“It’s like we won the World Cup!” Barely time to announce the results of the Ukrainian public’s vote from kyiv, and the presenter Pavlo Shylko can’t help but explode with joy, in the small window in the middle of the screen of the 100 million viewers of the Eurovision 2004. “We were very worried about giving 12 points to Serbia and Montenegro, clearly our main rival.” But the Ukrainian vote goes last and the chips are already down. It is the local singer, Ruslana, who will win. “It was the general euphoria in the studio”, remembers the animator. That year, Ukraine carved out a place for themselves on the European map, and intend to continue in the grand final on Saturday May 14 in Turin, Italy, as the country has resisted the Russian invasion for over two months. Back home, we love it when a plan goes off without a hitch. “Ukraine had only joined Eurovision a year earlier, on the initiative of a public relations agency commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, with the roadmap for the general public to stop associate with communism or Chernobyl”, underlines Paul Jordan, connoisseur of the great European rout of song. Mission accomplished beyond all expectations. The 2004 winner, the singer Ruslana, may sing with faux fur on her back, but the rest of her very, very low-cut costume matches the dress code of the competition. “It’s an image that Ruslana had worked on a lot, describes Marko Pavlyshyn, head of Ukrainian studies at Monash University in Melbourne (Australia). She wanted to show a new facet of Ukraine, multicultural, associated with globalized pop culture, with the figure of the badass, sexualized, powerful girl.” The following year, the Ukrainian leaders did not even pretend not to interfere in the contest. The show takes place in kyiv a few weeks after the end of the “Orange Revolution”, which saw pro-European President Viktor Yushchenko win his showdown with his pro-Russian opponent. “We had chosen as a slogan ‘the awakening’* [le réveil, en bon français], explains Pavlo Shylko, mastermind and presenter of the 2005 show. The dominant color was green, a symbol of freshness. what struck me was the pride of the inhabitants of kyiv. They jabbered three words of English, but they were so happy to welcome foreigners”, recalls Paul Jordan. Sign of openness: tourists can for the occasion enter the country without a visa. Almost twenty years later , the measure is still in force, in times of peace. Between two songs, we can see a report on the “Orange Revolution”, animations led by local celebrities such as the Klitschko brothers and Ruslana (elected deputy the following year * ) and, at the end of the competition, President Yushchenko who goes on stage to present a prize to the winner. “It was a mistake. The broadcaster, the EBU, then vetoed it, including when Vladimir Putin wanted to do the same, in 2009”, underlines Paul Jordan. Without forgetting the choice of the song to represent the host country, Razom Nas Bahato, from group GreenJolly, anthem of the revolution. “I have been in show business for more than twenty years, I knew it was a monumental blunder, sighs Pavlo Shylko. It would have been a hit for a national competition. But at Eurovision, people expect fun! Our politicians who had just come to power wanted to play politics…” Indeed, the rappers broke their chains on stage but locked themselves in the depths of the table, collecting the worst ranking in the history of the country*. the beginning of political spades against Russia. In 2007, the actor Andriï Danylko, made up as an old lady for his character Verka Serduchka, who bursts the screen. The Guardian erects* his title Dancing Lasha Tumbai as “the best song never to have won Eurovision”. Behind the series of abstruse formulas in half a dozen languages lies a finer criticism than it seems. “At first sight, it seems that he is makes fun of the typical Ukrainian, decrypts Marko Pavlyshyn. For the Ukrainian viewer, it’s self-mockery; for the Russian, it reinforces his superiority complex. Until this famous ‘Russia goodbye’.” During the song, Andriï-Verka indeed swings a “lasha tumbaï”, which literally means “whipped cream” in Mongolian. At real speed, live, the whole of Europe instead hears a grumbled “Russia goodbye”. Pavlo Shylko, co-author of the song, clings to the official version, the same for fifteen years. “It was never ‘Russia goodbye’. We just threw in bits of sentences that sounded amusing”, he still defends himself today. Yeah… On the Russian side, we play the subtlety. Sometimes we remind half-word who is the boss in this corner of the “Europe, as with the song Mamo, performed in 2009 in Moscow by… the Ukrainian singer Anastasia Prikhodko, first in her own language, then in Russian. Many saw it as a song advocating allegiance to Mother Russia. Rebelote five years later, with the