‘Ukraine bans its Eurovision entrant’. It’s the kind of line an absurdist novelist might come up with. But it’s actually the title of a story in today’s BBC News, and it’s an indication of how truth is sometimes more absurd than fiction. On Saturday, Ukrainian singer Maruv won the competition to represent her country at this year’s Eurovision song contest, but she was almost immediately stripped of her victory. Maruv often sings in Russia, and was told that she would not be allowed to continuing do so. Even when she agreed to cancel her next tour there, discussions of her Eurovision contract collapsed due to other terms which Maruv considered amounted to ‘censorship’. She complained that, ‘I am not ready to address [people] with slogans, turning my participation into the promotion of our politicians. I am a musician, rather than a bat at the political stage.’ According to the BBC,
In a statement, the state-funded UA:PBC said: ‘The performer representing Ukraine … also has commmitments of becoming a cultural ambassador of Ukraine and delivering not only their music but also expressing the opinion of the Ukrainian society in the world.’ … The TV station was backed by politicians, with the Ukrainian Culture Ministry saying that ‘only patriots who are aware of their responsibility’ should be allowed to sing at Eurovision.
I had thought that Eurovision was a singing competition, but I stand corrected. During the TV show to choose Ukraine’s song at this year’s contest, singers were quizzed by the host on their political views concerning Russia. As a report by AP notes,
Maruv was grilled about her Russian shows during the national finals in Kiev over the weekend. Similarly, another entry, a duo of twins from Crimea, were put on the spot by the host and asked whether they consider Crimea to be part of Ukraine. ‘Depending on your answer, you can either bury your own career or that of your mother,’ the host said, referring to the women’s mother who is a judge in the Russian-controlled Crimea.
What a nauseating statement by the host. But all credit to the twins. As AP records, ‘One of the sisters was brought to tears and said she would always stand by her parents if she were forced to choose between them and her career.’ Don’t expect her to get the contract to replace Maruv.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has transferred its culture wars and censorship proclivities over here to Canada. The cinema chain Cineplex is planning to show the Russian blockbuster T-34 which, as the title suggests, is all about the Second World War and, if the trailer is anything to go by, shows a lot of heroic action as Soviet warriors smash up Nazis with their T-34 tank. It seems like a fairly boiler-plate war movie. But the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) is having none of it. According to the UCC website:
The T-34 tank was the weapon used by Soviet Communism to keep captive the peoples of Eastern Europe for four decades. Together with its Nazi German ally, at the beginning of WWII, the Soviet regime invaded and subjugated eastern Poland, the Baltic States and several other independent east European states. As Soviet forces rolled east on T-34 tanks in the second half of World War II, they systematically committed myriad war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass rape, extrajudicial murder and ethnic cleansing. … That the current Russian regime, which funded this film, seeks to pay homage to this murderous history, speaks only to its own embrace of imperialism, aggression, and belligerence.
A letter sent to Cineplex by the UCC elucidates further:
The film uses a narrative of World War II heroism to inspire a crusade of ‘true’ Russians against ‘fascist’ enemies. This is representative of the pro-Russian disinformation we see around the world … We call on Cineplex to review the film in question and to listen seriously to the concerns expressed about the film and its producers. Please do not allow your company to be used as a means to amplify Russian propaganda and reconsider the decision to screen T-34 at your theatres.
There are some common threads running through these stories. In the first place, what should be entirely cultural activities, or simply pure entertainment, has been politicised, and in a rather unpleasant way. Second, the reaction to unwanted messages is to resort to censorship. And third, this kind of stuff makes the would-be censors look like fools and tends to backfire. The Eurovision publicity will no doubt help sell lots of tickets for Maruv’s next Russian tour; and an attempt to block the showing of T-34 in San Francisco actually led to it being shown in a bigger cinema and even more people seeing it than would have done otherwise. T-34 doesn’t sound like my kind of movie. I hadn’t planned to go to it. But now I will. I’m guessing that the Nazis lose.