The clumsiness of the EBU, the stubbornness of Ukraine and Russia's cool-headedness have combined to create the political scandal currently engulfing the world's biggest televised music competition, says Andreas Brenner.
"We wanted the best, but it turned out as always." This comment by Russia's former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is a familiar one to many Russians. Its meaning: Things just got bad, or worse. It's also a fitting description of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) strategy regarding the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv. The EBU wanted to avoid a scandal and enable Russia to take part in this year's competition - in spite of the annexation of Crimea and Russian support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Instead, they've ended up with one of the biggest scandals in Eurovision history.
Bull in a china shop
"We are in dialogue" - "We hope": For the best part of a year, this was the tenor of the EBU's answers to the question of whether Russia would be allowed to send a representative to take part in the competition in Kyiv. The content of the letter sent by the director general of the EBU, Ingrid Deltenre, to the Ukrainian prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, prove that these efforts were a failure. The letter was made public on March 31, but Deltenre wrote it on March 23, the day after the Ukrainian secret service banned the Russian singer Yulia Samoilova from traveling to Ukraine. The EBU warned Ukraine in the letter that it could be excluded from future competitions if Samoilova were unable to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv.
Right at the beginning of preparations for the competition, the EBU should have insisted that Kyiv guarantee all candidates from all countries would be allowed to come to Ukraine. At the same time, Russia should have been told that respect for Ukrainian law was a clear requirement for participation. With this double strategy, today's situation would not have come about and the EBU would have had room to maneuver.
Instead, the European Broadcasting Union is now acting like a bull in a china shop and putting Ukraine under pressure. Yet Ingrid Deltenre could have put through a call to Volodymyr Groysman in person, or could even have gone to Kyiv to speak with him. Putting an ultimatum in writing was undiplomatic, to say the least. Consequently, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, was left with no choice but to reject the EBU's demand on the evening of March 31.
Ukraine allowed itself to be made a fool of by Moscow
Kyiv had the opportunity to present itself as generous by allowing the Russian participant to enter the country. It would have been possible to make an exception to the application of the law for the Eurovision Song Contest, in the same way as for big international conferences or sporting events.
Cleverly, Moscow also selected a contestant who is wheelchair-bound. Kyiv walked into the trap. The travel ban is now being imposed on, of all people, a disabled woman, because she gave a performance in the annexed territory of Crimea, and traveled there from Russia, not via Ukraine. In doing so, Julia Samoilova was in clear breach of Ukrainian law. Moscow was very well aware of this, and is presumably now rubbing its hands in delight at the success of its propaganda coup.
For Moscow, it's not about Eurovision
The masterminds in Moscow aren't interested in the Eurovision Song Contest or Yulia Samoilova. This scandal has come about as a consequence of the Kremlin policy to drive another wedge into the European family and Ukrainian politics. The Eurovision boss' letter to the Ukrainian prime minister shows that Moscow has succeeded: In it, Deltenre acknowledges that some countries might not attend the competition in Kyiv in protest against the ban on Samoilova.
In the row over this year's Eurovision Song Contest, Moscow has gained the upper hand. Let's hope that the politicization of the competition doesn't also mean that Eurovision-loving Russians turn their back on it. Last year, many Russian viewers voted for the Ukrainian contestant, Jamala, thereby helping her win the crown - and this despite the political conflict with Ukraine.