Political controversies in the Eurovision Song Contest. The Eurovision Song Contest is an international song competition organised annually by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) which features participants representing primarily European countries. One of the stated aims of the contest is that the event is of a non-political nature, and participating broadcasters and performers are precluded from promoting or referring to anything of a political, commercial or similar nature during the contest. However, several controversial moments have occurred since the event’s creation in 1956, which have included political tensions between competing countries being reflected in the contest’s performances and voting, disqualification of entries due to political references in song lyrics, and demonstrations against certain countries competing due to said country’s politics and policies.
Armenia and Azerbaijan. The continuing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has affected the contest on numerous occasions since both countries began competing in the late 2000s. In 2009, a number of people in Azerbaijan who voted for the Armenian entry were reportedly questioned by Azeri police. Armenia’s entry to the 2015 contest received a name change following claims that it contained a call for recognition of the Armenian genocide, in contradiction to the contest’s rules regarding political messaging in competing songs. Controversy erupted again in 2016 when Armenia’s Iveta Mukuchyan was shown waving the flag of the Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway state internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan but largely inhabited by ethnic Armenians, at the contest’s first semi-final. This again contravened Eurovision rules on political gestures and resulted in disciplinary action being levied against Armenian broadcaster ARMTV.
📎 Armenia–Azerbaijan relations in the Eurovision Song Contest. Armenia has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, a pan-European music competition, since 2006, while Azerbaijan has participated since 2008. The continuing conflict between the two countries over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is considered to be a de jure part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations, but had been largely under control of the Armenia-backed de facto Republic of Artsakh between 1993 and 2020, has affected the Eurovision Song Contest on several occasions.
Conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan first appeared in 2006, when Azerbaijani media criticized the event’s website for listing Nagorno-Karabakh as the birthplace of Armenia’s first representative, André, as it was part of the Azerbaijan SSR at the time. Conflicts notably escalated throughout the 2009 contest: during the semi-finals, Azerbaijani officials objected to the depiction of the Nagorno-Karabakh monument We Are Our Mountains during an introductory video for the Armenian entry. Armenia responded during the finals by displaying multiple images of the monument whilst presenting its results. Following the contest, reports emerged that Azerbaijan’s state broadcaster had tampered with its feed of the broadcast to censor the Armenian entry, and that the Azerbaijani government was interrogating citizens who voted for Armenia, accusing them of being unpatriotic and a threat to security. Following an inquiry, Azerbaijan was fined by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for breaching the privacy of voters.
Following the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2010, Armenian media claimed that the Azerbaijani broadcast of the contest was cut off when it became apparent that Armenia had won; however, it was disputed whether the contest was even broadcast in Azerbaijan as they had not yet participated. Accordingly, as Azerbaijan prepared to host the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 following their win in 2011, a group of Armenian musicians led a boycott effort, and the country would ultimately withdraw from the contest due to security concerns, causing the broadcaster to be fined for the late notice.
Conflicts between the two countries emerged again during the lead-up to the 2015 contest, when allegations emerged that the Armenian entry, “Don’t Deny”, was a call for recognition of the Armenian genocide (whose centenary was commemorated prior to the 2015 contest). As Azerbaijan denies the genocide, officials from the country issued a statement threatening Armenia for attempting to use Eurovision as an outlet for its “political ambitions”. The song was subsequently retitled “Face the Shadow” to address concerns over its alleged political themes. The following year, the Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan was reprimanded by organizers for displaying the Artsakh flag during the first semi-final.
Initial appearances. In 2006—the first year in which Armenia participated, the official Eurovision website listed the birthplace of its performer André as being in the “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh”. Media outlets in Azerbaijan criticized the contest’s organizers for recognizing the republic, especially given that the region was an autonomous oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR when André was born in 1979. The birthplace listing on André’s profile was later removed entirely.
Azerbaijan later made its Eurovision debut in 2008—marking the first time both Armenia and Azerbaijan competed against each other at the contest. The Armenian entry, “Qélé, Qélé” by Sirusho, finished in fourth place, while Azerbaijan’s inaugural entry, “Day After Day” by Elnur and Samir, finished in eighth place.
Armenian postcard controversy and aftermath. During the first semi-final of the 2009 contest, the “postcard” video introducing the performance of the Armenian entry “Jan Jan” depicted, amongst other monuments, We Are Our Mountains, an art piece located in Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital city of Stepanakert. Due to the country’s claims over the region, Azerbaijani officials objected to the portrayal of We Are Our Mountains as being an Armenian landmark. For the broadcast of the final, the video was edited to remove the statue.
In protest of the decision, multiple photographs of We Are Our Mountains were displayed during the presentation of voting results from Armenia; one was displayed on a video screen at Yerevan’s Republic Square in the background, and another was displayed on the back of a clipboard that the Armenian voting presenter Sirusho was reading results from. Despite the controversy, 1,065 Armenians voted for the Azerbaijani entry, enough to give the country a single point. A total of 43 Azerbaijanis voted for the Armenian entry.
Censorship, interrogation of voters in Azerbaijan. Following the contest, reports surfaced that the Azerbaijani broadcaster, İctimai Television, had attempted to censor the Armenian performance from its broadcast of the final, and had obscured the voting number for the entry in an effort to discourage voting for it. İTV denied these claims, and provided footage showing that its broadcast was untampered with. In August 2009, a number of Azerbaijanis who had voted for Armenia’s entry during the contest were summoned for questioning at the Ministry of National Security in Baku, during which they were accused of being “unpatriotic” and “a potential security threat”. One of those summoned, Rovshan Nasirli (who had voted for “Jan Jan” because he felt it was a better reflection of Azerbaijani music than “Always”, the country’s actual entry) said that his interrogators told him that they had the names and addresses of all 43 Azerbaijanis who had voted for Armenia.