twins Anastasia and Maria Tolmatchevy who, under their baby clothes, sing “one day you will be mine” in their song Shine, a few weeks after the annexation of Crimea by Russia. double talk” under the guise of a syrupy song? Mariya Yaremchuk represented Ukraine that year and is still choking on it: “As if Russia were a bearer of peace in the world!” The room is not mistaken and shouts the twins during the semi-final. “These two kids weren’t guilty of anything n, and that was precisely what Russia was looking for.” Mariya Yaremchuk, Ukrainian singer at franceinfo The one who ranks sixth that year – ahead of… Russia – insists: “It was a propaganda ruse of use these pictures. I had nothing against those two girls. But I understood the whistles, addressed to their country.” An anti-hooting technology is installed from the 2015 edition, to avoid new incidents. Nevertheless. The break is consummated. Between the two countries, which exchanged a lot points by public vote, begins an ice age. “I avoided at all costs to speak to the Russian press. Journalists wanted me to say things to argue afterwards.” Offstage, the current still flows. “Philipp Kirkorov [le “Michael Jackson russe”, grand manitou de l’Eurovision dans les pays de l’Est] asked me to take a photo with the binoculars, between two doors. ‘These two girls didn’t do anything wrong, they just want a picture with you. And I said yes.” Even in 2016, when Ukrainian Jamala won with the song 1944 about the deportation of Crimean Tatars – a roundabout way of talking about the news, as she admitted herself – even afterwards – behind the scenes, she and Sergei Lazarev, the Russian superstar who fails on the podium, do not only exchange facade smiles: “She had just received an informal award, and she did not have to be asked to strike a pose with him”, says Paul Jordan, who attended the scene*. It is between the delegations that the sidelong glances are more numerous. “When Jamala won, a member of the Russian delegation , with tears in my eyes, said to me: ‘Have fun with the Ukrainians!'” If, as in 2005, organizing the competition in Ukraine is a logistical nightmare, on the side of the EBU (European Broadcasting Union ), the organizer is a lesser evil.”Our worst fear was that Russia would win,” bluntly recognizes Guillaume Klossa, director of the communication of the association of broadcasters from 2013 to 2018. Who continues in more chosen terms: “We could not have prepared the competition in good conditions. During my tenure, I placed the promotion of a diverse society at the heart of Eurovision. I’m far from sure that we would have had a high quality of commitment from the Russian authorities…” Level of cunning, on the other hand, the Russian authorities land there. For the 2017 edition, which is held in kyiv , Russia offers to send a disabled singer, who had the misfortune to perform in annexed Crimea. A condition which is worth a ban on Ukrainian territory to several foreign personalities, from Gérard Depardieu to Steven Seagal *. well proposed a solution, says Paul Jordan, who remembers being presented with a fait accompli at the last minute. Let the singer perform live, from Russia, but via satellite. They didn’t want to know anything. Inevitably, the Ukrainians fell into the trap.” No Russia on stage that year, therefore. No whistles, therefore. “I’m not sure there would have been any”, wants to believe Volodymyr Ostapchuk, presenter of the contest, five years later still able to recite the voting rules in one go in French, one of the official languages of Eurovision.The presenter Volodymyr Ostapchuk, dances in the company of traditional dancers, on the stage the second Eurovision semi-final, on May 11, 2017 in kyiv (Ukraine) (MICHAEL CAMPANELLA / GETTY IMAGES EUROPE) No Ukrainian president on stage either. Petro Poroshenko – president of the country from 2014 to 2019 -, who nevertheless entered the debriefing meeting the day after the ceremony. “I even taught him how to take a selfie with his phone”, smiles Volodymyr Ostapchuk “Either way, it was less necessary for him to appear on screen. For Eurovision viewers, Ukraine is that distant cousin who came home some time ago.” While Russia, absent from the contest in 2017, 2021 and 2022, finds himself singled out, even sidelined. It is not entirely a coincidence that the role of the villain in Netflix’s TV movie on Eurovision * is Russian. Ukraine being the great favorite of bookmakers for publishing 2022 with the hit Stefania by the group Kalush Orchestra, the problem of the interference between politics and glittery songs could arise more quickly than expected. Or not, laughs Volodymyr Ostapchuk. “This time, the EBU will beg Volodymyr Zelensky to ‘open the contest!’ * Links followed by an asterisk lead to content in English.
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