After criticism over her planned performances in Russia, singer Maruv will no longer be traveling to Tel Aviv. It's not the first time Ukraine's Eurovision pick has stirred political controversy.
The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is supposed to be a purely musical competition that transcends politics — a claim that has been spectacularly disproved in Ukraine this year. On Monday, the result of the Ukrainian national final was canceled, and Ukraine's participation in the ESC finale in Tel Aviv in May is now uncertain. It's possible the eastern European country may have to cancel its appearance at the song contest for the second time since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian winner dropped
The bombshell came late on Monday afternoon. State broadcaster UA Suspilne Movlennya announced that it would drop Maruv, the winner of the national final, after it was unable to reach an agreement with her. The statement said there was "evidence of politicization" of the competition. It was initially unclear what would happen next.
Maruv, 27, won the national final on February 23. Her raunchy performance of "Siren Song” garnered the most votes, both from the jury and from the viewers of the channel broadcasting the event, state broadcaster UA Pershiy.
In real life, Maruv's name is Anna Korsun, and she comes from a Russian-speaking province of south-eastern Ukraine. She's scheduled to appear in her first solo concert in St Petersburg in April, and it was her upcoming performances in Russia that proved her undoing. Critics have declared that an artist who represents Ukraine at the ESC cannot perform for the "aggressor,” which is how the Ukrainian parliament has classified Russia. On social media, in particular, there is a groundswell of outrage. Furthermore, the rights to "Siren Song” belong to the Russian label Warner Music Russia, which has also sparked controversy.
The critics have gained a prominent supporter in the Ukrainian vice prime minister, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko. The story's not over yet, Kyrylenko tweeted. There was also criticism from the culture ministry, but it declined to exert any influence over the issue. At the weekend, the broadcaster UA Pershiy presented Maruv with a kind of ultimatum: To be allowed to represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest, the singer had 48 hours in which to agree to a contract to which new clauses had been added.
Maruv published the details of the contract on her Facebook profile. Most importantly, she would have to make a commitment to cancel her tour in Russia, and to ensure that the song rights were transferred. She would also be banned from improvising on stage except by prior arrangement, and she would not be allowed to talk to journalists without the broadcaster's agreement. If she violated any of these clauses, she would be liable to pay a hefty fine. She herself would also have to bear all the costs of her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest. "I see this as a clear attempt to persuade me to step down from representing my country at the ESC 2019,” Maruv wrote. She announced that she was, however, prepared to cancel her performances in Russia.
Criticism of the Ukrainian Eurovision promoter
Insiders, like the singer Oleksandr Ponomariov, who represented Ukraine at its first Eurovision appearance in 2003, have criticized the local promoters. In an interview with DW, Ponomariov said they should have taken steps beforehand to make sure they didn't end up in a situation like the one with Maruv. "Otherwise it looks a bit chaotic, especially from Europe's point of view,” the singer said.
The well-known Kyiv music producer Volodymyr Bebeshko has similar criticisms. "They should have asked the candidates in good time about their nationality, concerts in Russia, and which country Crimea belongs to," Bebeshko told DW. He commented that the Maruv incident had resulted in "political provocation" and had split the society. Maruv had "won fair and square" and should go to Tel Aviv, he said. However, he thinks that Ukraine should exit the competition altogether this year following the broadcaster's decision to drop Maruv. It now seems probable that this is in fact what will happen.
Crucial question of Crimea
Yet the Maruv controversy was not an isolated case. During the finals, it turned out that another singer had a Russian passport and had performed in Russia, which she described as taking to the stage "at home." There was an even greater controversy about the duo "Anna Maria.” These twin sisters were born in Crimea, and their parents still live on the annexed peninsula, where they both hold high office under the new rulers. People were particularly outraged by an interview in which the two singers avoided answering when asked who Crimea belonged to — a crucial question in contemporary Ukraine.
It's not the first time the Eurovision Song Contest has been overshadowed by the fallout from the annexation of Crimea. In 2017, Ukraine refused to allow the Russian singer Yuliya Samoylova to travel to Kyiv for the finals because she had previously performed in the annexed territory without Ukrainian permission. Russia responded by canceling its participation altogether.
Zurab Alasania, the boss of the Ukrainian public broadcaster, has rejected criticism of the organizers of the national final. The fact was that almost all this year's finalists had strong links with Russia, Alasania wrote on Facebook. He described this as "dangerous," a sign that the Ukrainian cultural scene — especially the music business — was more closely connected with Russia than many in Ukraine realized or were comfortable with. This, he said, despite the ongoing "war Russia is waging against Ukraine."