Following these reports, Svante Stockselius, then-Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, announced the launch of an enquiry into the incidents. In their response, İctimai TV stated that while two individuals had been invited to the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry had given assurances that nobody had been questioned, either officially or unofficially, on voting in the competition itself. The EBU’s then-Director General Jean Réveillon responded to this by saying that freedom to vote is one of the cornerstones of the contest and that “any breach of privacy regarding voting, or interrogation of individuals, is totally unacceptable”. Azerbaijani Minister of Youth and Sport, Azad Rahimov, denied that anyone had been summoned to the Ministry of National Security about voting for the Armenian entry, and accused RFE/RL and other news outlets of reporting the allegations to create a scandal.
The Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group examined the matter at a meeting in Oslo on 11 September 2009. In a statement issued on 17 September, the EBU acknowledged the allegations that Azerbaijani officials were interrogating voters and breaching their privacy. While the EBU would not impose sanctions on or ban Azerbaijan from future editions of the contest (the country could have been banned from the contest for three years), it fined the delegation €2,700, and changed its rules to make participating broadcasters liable for the “disclosure of information which could be used to identify voters” during future editions of the contest. Previously, telecommunications providers were liable, but the EBU could not impose sanctions on them.
2012 contest. The 2012 contest was hosted by the Azerbaijani capital Baku, after the country’s win in 2011. Azerbaijan temporarily amended its visa policy to allow Armenians, who are normally barred from entering the country, to attend the event. However, in February 2012, a boycott effort emerged in Armenia following an incident where a 20-year-old Armenian soldier was shot dead on the border between the two countries. Armenian officials initially blamed the soldier’s death on an Azerbaijani sniper; however, conflicting reports indicated that the death was the result of friendly fire. Also in February, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev made a statement re-affirming the country’s stance against Armenians, arguing that they control “hypocritical and corrupt politicians.” 22 Armenian musicians, including previous Armenian Eurovision representatives Emmy and Eva Rivas, signed an open letter supporting a boycott, stating that they would “refuse to appear in a country that is well-known for the mass killings and massacres of Armenians, in a country where anti-Armenian sentiments have been elevated to the level of state policy.”
On 7 March 2012, Armenia announced that the country would withdraw from the 2012 contest. The EBU stated that it was “truly disappointed” with Armenia’s withdrawal, and that “despite the efforts of the EBU and the Host Broadcaster to ensure a smooth participation for the Armenian delegation in this year’s Contest, circumstances beyond our control lead to this unfortunate decision.” İTV General Director Ismayil Omarov expressed his regret about Armenia’s withdrawal, believing that the country’s presence could have been a “joint peace message to the world.” Local politician Ali Ahmadov also criticized the Armenian delegation for its decision, stating that “[its] refusal to take part in such a respected contest will cause even further damage to the already damaged image of Armenia.” Due to its late withdrawal, Armenia was required to pay its entry fee, plus a fine totalling half the value of the entry fee.
2015 contest. Upon its unveiling in March 2015, media outlets characterized Armenia’s entry in the 2015 contest, “Don’t Deny”, as being a tribute to the Armenian genocide, whose centenary was commemorated on 24 April 2015. The song was performed by Genealogy, a group whose composition alludes to the forget-me-not by consisting of five Armenian diaspora, along with a sixth singer based in Armenia and represented their unity. “Don’t Deny” was perceived by critics to be a call for recognition of the genocide, further noting that the song’s music video contained a scene depicting the group’s members posing for a family photo in World War I-era outfits, and then disappearing from sight. Gohar Gasparyan, head of Armenia’s Eurovision delegation, described the song as being about love and unity, and did not make reference to any specific political intent or themes. Representatives of Azerbaijan—which, alongside Turkey, denies the genocide—criticized the song for its alleged political themes, and stated that they would “act adequately” to prevent the contest from being “sacrificed to the political ambitions of a country.”
On 16 March 2015, the Armenian delegation announced that the title of the entry had been changed to “Face the Shadow”. They stated that the new title was meant to “strengthen” the themes of the song, and to quell concerns over the alleged political subtext. The delegation continued to deny any specific political subtext in the song.
2016 contest. Despite the EBU allowing only the flags of full UN member states to be displayed at the 2016 contest, during the first semi-final on 10 May 2016, the Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan was seen holding the Artsakh flag, sparking backlash from the Azerbaijani press. During a press conference following the semi-final, Mukuchyan responded to the incident by stating that “You don’t have to forget that I am representing my country in my heart, my thoughts, my feelings, and all my emotions. My thoughts are with my motherland, and what I want to spread is peace on borders. I wrote ‘LoveWave’ because this was going on inside of me.”
The EBU and the Reference Group released a statement the following day explaining that they “strongly condemn the brandishing of the Nagorno-Karabakh flag” during the live transmission of the first semi final, and consider the appearance “harmful” to the contest brand. The reference group consequently sanctioned the Armenian broadcaster AMPTV, with the nature of the sanction to be determined citing a breach of the rule stating “no messages promoting any organisation, institution, political cause or other causes shall be allowed in the shows”. Furthermore, the reference group has pointed out that a further breach of the rules of the contest could lead to disqualification from the year’s event or any successive editions. Hikmet Hajiyev, the spokesman for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the action of Mukuchyan “provocative” and unacceptable claiming that “the Armenian side deliberately resorts to such steps to encourage and promote the illegal formation created in the occupied Azerbaijani territories”.
