It was a rare moment of euphoria in the midst of war: In May, a Ukrainian hip-hop group won the Eurovision Song Contest, the cultural phenomenon that helped launch Abba and Celine Dion and was watched this year by about 160 million people.
But joy quickly turned to disappointment when contest organizers announced that Ukraine was not safe enough to host the 2023 contest, an honor that usually goes to the previous year’s winner.
On Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the competition, tried to tame the backlash, saying in a statement that their main concern was “the safety and security” of the participants, who include artists from across Europe. , 10,000 staff and crew members, and a huge legion of dedicated fans are expected to attend the event, many of them young people.
But the outrage over the refusal to allow Ukraine to host next year’s event has been palpable and shows few signs of abating. Oleh Psiuk, the lead singer of the Kalush Orchestra, which won this year’s competition, has signed an open letter demanding the decision be changed. And Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko expressed his anger, saying Ukraine legitimately won the competition, offered security guarantees and was denied an honor that would bolster support for the country on the world stage.
“Hosting Eurovision 2023 in Ukraine is a strong signal to the whole world that it supports Ukraine now,” he said.
The organizers, however, refused to reconsider their decision, stressing that they respect their own rules, which stipulate that the venue of the competition can be moved in the event of a disaster such as a war. Allowing Ukraine to host the event, they added, would violate the requirement to ensure the safety and well-being of those present.
The projection of Ukrainian culture on the international stage has taken on additional resonance at a time when the country is under siege and when President Vladimir V. Putin has asserted that Ukraine and Russia “are one people”. Ukrainian politicians, artists and musicians say it is more imperative than ever to showcase the country’s cultural uniqueness at international events like the hugely popular song contest.
This week, a Ukrainian pianist was among the winners of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, one of the most prestigious competitions in classical music. And Ukraine recently selected Victoria Apanasenko, a professional model who volunteered to help children and the elderly during the war, as the country’s entrant in the Miss Universe 2022 pageant in Costa Rica.