matter due to the apolitical nature of Eurovision.

Just one day before, the EBU said that the contest was a “non-political cultural event” and that they were intending to host participants from Russia, but their initial statement seems to have since been removed from its site.

Italy’s Maneskin, the 2021 winners, performs during the final of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, at the Ahoy convention centre in Rotterdam, on May 22, 2021. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

However, as pressure mounted from other broadcasters, the EBU responded with the ban on Russian entries.

Finland’s public broadcaster Yle said on Friday that it was “pleading” with the EBU not to allow Russia to participate.

“Yle will not send a participant to the Eurovision Song Contest if Russia can participate in the competition,” it said in a statement.

Other public broadcasters in Ukraine, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Norway also called on the EBU to ban Russia from the event.

The chairman of Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne, Mykola Chernotytsky, said in an open letter to the EBU that “Russia’s participation as an aggressor and violator of international law in this year’s Eurovision undermines the very idea of the competition.”

This year marks the 66th edition of Eurovision and is due to take place in Turin, Italy, after Italian rock band Måneskin won the singing competition last year.

READ ALSO: Turin chosen to host Eurovision Song Contest in 2022

The last time Russia took the title was in in 2008 with Dima Bilan singing ‘Believe’, although it has recently been on of Eurovision’s best performing acts, placing in the top five over the past ten years.

Crimean Tatar singer Susana Jamaladinova known as Jamala won Eurovision for Ukraine in 2016. (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV / AFP)
 

Russia was favourite to win in 2016, but Crimean Tatar singer Susana Jamaladinova of Ukraine, known as Jamala, snatched the title in a surprise victory with her song about Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s deportation of hundreds of thousands of this group of people.

For 2022’s event, Ukraine’s entry is hip-hop trio Kalush Orchestra, whose song ‘Stefania’ marks a tribute to the band members’ mothers.

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UKRAINE

War in Ukraine casts a chill in Norwegian Arctic town

War may be far away but tensions from the Ukraine conflict are causing an unprecedented chill in a remote Arctic town where Russian and Ukrainian coalminers have worked side by side for decades.

War in Ukraine casts a chill in Norwegian Arctic town

 In Barentsburg, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, relics of a bygone era — a bust of Lenin, a sculpture with Cyrillic script declaring “Our goal – Communism” — bear witness to Russia’s longstanding presence.

The town’s population peaked at around 1,500 in the 1980s, but shrank after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Now, some 370 people live here, two-thirds of them Ukrainians — most from the Russian-speaking eastern Donbas region — and the remainder Russians.

The atmosphere on the archipelago changed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, officials and residents told AFP.

“Opinions are absolutely polarised,” admits Russian tour guide and historian Natalia Maksimishina.

But, she says, “what our long and difficult history of the Soviet Union has taught us is that people here know when to stop talking politics”.

Some Ukrainians accuse the Russian state-owned company Arktikugol Trust operating the coal mine in Barentsburg of muzzling dissent.

But Russia’s consul Sergey Guschin says there were “no visible signs of conflict on the surface”, although he admits “there are of course some tensions and discussions on social networks” like Facebook and Telegram.

The consulate is protected by high iron bars and security cameras, and lavishly decorated with a marble entrance, winter garden and custom-made tapestries. Its splendour stands out in the otherwise drab town.

Departures

In what could be another sign that anger is simmering under the surface, around 45 people have left Barentsburg “since the start of the operation”, acknowledges Guschin, using Moscow’s terminology for the Ukraine invasion. There were no further details about the individuals.

The departures speak volumes, as leaving Barentsburg is no easy feat. estern sanctions imposed on Russian banks have not only prevented the miners from sending money home to their families, they’ve also made it difficult for them to buy plane tickets.

The only airport is in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s main town 35 kilometres (22 miles) away, where it is difficult to get by without a Visa or Mastercard, which Russians cannot use because of sanctions.

At the entrance to Barentsburg, the coal plant spews out black smoke, adding to the town’s dreary atmosphere.

A 1920 treaty which gave Norway sovereignty over Svalbard guarantees citizens from signatory nations equal access to its natural resources.

Russia’s Arktikugol Trust has operated the mine in Barentsburg, on the shores of the Isfjorden fjord, since 1932.

 A few locals huddle between the town’s pastel-coloured buildings, seeking shelter from the bitter cold that reigns even in May.

Locals are more discreet today, especially since they work for the state-controlled company that runs the whole town, from the mine to the shops and restaurants.

Russia imposes heavy fines or even prison terms on anyone found guilty of “discrediting” its military or publishing “false information” about it.

‘People just shut up’

Longyearbyen is inhabited mainly by Norwegians but has a large Russian and Ukrainian community.

It can only be reached by helicopter or snowmobile in winter and boat in summer due to lack of roads from Barentsburg.

Julia Lytvynova, a 32-year-old Ukrainian seamstress who used to live in Barentsburg, accuses Arktikugol Trust of suppressing dissent

As a result, “people just shut up, work and live their lives like nothing has happened”.

She hasn’t been back to Barentsburg since the war started, but she asked a friend to put up an anti-war poster for her on the gates of the Russia consulate.

Her sign, written on a blue-and-yellow background, had a now-famous expletive-laden line used by Ukrainian border guards after rejecting a Russian warship’s surrender demand. Her poster was taken down in less than five minutes, she says.

The mayor of Longyearbyen, who has lived in Svalbard for 22 years, says he has “never experienced the kind of discord” now seen among the 2,500 residents of 50 nationalities, including around 100 Russians and Ukrainians.

“There are some tensions in the air,” Arild Olsen admits.

n response to the invasion, most tour operators in Longyearbyen stopped taking tourists to Barentsburg, depriving the state-owned company of a lucrative cash cow.

Lytvynova supports the move “because this money supports the Russian aggression”. By ending this source of income, “they don’t help to kill my Ukrainian people”.

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