2019 contest. After the final of the 2019 contest, the Azerbaijani broadcaster İctimai Television filed a complaint with the EBU for the graphics shown during the voting sequence. The graphics did not include Nakhchivan as within Azerbaijani borders when shown during the broadcast.
2021 contest. A Change.org petition called on the EBU to disqualify Samira Efendi, the Azerbaijani representative in the 2021 contest, from participating; Armenia had withdrawn from that year’s contest due to the political instability stemming from its defeat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. The petition accused Efendi of using “hate speech”, “discrimination”, encouraging “killing of Armenians”, sharing taglines that called Armenians “terrorists”, and openly supporting the country’s president Ilham Aliyev, while not providing a direct citation of the comments Efendi allegedly made. The Azerbaijani head of delegation Isa Melikov called the petition a “provocation”, and the EBU did not address the petition, which had garnered around 10,000 signatures.
2010 contest. Vladimir Arzumanyan, a singer from Nagorno-Karabakh representing Armenia, won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2010. It was alleged by Armenian media outlets that the broadcast of the contest in Azerbaijan was interrupted when it became apparent that Armenia had won. These claims were disputed by AMPTV director and Eurovision head of delegation Diana Mnatsakanyan, who also denied reports that the country was preparing to file a complaint with the EBU over the matter. She noted that the broadcaster did not know whether Azerbaijan even aired the contest at all, given that the country had not yet participated in the Junior Eurovision and had “no interest” in it at the time, and that reports about the alleged incident were limited to posts on Azerbaijani Internet forums. Azerbaijan would ultimately make its official debut at Junior Eurovision two years later.
2021 contest. During the Azerbaijani broadcast of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2021, commentators talked over the entirety of the performance of Maléna, the Armenian representative and eventual winner, which is in contravention with the rules of the contest. The EBU sought clarification from the Azerbaijani broadcaster İTV about the incident, but no response was received.
2022 contest. Following Maléna’s win in 2021, Armenia was given the right to host the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2022, which eventually took place in Yerevan. Azerbaijan later confirmed its non-participation in this edition without providing an official reason. The event drew widespread attention and interest in Armenia, and many Armenians attended the show and its side events. Groups of children from Nagorno-Karabakh were also among the attendees, but after the event finished, they were grounded in Armenian territory and unable to return home, as groups of self-described Azerbaijani “environmental activists” had set up a blockade on the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Voting history. Despite hugely hostile relations between the two nations over the years, Armenia has awarded points to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has never reciprocated. Most Azerbaijani jurors that have been appointed to the contest have ranked Armenia last. In the televote, Armenia has been ranked last on nearly every occasion, with some exceptions.
The tables below show the points awarded between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the latter debuted in the Eurovision Song Contest 2008.
Key: SF: – Semi-final, F: – Final, T: – Televote, J: – Jury vote
Russia and Ukraine. Interactions between Russia and Ukraine in the contest had originally been positive in the first years of co-competition, however as political relations soured between the two countries following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in Donbas, so too have relations at Eurovision become more complex. In 2016, Ukraine’s Jamala won the contest with the song “1944”, whose lyrics referenced the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Given the events in Crimea, many saw this song as a political statement against Russia’s actions, however the song was permitted to compete given the perceived historical nature of the song despite protests from the Russian delegation. Calls for a Russian boycott of the 2017 contest in Ukraine were dismissed, however their selected representative for the contest in Kyiv, Yuliya Samoylova, was subsequently banned from entering Ukraine due to having performed in Crimea in 2015 and entering the region illegally according to Ukrainian law, by entering the region directly from Russia rather than going through Ukraine. Offers for Samoylova to compete remotely from a venue in Russia or for a change of artist were rejected by Russia’s Channel One, with Russia eventually pulling out of the contest and the EBU reprimanding Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC and threatening to exclude Ukraine from future contests.
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022, UA:PBC appealed to suspend Russian EBU member broadcasters VGTRK and Channel One from the union, and to exclude Russia from competing in that year’s contest. The appeal alleged that since the beginning of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, VGTRK and Channel One have been a mouthpiece for the Russian government and a key tool of political propaganda financed from the Russian state budget. The EBU initially stated that Russia as well as Ukraine would still be allowed to participate in the contest, citing the non-political nature of the event. Following complaints levied by other participating countries, on 25 February, the EBU announced that Russia would not be allowed to take part in the contest, as it would “bring the competition into disrepute.” Ukraine went on to win the contest with the highest number of points from the televote in the contest’s history.
Following its 2022 win, Ukraine was initially given the opportunity to host the 2023 contest, however, the EBU later decided that the country would not be able to host due to security concerns caused by the Russian invasion, with the United Kingdom, which had finished in second place in 2022, being chosen to host on Ukraine’s behalf. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy requested to address the audience during the final of that year’s contest, but the EBU subsequently rejected his request on the basis of its wish to “not politicize the event”. Ternopil, the hometown of that year’s Ukrainian representatives Tvorchi, was targeted by Russian missile strikes ahead of Tvorchi’s performance; the duo later held up a makeshift sign with ‘Ternopil’ written on it during the recap of the competing performances.
