Fears that Brexit has put paid to the UK’s entry’s chances of ever being able to show its face again at the Eurovision Song Contest can be laid to rest, according to one seasoned observer.
Critics have been quick to dismiss the UK’s contestant Lucie Jones’s chances of getting off the bottom of the table, let alone sneak in the top ten, this year. One has gone so far to say that we’ve “taken over the baton of shame from Russia”.
Doctor Peter Rehberg, an Affiliated Fellow at Berlin’s Institute for Cultural Inquiry and a longtime observer of the politics around Eurovision, has made his annual excursion to the extravaganza, and tells HuffPostUK that this is not the feeling in Kiev itself, where the final will take place tonight, and where it seems even Brexit can’t get in the way of a good song:
“I was asking myself that question, but my sense here in the arena and with the people in Kiev is, it won’t. Everybody loves the staging of the British song, and is surprised by it because the UK hasn’t been exactly famous for investing in the visuals and the backdrop at Eurovision, lately.
“Whether Brexit matters for the European audience, we don’t know yet, but here in Kiev there aren’t any anti-British feelings whatsoever.”
Eurovision has always walked a delicate tightrope of remaining officially apolitical, while allowing its contestants to express themselves in ways which often mean the opposite. This year has already seen Russia boycotting the enterprise, after their entry Julia Samoylova was banned after it was revealed she had previously visited annexed Crimea in 2014. Peter is firmly with the host nation on this one.
“The Russian performer violated Ukrainian law, and Russia knew this. I am with Ukraine here, and I was surprised that the EBU didn’t take sides with Ukraine here, but ciritized both, Russia and Ukraine.
“It’s still possible that both countries will be banned from Eurovision, up to three years, this decision will be made after the contest in June.”
Despite this brinkmanship by Russia, and the massive security presence everywhere from the arena to the contestants’ village and clubs, from Peter’s perspective, “You don’t feel that this is a country at war.”
“The Ukrainian/Russian border is far away. The contest is much smaller, less press and also fewer fans it seems, as opposed to Stockholm or Vienna, for instance. Many Ukrainians I talked to said that the contest doesn’t mean anything to them, because corruption is rampant here, and only very few people would benefit from it.
“On the other hand you have a lot of your volunteers, in their early twenties, that are very happy that Eurovision is here, even if they don’t connect to its culture, they enjoy the opportunity to get in contact with so many foreigners in their city.”
Seasoned observers like Peter are also busy watching how well the staging of the event comes off, following the collective walkout over salaries earlier this year by an unhappy Ukrainian crew. A Swedish production team had to step in, with organisers hoping that nation proves as safe a pair of hands behind the scenes as they have invariably proved on the stage.
As for the music itself, where is an academic’s money going?
“Italy, Portugal, Romania, Belgium, Bulgaria will be top 5. While lately it looked like a race between Italy and Portugal, I wouldn’t t count out Romania and Belgium yet.”
The Eurovision Song Contest final takes place tonight in Kiev, Ukraine. It will be broadcast and streamed live in the UK from 8pm.