You can’t make a song contest more exciting in times like these. Because it almost looked as if the fairy tale that so many had expected or at least hoped for would not come true.
“And our twelve points go to . . . Ukraine”, it should have been said country by country in the final voting at the 66th ESC. At least that’s how many would have imagined it. And the bookmakers also saw the Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra with their mixture of folk music and rap as clearly in the lead. However, the national juries of the 40 participating countries – of which 25 had made it to the final – did not stick to it. With 283 points, the British representative Sam Ryder with his number “Space Man”, which oscillates between falsetto and rasp, was clearly ahead of the Swedish singer Cornelia Jakobs with the touchingly authentic “Hold Me Closer” (258 points), while the Ukraine received many expressions of solidarity, but ended up fourth with 192 behind Spain.
But then the TV audience in Europe and Australia had their say – and with their calls and SMS catapulted first Serbia into the lead and then Ukraine with 439 points actually in first place: 631 total points neither the Briton nor the Swede could catch up with. “Slava Ukraine!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”) shouted the Ukrainians in Turin’s Pala Olimpico hall in their ecstasy at the victory.
The song contest and politics
On this Saturday evening, the music show oscillated between a colorful party, the relief of having left practically all corona restrictions behind and the shadow of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. It was no coincidence that the Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra entered the final round as the top favourite. So the basic question that evening was: Would Europe vote for solidarity or musical quality? Both the jury and the viewers at home gave clear answers.
World politics was omnipresent in these four hour song contest. Also because the winning song “Stefania” by the Kalush Orchestra was seen as political. The 27-year-old frontman Oleh Psiuk emphasized in advance to the Austrian media that “Stefania” is a homage to his mother and not a war song: “The song was written long before the outbreak of war. It doesn’t contain a word about the war.” But of course, since the Russian invasion, many other things have read into the lyrics, such as the passage: “I’ll always find a way home, even if all the roads are destroyed.”
“Please help Azov steel!”
And the Kalush Orchestra, after its performance on the open stage, asked for help to Ukraine. “Please help Ukraine, Mariupol, help Azov-Stahl now!”, singer Oleh Psiuk addressed the audience at the end of the song “Stefania”. It was a tightrope walk that briefly raised the question of whether the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) would now sanction the Kalush Orchestra. Because decidedly political statements are excluded on the stage of the Song Contest according to the rules of the EBU.
Incidentally, Russia was also excluded this year because of the war, which understandably also ensured the enormous solidarity of the TV viewers who voted for Ukraine. There was also visible solidarity in the Turin hall from the start Pala Olimpico: While “Give Peace a Chance” was being sung on stage and via clip, blue and yellow flags were being held up in the audience. And also the EBU exercised solidarity and announced to the dpa during the show, when not a single point had been awarded, that it would refrain from sanctions: “We understand the strong feelings when it comes to Ukraine these days and look at the statements of the Kalush Orchestra and other artists in support of the Ukrainian people more as a humanitarian gesture than as a political one.”
Where will the Song Contest 2023 take place?
Anything else would probably have ended up being embarrassing for the EBU, especially after Ukraine’s fabulous victory. Which now raises a serious question: Where will the 67th Eurovision Song Contest be held in 2023? In an interview with the Austrian media, Kalush flutist Tymofii Muzychuk was confident before the show: “If we win, I’m sure we can celebrate the 2023 Song Contest in an independent, happy Ukraine.” It remains to be seen whether the EBU will see it that way in view of the unclear world situation in the coming year. In any case, Ukraine has a few months to decide whether it will be possible to hold the ESC 2023 in its own country. The Russian war of aggression now has another side aspect.