📎 Russia–Ukraine relations in the Eurovision Song Contest. Russia participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, a pan-European music competition, from 1994 to 2021, while Ukraine has participated since 2003. Russia and Ukraine have had positive relations, and have exchanged top-3 points with each other several times over the years. Barring a minor dispute over Ukraine’s 2007 entry “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” (whose title was alleged to be a mondegreen of “Russia goodbye”, but was defended by its performer as being meaningless), notable conflicts began to emerge between the two countries at Eurovision in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
In 2016, Ukraine’s entry was “1944”, a song by Jamala that was inspired by her great-grandmother’s experiences during the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. The song was criticised by Russian officials, who argued that it violated Eurovision rules against political content due to its allusions to the Crimean crisis. “1944” would ultimately win the contest. While there were calls for Russia to boycott the Ukraine-hosted 2017 contest over the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia did unveil an entrant—Yuliya Samoylova. However, after she was unveiled, it was reported that Samoylova had been banned from entering Ukraine for three years for violating a Ukrainian ban on direct travel to Crimea from Russia. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) attempted to reconcile the issues so that Samoylova could perform, calling upon the Ukrainian government to remove or defer her travel ban for the contest, and offering Russia the opportunity to perform their song from a remote venue. However, Russia’s delegate broadcaster, Channel One Russia, passed on the offer, wanting to have Samoylova perform in Kyiv as with all other entrants. On 13 April 2017, Channel One announced that it would not broadcast the contest, effectively withdrawing.
Ukraine withdrew from the 2019 contest, after the winner of its national selection Maruv as well as the runners-up all refused to sign the participation contract, which required them to refrain from touring in Russia for a period of time. It was the first time since 2015 that Ukraine was absent from the contest.
Prior to the 2022 contest, controversy again emerged in the Ukrainian national selection, resulting in its winner Alina Pash, who was alleged to have travelled to Crimea in violation of Ukrainian laws, replaced by runner-up Kalush Orchestra as the Ukrainian entrant. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent protests from other participating countries, Russia was excluded from participating in the contest, where Ukraine went on to win. As a result, Ukraine was initially given the opportunity to host the 2023 contest, however, the EBU later decided that the country would not be able to host due to security concerns caused by the Russian invasion, with the United Kingdom, which had finished in second place in 2022, being chosen to host on Ukraine’s behalf.
2007 contest. Verka Serduchka was chosen to represent Ukraine at the 2007 contest with the song “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”. However, it was alleged that the song had contained political subtext, including a reference in its lyrics to Maidan (the site of the Orange Revolution demonstrations), and that the phrase “Lasha Tumbai” was a mondegreen of “Russia goodbye”. Serduchka denied these allegations, claiming that the phrase “lasha tumbai” was Mongolian for “churned butter”. On the Russian talk show Let Them Talk, which aired on Channel One Russia just after the final of the contest, a native Mongolian speaker explained that the phrase “Lasha Tumbai” does not exist in the Mongolian language. Serduchka later stated that “Lasha Tumbai” was a meaningless phrase meant to rhyme with other lyrics.
2009 contest. In the 2009 contest, held in Moscow after Russia’s win the previous year, Russia was represented by Ukrainian singer Anastasia Prikhodko, who had entered and won the Russian national selection after being disqualified from the Ukrainian one. She performed her song “Mamo”, singing in both Ukrainian and Russian languages. Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, Prikhodko denounced Russia’s actions and ceased performing there.
2014 and 2015 contests. In the wake of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, as well as the introduction of a “gay propaganda” law in Russia in 2013, public opposition to Russia had been markedly visible on multiple fronts, including the Eurovision Song Contest. The Russian entrants at the 2014 and 2015 contests, the Tolmachevy Sisters and Polina Gagarina respectively, were the subject of booing from the audience, in particular at any time they were mentioned or awarded points. Commenting on the booing at the Tolmachevy Sisters, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator magazine, wrote: “I can’t remember the last time I heard a Eurovision audience boo anyone; during the Iraq war in 2003, no one booed Britain. […] There’s a difference between the Russian government and the Russian people, and the girls were there to represent the latter. They didn’t deserve the obloquy. And the Danes were wrong to have made the booing so audible.” The excessive booing in 2014 led the organisers of the 2015 contest to install ‘anti-booing technology’, which was deployed for the first time in the history of the contest. The Tolmachevy Sisters and Gagarina had since expressed their support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the latter notably performing at the 2022 Moscow rally.
2016 contest. Jamala, who represented Ukraine at the 2016 contest, won with the song “1944”. The lyrics for her song concern the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, in the 1940s, by the Soviet Union at the hands of Joseph Stalin because of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Jamala explained that the lyrics were inspired by the story of her great-grandmother Nazylkhan, who was in her mid-20s when she and her five children were deported to barren Central Asia. One of the daughters did not survive the journey. The contest’s rules state that “no lyrics, speeches, gestures of political or similar nature shall be permitted”, so Jamala repeatedly stated that her song was not referencing the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but her own personal family history. She stated, “I needed that song to free myself, to release the memory of my great-grandmother, the memory of that girl who has no grave.” However, she also referenced the current state of Crimea post-annexation, saying “Of course [the song is] about 2014 as well.” “Now the Crimean Tatars are on occupied territory and it is very hard for them. They are under tremendous pressure. Some have disappeared without a trace. And that is terrifying. I would not want to see history repeat itself.”
Russian officials, including multiple MPs and the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova, were dissatisfied with the outcome and alleged that the song was a political statement and an allusion on the 2014 annexation of Crimea, forbidden by the rules of the contest. Zakharova wrote in a Facebook post that the next Eurovision winner “might as well be about the conflict in Syria”, proposing the lyrics: “Assad blood, Assad worst. Give me prize, that we can host.” Other officials suggested boycotting the Ukraine-hosted 2017 contest, with Franz Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security stating, “It was not the Ukrainian singer Jamala and her song ‘1944’ that won Eurovision 2016, it was politics that beat art. If nothing changes in Ukraine by next year, then I don’t think we need to take part.”
