A decision by the Eurovision organisers to block Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from addressing the competition’s grand final on Saturday (13 May) on the grounds of keeping it “non-political” has irritated many – including the British government.
“The request by Mr Zelenskyy to address the audience at the Eurovision Song Contest, whilst made with laudable intentions, regrettably cannot be granted by the European Broadcasting Union management as it would be against the rules of the event,” said a statement the contest organisers released on Thursday night (11 May).
The EBU mentioned that “one of the cornerstones of the contest is the non-political nature of the event” and for this reason, it is not possible to make “political or similar statements as part of the contest.”
“[Eurovision] isn’t a political event. And we ensure that no message, no lyrics, no act has any political message. Eurovision is not a platform to do politics,” Jean Philip de Tender, deputy director general of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), told EURACTIV in an interview in Liverpool, this year’s host city.
Despite rumours that Zelenskyy might still make a surprise address, in spite of the ban, unscheduled segments in the lineup of the grand final are virtually impossible as the event is painstakingly planned, minute by minute.
There was no moment dedicated to a possible speech by Zelenskyy at the dress rehearsal of the grand final attended by EURACTIV on Friday evening.
In a Facebook post, Zelenskyy’s press secretary even denied that such a request to speak at the grand final was made to the organisers.
However, the statement by the EBU triggered harsh reactions from British politicians the day after its release.
“It is important to remember why this year’s contest is being held in Liverpool: because of Putin’s murderous war,” Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said in a written statement.
Rotheram is in talks with the Ukrainian ambassador in the UK and the mayor of the Ukrainian city of L’viv – both in Liverpool for the final – to discuss how to provide a platform for Zelenskyy.
“Liverpool will always try to provide a voice to those promoting peace and justice,” he said.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has been one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, also said on Friday he was disappointed by the decision.
His spokesperson commented that “the values and freedoms that President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they’re fundamental, and Eurovision themselves recognised that last year when they rightly suspended Russia’s participation from the competition”.
The United Kingdom is hosting the Eurovision in Liverpool this year, after Ukraine won the contest in 2022 but was unable to organise the event, as stipulated by the rules, because of the war.
“We regret that Ukraine cannot host the event,” EBU’s de Tender told EURACTIV, adding that initially there were some signs of hope and they had held long talks with the Ukrainian broadcaster on how to organise the contest but eventually had to give up.
“In an event like this one, security is crucial: We have up to 100,000 people travelling, it’s a big production,” he concluded.
Why Eurovision is a big deal for Ukrainians – and not only this year
For Ukrainians, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) has always been deeply connected with political issues and claims. This year, the political contextualization became even sharper after the Russian invasion of the country.
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