Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was chosen to host next year’s Eurovision song context, beating Odessa and Dnipro. Ukraine said it will bar Russian singers blacklisted for championing the separatist cause. David Stern reports.
For those who supported the Ukrainian capital, it was a sweet, and in some ways, unexpected victory. Kyiv’s mayor, the former heavyweight champion Vitaly Klitschko, hailed the decision, saying his city was the most “experienced.”
In the end, three things tipped the scales for the Ukrainian capital: security, infrastructure and financial resources. Kyiv, having already hosted the contest in 2005, was seen to have all the fundamentals needed to receive the thousands who will descend on the capital from May 9-13 next year: sufficient hotel space, a state-of-the-art airport and, most importantly, in the International Exhibition Center a venue that with a little touching-up will be ready to seat up to 14,000 people.
Klitschko and his government also apparently had the deepest pockets. Kyiv has promised more than $45 million (40 million euros) in additional spending on preparations – including some $40 million for the exhibition center alone.
In contrast, Odessa would need to build a roof for its stadium and complete a new airport terminal. Dnipro – formerly Dnipropetrovsk – was found lacking in all areas.
Too close to the front lines
Kyiv had another ace in the hole: It’s the city furthest from any conflict zone.
Fighting has waned somewhat in recent days thanks to a ceasefire timed for the beginning of the school year. But shelling has been reported in some areas – and casualties continue to mount. Some 10,000 people have died in the conflict since its beginning two years ago.
Dnipro is less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the front; in the final voting it received zero votes from the selection jury. Odessa is further from the fighting, but received only two votes. Odessa’s drawback, officials said, was its closeness to Moldova’s breakaway Trans-Dniester region, where Russian forces are stationed, and which requested Moscow to annex it.
“The issue of security in Trans-Dniester affected Odessa, and its proximity to the frontline affected Dnipro,” said Yevgen Nyshchuk, Ukraine’s culture minister.
However, even in Kyiv – which received 19 votes – the war should not be too far from people’s minds.
Controversial ‘1944’ song
The country whose entry wins the Eurovision Song Contest receives the right to host the following year’s competition. Ukraine was the surprise victor last year with its composition “1944” by Ukrainian Tatar singer Jamala.
The song was one of the more controversial in the contest’s 62-year history. Jamala sang passionately of the deportation of her family and more than 200,000 Tatars from Crimea to the Central Asian steppes on charges of collaboration with the Nazis.
She said her entry was not a political statement, which would have been a violation of song contest rules. Eurovision officials agreed and gave her the green light to perform.
But many Ukrainians supported the song namely because they saw a musical attack on Russia, for the Kremlin’s 2014 takeover of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine.
Lyrics like, “When strangers are coming/They come to your house/They kill you all and say/’We’re not guilty, not guilty’/You think you are gods/But everyone dies,” were interpreted through the filter of present-day Ukrainian-Russian relations.
Moscow officials likewise viewed the entry as a thinly veiled political assault. They protested Jamala’s inclusion in the contest, and then her victory.
Facing off on the musical stage
Now Ukraine and Russia are facing off again on the musical stage. However, this time their confrontation isn’t taking place in neutral Sweden – last year’s host venue – but rather in the same country where Kyiv and Moscow’s militaries, by all objective appearances, are doing battle.
Iosif Kobzon is of the Russian singers banned from Ukraine for supporting the rebels and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Still, Kyiv has imposed sanctions and travel bans for what it calls “Russian aggression” – and already these threaten to affect the song contest.
Culture Minister Nyshchuk said that Russian performers who openly support the separatist cause would be blocked from entering Ukraine.
“In Russia there are in fact many decent artists who understand that peace is the most important thing, that one shouldn’t speak a language of aggression, humiliate any nation, particularly neighboring ones, that one should speak only a professional language of songs and music,” he said.
Given the two countries’ contentious history, however, the “language of songs and music” may be the last thing on some people’s minds in Russia and Ukraine.