Despite this, Russia’s entrant Sergey Lazarev, who placed third in the competition, congratulated Jamala on her win. Lazarev was later sanctioned by the Ukrainian government in January 2023 for his support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
2017 contest. The Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which began in late February 2014, prompted a number of governments to apply sanctions against individuals, businesses and officials from Russia. In 2015, the Ukrainian government began to blacklist people who supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia from entering the country. Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko stated that the country would not lift this ban for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) iterated that their goal was for Eurovision to remain inclusive, and that they were “engaging in constructive dialogue with the Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (UA:PBC) and the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that all delegates and artists can come and stay in Ukraine”. A representative of the host broadcaster told Billboard that the blacklist rules were beyond their control. On 3 March 2017, Russian politician Vitaly Milonov called upon the country to withdraw from the 2017 contest amid fears of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. He described Russia as being “unwelcome guests in a country seized by fanatics”.
Russian selection, travel ban. It was reported on 13 March 2017 that Ukraine was investigating Yuliya Samoylova, Russia’s entrant at the 2017 contest, for having violated a ban on direct travel to Crimea from Russia; she had visited Kerch in 2015 to give a performance. Ukrainian officials have speculated that Russia’s choice of Samoylova may have been a deliberate political statement, having knowingly picked a singer who had performed in the disputed territory in order to instigate a political controversy; interior minister adviser Anton Herashchenko stated that he could not “exclude that actions could be taken by our side to deny her entry” if Russia was using the entry as a “provocation”, while the deputy director of ATR, a Ukrainian television broadcaster that serves the Crimean Tatar population, argued that it was a “cynical and immoral move”. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin stated that he considers the choice of Samoylova as the Eurovision participant is most likely to be a provocation from Russia. Later the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko stated the same. Ben Royston, who had advised past Eurovision delegations in Azerbaijan and Sweden, argued that Russia’s choice of a performer with a disability may have also been deliberate, explaining to The Guardian that “[Russia] chose a wheelchair-bound contestant who had made pro-Russian statements about Crimea on social media. She was never going to be allowed in Ukraine, but they chose her anyway. And now Russia are very publicly saying: ‘How can Ukraine let this poor sweet girl in a wheelchair be the victim of your laws?’ It seems clearly all part of the Russia PR machine.” Russia has denied that their choice of performer was meant to be a political statement, and stated that their choice of a performer with a disability was meant to be an expression of diversity.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed on 22 March 2017 that Samoylova had been banned from entering Ukraine for three years for illegally travelling to Crimea from Russia, thus violating article 204-2 of Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses. The EBU responded by stating that it was continuing to ensure that all entrants would be able to perform in Kyiv, but that “we are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the contest and the notion of inclusiveness that lies at the heart of its values”, and also stated that EBU will respect the laws of hosting country. Frants Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defence and Security, threatened that Russia would boycott Eurovision unless its organisers declared the government decision to be “unacceptable”. He also accused them of being “completely politicised and biased”.
Attempts to reconcile. The EBU offered a compromise to Channel One Russia on 23 March 2017, in which Samoylova would be allowed to perform remotely from a venue of the broadcaster’s choice; it would have been the first time that a Eurovision entry had been performed from an outside venue via satellite. However, Channel One declined the offer, arguing that Samoylova should be allowed to perform on-stage in Kyiv as with every other entrant, and accusing Ukraine of violating assurances in the Eurovision rules that all performers would be issued the appropriate visas so they could enter the host country. Vice Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko had stated that it is illegal for persona non grata to participate in tours or television programmes. Jon Ola Sand, executive supervisor of the contest, stated in an interview with the Danish national broadcaster DR, that he and other members of the European Broadcasting Union had contacted the Ukrainian security services about the possibilities of delaying the imposed ban until after the 2017 contest had concluded.
EBU general director Ingrid Deltenre stated that Ukraine’s behaviour was “absolutely unacceptable”, and abused the Eurovision Song Contest ethos for “political action”. Deltenre further went on to say that the EBU were in talks with Ukrainian prime minister Volodymyr Groysman and president Petro Poroshenko, in regards to delaying the ban until after the contest. On 1 April 2017, Deltenre threatened to ban Ukraine from future competitions if Samoylova is not allowed to participate. In response, UA:PBC urged the EBU to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.
Withdrawal. In an interview with German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published on 26 March 2017, the contest’s Reference Group chairman Frank-Dieter Freiling noted that Russia’s participation in the contest seemed to be unclear, acknowledging that Samoylova had not participated in mandatory previewing sessions prior to the ban, nor had the Russian delegation reserved any accommodations in Kyiv for the contest. He suggested that Russia may have been aware that their selection would be problematic.
On 13 April 2017, Channel One announced that it would not broadcast the 2017 contest. The EBU considered the decision to be an official withdrawal from the contest.
Reactions from other EBU members.
- San Marino – Carlo Romeo, Director General of the Sammarinese broadcaster San Marino RTV, reacted to the decision to ban Samoylova as unacceptable behaviour, that the broadcaster does not care about conspiracy or provocation towards the Russian entrant, and that the song contest is about being on “neutral ground”.
- Denmark – Jan Lagermand Lundme, Head of Entertainment of the Danish broadcaster DR, stated in an interview on 25 March 2017 that the 2017 contest has become a “political battleground”, and was fairly satisfied with the work the EBU was carrying out in order to resolve the issue on the ban imposed by Ukraine.
