International News

Eurovision 2023: Dancing with Politics?

Thomas Martin

Singer Loreen led Sweden to win the 67th Eurovision contest in a wild Liverpool Arena. The win puts Sweden joint with Ireland at a record seven Eurovision victories, and Loreen herself becomes the first woman to win twice. However, as usual, politics finds a way to inject itself and cause controversy. Impact’s Thomas Martin reports.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) states that Eurovision has a ‘non-political nature’. Its rules state that every participant broadcaster must ensure that The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), ‘shall in no case be politicised and/or instrumentalised and/or otherwise brought into disrepute in any way.’ Previously, the EBU have banned Russia and Belarus from participating in the event, which is itself a political decision.

The statement of rejection, regarding President Zelenskyy’s request to make a video address at Eurovision 2023, reads as follows, “while made with laudable intentions, regrettably cannot be granted by the European Broadcasting Union management as it would be against the rules of the event.”

Ukraine’s culture minister, stated their government had requested the word “war” be used during the show

The EBU reasoning can be considered in two ways. Either, it banned Russia and Belarus and prevented Zelenskyy from speaking to ensure the show itself was apolitical. The average viewer would not be exposed to any form of potentially political distractions from the music. Or, Russia and Belarus’ values go against the values of the Eurovision community, and banning removes them from the show, whereas allowing Zelenskyy to speak would be an action bringing politics into the show and, potentially, diluting the jubilant and exciting nature of the show.

Whilst Russia was kicked out due to its illegal invasion of Ukraine, Belarus was kicked out in 2021 due to planned political messaging in their song entry; though several songs had political messaging embedded in this year, anyway.When the ESC was held in Russia in 2009, however, tanks and military regalia were on full show, just a year after Russia invaded Georgia, and no consequences were issued by the EBU.

Two reactions to the EBU’s decision were from former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stated ‘it would have been right’ for Zelenskyy to speak, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was ‘disappointed’ at the EBU’s decision 

Eurovision would be much better without political messages, but that is not likely to happen any time soon

Tvorchi, the Ukrainian act, had a strong anti-war message in their entry, even as during the show, Russian bombs fell on their hometown of Ternopil. Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s culture minister, stated their government had requested the word “war” be used during the show, and indeed co-host Hannah Waddingham – minutes into it – discussed the war and the context surrounding the UK’s hosting of Eurovision 2023. Tkachenko also told the Guardian he was “confused” as to why Zelenskyy has been barred from an address.

Overall, the most watched Eurovision Grand Final ever was relatively spared from political bombardment, but politics’ seeping into the ESC will never be plugged completely. Every year Israel’s entry is criticised online for their government’s decisions regarding Palestine. Whilst the singers and their performance have nothing to do with that, it permeates the contest. Eurovision would be much better without political messages, but that is not likely to happen any time soon; the platform is too big. Hopefully next year’s ESC in Sweden, coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of Abba’s Waterloo entry victory, will be more light-hearted.

Thomas Martin

Featured image courtesy of israel palacio via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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