Ukraine minister ‘confused’ by Eurovision refusal to let Zelenskiy speak

Ukraine minister ‘confused’ by Eurovision refusal to let Zelenskiy speak –

Ukraine’s culture minister has said he was “surprised” and “confused” that president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was barred from making a televised speech during the Eurovision grand final.

The European Broadcasting Union, the owner of Eurovision, said last week that allowing the Ukrainian president to address the contest, which is watched around the world, risked jeopardising its “non-political nature”.

Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s minister of culture and information policy, told the Guardian he was taken back by the refusal and puzzled about the reasoning: “I am confused,” he said. “Frankly speaking, [it was] not only me that was surprised.”

He added: “From my understanding it was quite obvious why I brokered this proposition, but what I can’t understand is the reaction about politics whereas there is no politics – it is war from one side.”

Tkachenko’s remarks are the first Ukrainian government reaction to the EBU’s controversial decision, which was criticised by Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer among other political figures in Britain.

Sweden won the 67th Eurovision grand final in Liverpool on Saturday night as singer-songwriter Loreen became the first woman to win the contest twice.

Last year’s winner, Ukraine, finished sixth in a contest that had a strong anti-war message and took place as bombs fell on the home city of its representatives, the electro duo Tvorchi, while they were on stage. The UK’s Mae Muller finished second from last ahead of Germany.

The grand final in Liverpool, which was hosting Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine, opened with a haunting rendition of the wartime anthem Stefania by last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra. It featured a clip of the Princess of Wales playing the piano in a Windsor castle drawing room.

There were other subtle and not-so-subtle references to the war throughout the final and two semi-finals, which are watched by more than 160 million people across the world.

Tkachenko said he had made the request for Zelenskiy to address the grand final last Saturday and been rebuffed by email two days later.

Contrary to the reports, he said, it was not an “official request from the president”. Zelenskiy had not even been aware of the request until the day before the grand final, he said.

The minister said it would have been “very reasonable” to allow the president to address Eurovision given the “unique situation” of the UK hosting on behalf of Ukraine due to the war.

He added: “I spoke with many people since I’m in Liverpool and all of them are supporting the idea [of Zelenskiy addressing Eurovision] .

“The situation is exceptional and probably it will be very reasonable to have a short pre-recorded message of greetings from the president of the country which should host the Eurovision final contest as the winner.”

Ukraine remains keen to host a future Eurovision despite not taking home the famous glass microphone trophy. Next year’s contest will be staged in Sweden on the 50th anniversary of Abba’s first triumph.

Tkachenko said the EBU had informed him that only the winner could host Eurovision so Ukraine would in effect have to be lent the contest: “We can only expect a gesture of goodwill, but this is not a topic which bothers our minds [before the end of the war] .”

This year’s host, Liverpool, has been widely praised for its enthusiastic embracing of the world’s maddest music show, with a two-week festival of events that varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tkachenko said he was “very much amazed” by Liverpool’s “emotionally positive atmosphere”, adding: “The main thing I will remember from Liverpool is the phrase of one grandma who survived during the second world war during several bombings of Liverpool and she said to me: ‘Join Nato and kick their ass.’”

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