- Germany – Head of Entertainment for the German broadcaster ARD, Thomas Schreiber, reacted to the situation during an interview with Deutsche Welle. Schreiber stated that the situation between Russia and Ukraine was of a critical nature, and that he felt that both the Russian broadcaster and the Ukrainian authorities were to blame and that the resolution was dependent on the goodwill of both parties.
- Serbia – Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) stated on 14 April 2017 that they regret the situation and believed that Eurovision should be a place of unity of the nations, and not to divide them. RTS went on to mention about a similar period of difficulty they endured, when they were expelled from the organisation between 1992 and 2004 for political reasons.
2019 contest. Controversy emerged during the Ukrainian national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 regarding contestants’ ties to Russia. During the final of the competition on 23 February 2019, jury members Jamala, Andriy Danylko, and Yevhen Filatov interrogated several contestants regarding their thoughts on Russia, mainly focusing on Maruv and Anna Maria. Jamala asked Maruv on whether Maruv believed Crimea was Ukrainian territory, to which she agreed. Anna Maria were asked, if they had to choose between the two, would they choose their country of Ukraine or their mother, who worked for the Russian-led government of Crimea. During the final, it was announced by the Ukrainian broadcaster, UA:PBC, that the broadcaster had reserved the right to change the decision made by the jury and Ukrainian public.
After Maruv was declared the winner of the selection, it was confirmed she was not yet confirmed as the Ukrainian representative, and discussions would take place between Maruv and UA:PBC. It emerged that Maruv’s representative was sent a contract which she had a 48-hour deadline to sign in order to represent Ukraine. A major feature of the contract was that she must cancel all upcoming performances and appearances in Russia within 24 hours. Maruv later revealed that the broadcaster’s contract had additionally banned her from improvising on stage and communicating with any journalist without the permission of the broadcaster, and required her to fully comply with any requests from the broadcaster. If she were to not follow any of these clauses, she would be fined ₴2 million (~€67,000). Maruv also stated that the broadcaster would not give her any financial compensation for the competition and would not pay for the trip to Tel Aviv.
On 25 February, both Maruv and UA:PBC confirmed that she would not represent Ukraine in the contest due to disputes over the contract, and that another act would be chosen. Viktor Taran, a board member for UA:PBC, later revealed that Maruv refused to cancel her concerts in Russia which led to her refusal to sign the contract. Taran also alleged that Maruv and her lawyers did not believe that she was responsible for representing the views of the Ukrainian government, if she were to become the country’s representative at the contest.
National final runner-up Freedom Jazz announced on 26 February that they had rejected the broadcaster’s offer to represent Ukraine as well, with third-place finisher Kazka confirming they had also rejected the offer the following day. On 27 February, UA:PBC confirmed that Ukraine would withdraw from the contest following the controversy. In their withdrawal statement, the broadcaster stated that the national selection “has drawn attention to a systemic problem with the music industry in Ukraine – the connection of artists with an aggressor state”.
Ukrainian artist replacement. Following the controversy surrounding the Ukrainian national selection in 2019, a new rule was introduced starting from 2020 which bars artists who have performed in Russia since 2014 or have entered Crimea “in violation of the legislation of Ukraine” from entering the competition. The Ukrainian national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 was won by Alina Pash. On 14 February 2022, two days after the selection, activist and video blogger Serhii Sternenko alleged that Pash had entered Crimea from Russian territory in 2015, and counterfeited her travel documentation with her team in order to take part in the selection. The Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC subsequently stated that they would request the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service to verify if the documentation is forged, and that Pash would not officially be the Ukrainian representative at the contest “until the verification and clarification of the facts is completed”. Andrii Demchenko, speaking on behalf of the Guard Service, maintained that the certificate Pash had handed in to the broadcaster had not been issued by them, but that a request to cross the border had been made by the artist, and that the broadcaster would be provided with the results of the investigation by 16 February. Pash’s management later stated that she had entered Crimea from the Ukrainian border, and that the certificate had been requested by a “team member” rather than Pash herself. On 16 February, Pash claimed on an Instagram post that the Guard Service had not been able to provide her with a new certificate as proof of her entrance to Crimea, since related records are only kept for five years. Shortly after, Pash announced on her social media pages that she would withdraw her candidacy as the Ukrainian representative at the contest. Runner-up of the selection, Kalush Orchestra, were offered to represent Ukraine in Pash’s place on 17 February, and a final decision was expected to be made during a meeting on 18 February. On 22 February, UA:PBC confirmed that Kalush Orchestra had accepted the offer.
Exclusion of Russia. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022, UA:PBC appealed to suspend Russian EBU member broadcasters VGTRK and Channel One from the union, and to exclude Russia from competing in the contest. The appeal alleged that since the beginning of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, VGTRK and Channel One have been a mouthpiece for the Russian government and a key tool of political propaganda financed from the Russian state budget. The EBU initially stated that Russia as well as Ukraine would still be allowed to participate in the contest, citing the non-political nature of the event. The following day, the EBU announced that Russia was excluded from participating in the contest, stating that “in light of the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine, the inclusion of a Russian entry in this year’s Contest would bring the competition into disrepute.”
Before Russia was cut from participating, many participating broadcasters called on the EBU to take action. According to Gustav Lützhøft, editor-in-chief of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix for Danish broadcaster DR, “we find it incompatible with Eurovision’s values that Russia is participating.” Sweden’s SVT, Iceland’s RÚV, Lithuania’s LRT and Norway’s NRK also called on the EBU to exclude Russia from the contest, while the Netherlands’ AVROTROS, Poland’s TVP and Ukraine’s UA:PBC additionally called on the EBU to suspend Russia’s membership in the union. Estonia’s ERR and Finland’s Yle stated that they would not participate if Russia were invited. Citi Zēni, the Latvian representatives at the 2022 contest, also urged the EBU to reconsider Russian participation, stating: “We believe that Eurovision is about peace, entertainment and love. It is completely in opposition with the politics currently conducted by the governing bodies of the Russian Federation. In our opinion it is not correct to be sending an artist to one EBU country, while an army is being deployed to another.”
On 26 February 2022, all EBU members from Russia, including VGTRK and Channel One, announced their withdrawal from the union via a statement released by Russian state media, in response to their exclusion from the contest, which they regarded as “an inappropriate political sacrifice at a music forum that has always emphasized its non-political status”. The EBU itself had yet to receive a confirmation of withdrawal, though it announced the suspension of its Russian members from its governance structures on 1 March. The EBU’s Director-General Noel Curran stated on 13 May that work was underway to fully suspend Russian members from the union. On 26 May, the EBU made effective the suspension of its Russian members, causing Russia to indefinitely lose broadcasting and participation rights for future Eurovision events.
Russia had not publicly announced an artist or song before being excluded, but it was later reported that Yaroslava Simonova was selected as the Russian representative prior to the exclusion.
Ukrainian preparations. Following the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UA:PBC and Kalush Orchestra had yet to formally comment on whether their participation in the contest would continue. On 14 March 2022, Claudio Fasulo and Simona Martorelli, executive producers of the 2022 contest, confirmed that Ukraine would still be competing; this was later reaffirmed by UA:PBC on 19 March via a post on its social media pages. They added that work would commence on the Ukrainian ‘live-on-tape’ backup performance, which was planned to be recorded in Lviv and used in the event that the delegation cannot travel to Turin, however, the delegation was later exempted from the requirement to do so. On 2 April, UA:PBC confirmed that Kalush Orchestra and the rest of the delegation was given permission to travel to Turin for the contest, adding that the group would also take part in promotional events across Europe to raise donations for war relief efforts.
Attempted cyber attacks. On 11 May 2022, pro-Russia hacker group Killnet carried out an attack on numerous Italian institutional websites, including those of the Ministry of Defense, the Senate, the National Health Institute and the Automobile Club d’Italia. The official website of the Eurovision Song Contest was later revealed to be among those that were targeted, in addition to the platform on which the contest’s voting system is based. Additional attacks were reported to have taken place during the first semi-final and the final. The attacks were ultimately unsuccessful, and there were no disruptions to either the website or the voting platform.
On-stage statements. During the broadcast of the final, after Kalush Orchestra had finished their performance, the group’s frontman Oleh Psiuk shouted onstage: “I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, right now!” The contest’s rules precludes promoting political statements and messages, and several commentators noted that Psiuk’s statement could be in breach of the rules. However, the EBU deemed the statement to be “humanitarian rather than political in nature”. The German and Icelandic representatives, Malik Harris and Systur respectively, also showed support for Ukraine onstage after finishing their performances. These acts later displayed Ukrainian flags during the recap of the final and semi-finals, as did Lithuanian entrant Monika Liu and Georgian entrants Circus Mircus. Ukraine went on to win the contest, receiving a record 439 points from the public televote.
2023 contest. Following Ukraine’s win in 2022, in accordance with Eurovision tradition, the EBU initially gave Ukraine the opportunity to organise the Eurovision Song Contest 2023. However, in light of the Russian invasion, speculation was raised that the country would not be capable of hosting the event. Due to this, several countries expressed interest in hosting in the event that Ukraine could not, including Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain (which later withdrew its interest), Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
On 16 May 2022, Mykola Chernotytskyi, chairman of the Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC, stated that it wished to host the contest in a peaceful Ukraine and hoped that the country would be able to guarantee the safety of all participants and their delegations during the event. Chernotytskyi stated on 20 May that the broadcaster would begin discussions with the EBU regarding the hosting of the contest.
Numerous Ukrainian politicians advocated for the contest to take place in Ukraine. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that he hoped for the contest to one day take place in Mariupol. Mykola Povoroznyk, the first deputy head of the Kyiv City State Administration, stated on 26 May 2022 that Kyiv would be ready to host the contest if asked. Ukrainian minister of culture Oleksandr Tkachenko stated on 3 June his intention to discuss conditional changes with the EBU in order to allow the contest to be held in the country. Taras Melnychuk, representative of the Ukrainian government for the Verkhovna Rada, stated on 10 June that a committee was formed to aid the organisation of the event.
On 16 June 2022, UA:PBC and the Ukrainian government held a meeting with the EBU to discuss potential hosting options in Ukraine. At the meeting, UA:PBC proposed Lviv, Zakarpattia and Kyiv as potential host locations. The following day, the EBU announced that Ukraine would not be able to host the contest, following assessments with both UA:PBC and third-party specialists, and that discussions would begin with the BBC for potentially hosting in the United Kingdom, which had finished in second place in the 2022 contest.. In response, Chernotytskyi and Tkachenko, alongside former Ukrainian Eurovision winners Ruslana, Jamala and Oleh Psiuk of Kalush Orchestra, issued a joint statement requesting further talks with the EBU on hosting the event in Ukraine. A follow-up statement from the EBU on 23 June reaffirmed its decision to not host the event in Ukraine, highlighting the security considerations for doing so while also urging for the process of choosing the host country to not be politicised. On 25 July 2022, the United Kingdom was confirmed as the host country of the 2023 contest, with UA:PBC working with the BBC to develop and implement Ukrainian elements for the live shows, and Ukraine being granted automatic qualification for the final.
Ahead of the final on 13 May 2023, Tkachenko requested that the EBU allow Zelenskyy to address the audience via a pre-recorded message. This was rejected on the basis of the EBU’s wish to “not politicize the event”. Minutes before the Ukrainian representatives Tvorchi went on stage to perform their entry “Heart of Steel”, Russian forces launched missile strikes against their hometown Ternopil. During the recap, the duo held up a makeshift sign with ‘Ternopil’ written on it.
Voting history. The two nations have exchanged points with each other despite their unstable relations. The tables below show the points awarded between Russia and Ukraine since the latter debuted in the Eurovision Song Contest 2003.
Key: SF – Semi-final, F – Final,T – Televote, J – Jury vote
Georgian withdrawal in 2009. Georgia’s planned entry for the 2009 contest in Moscow caused controversy: in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian War, Stephane and 3G were selected to compete with the song “We Don’t Wanna Put In”, however the EBU objected to the lyrics as they appeared to criticise Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Requests by the EBU for the lyrics of the song to be changed were refused by the group, and Georgian broadcaster GPB subsequently withdrew from the event. A number of boycotts of the contest were considered by the Baltic states over Russia’s actions in Georgia, however none eventually occurred, with Estonian broadcaster ERR hosting a poll on its website to gauge public opinion on competing in Russia.
Israeli participation. Israel first competed in the contest in 1973, becoming the first Middle Eastern country and the first country from outside of Europe to enter. Its participation in the contest over the years has been at times controversial, but it has remained a regular competitor in the contest and been crowned the winner on four occasions. The country’s first appearance was marked by an increased security presence at the contest venue in Luxembourg City than what would have been considered normal in the early 1970s, coming less than a year after the Munich massacre where 11 members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team were killed by Palestinian terrorists. Armed guards were stationed at the venue, and the audience in attendance were warned not to stand during the show at the risk of being shot.
The contest was regularly broadcast in the Arab world during the 1970s, however as many of these countries did not recognise Israel, their broadcasters typically cut to advertisements when Israel performed. When in 1978 it became apparent that Israel was on course to win the contest, the broadcast in many of these countries was cut short before the end of the voting, with Jordanian broadcaster JRTV explaining the end of their transmission as due to “technical difficulties” and concluding its transmission with an image of a bunch of daffodils; Jordanian media later announced that Belgium, the eventual runner-up, had won instead.
Israel’s participation in the contest means that many Arab states that are eligible to participate in the contest choose not to do so, however a number of attempts have been made by some of the countries to enter. Tunisia had applied to take part in the 1977 contest, and had been drawn to perform 4th on stage, but later withdrew. Morocco competed for the first, and as of 2021 the only time, in 1980 when Israel had withdrawn from the contest due to it being held on the same night as Yom HaZikaron.[a] Most recently, Lebanon had signed up to compete in the 2005 contest, and had selected “Quand tout s’enfuit” as its debut entry, to be performed by Aline Lahoud. After being told by the EBU that they would have to broadcast the entire programme in full, including the Israeli entry, Télé Liban responded that they could not guarantee this as it would be incompatible with Lebanese law. The broadcaster therefore withdrew their entry, resulting in sanctions from the EBU due to the late withdrawal.
Israel has hosted the contest on three occasions, with the first two (1979 and 1999) being held in Jerusalem. Due to the preparations and rehearsals which accompany the contest, and the Saturday evening timeslot for the final, objections from Orthodox religious leaders in the country regarding the potential interruption to Shabbat have been raised on all three occasions. In 1979, these objections were largely ignored and preparations for the contest were held mostly unchanged from standard, however, Turkey was pressured into withdrawing from the contest by Arab states who objected to a predominantly Muslim country taking part in Israel. Objections were again raised in 1999 with regards to the contest being held around Shabbat, as well as criticism levelled against Dana International, the contest’s first trans winner, leading to an attempt to stop the contest being held in Israel at all. However, all of these criticisms were in vain and the contest went ahead as planned.
2019 contest. Most recently, in 2019, a number of controversial incidents occurred in the run-up to that year’s contest in Tel Aviv. Requests were once again received from Orthodox leaders that the contest not interfere with Shabbat, with a letter penned by Yaakov Litzman, leader of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, to several government departments demanding that the contest not violate the holy day. Shalva Band, one of the competing entries in the country’s national selection for that year’s contest, ultimately withdrew from contention when told that, should they win, they would be required to perform in rehearsals on the Shabbat; the group ultimately performed as an interval act during the contest’s second semi-final.
The 2019 contest also saw calls from a number of different groups for a boycott of the event, which included proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in response to the country’s policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in opposition to what some see as “pinkwashing” by the Israeli government. However, many others also campaigned against a boycott of the event, asserting that any cultural boycott would be antithetical to advancing peace in the region. Most notably, the Icelandic entrants Hatari raised banners showing the Palestinian flag as their televoting points were announced in the final; this eventually caused the Icelandic participating broadcaster RÚV to be fined €5,000.
- a^ The night of the 1980 contest, 19 April 1980, was the start of Yom HaZikaron, the memorial day for fallen soldiers of Israel. Contrary to claims by some sources, it was not Holocaust Memorial Day, or Yom Hashoah, which fell on 13–14 April that year.