By choosing Yuliya Samoilova, a singer in a wheelchair, as a Russian representative at the Eurovision Song Contest-2017 in Kyiv, Russia threw the bait to the human rights-sensitive West. And the West took it, despite rights of people with disabilities being the last thing Russia had in mind when selecting Samoilova. As hundreds of other Russian artists, Samoilova was banned in Ukraine for violating its law. And Russia deliberately selected her, knowing that whether Ukraine allows the singer entrance or not, the country will bear unpleasant consequences. In the first case – because of facing the moods within Ukraine, in the second – international criticism.
The world of show business is as dirty as politics. And in this case, Russia used it as another instrument of the information war against Ukraine. This time, Ukraine’s Security Services which are often criticized in Ukraine for not doing enough in countering Russian propaganda, were cool-headed and followed the demand of society.
Let’s imagine that Ukraine decided otherwise and allowed Samoilova to enter Ukraine.
First, like on a real battlefield, in an information war the tactics of appeasing the aggressor would lead to more acts of aggression.
Second, it would cause frustration within Ukrainian society because of the country’s inability to follow its own laws and defend its territorial integrity. It might have also led to numerous protests, especially while the contest was held. The event which is called to entertain and to present different cultures would have turned into a totally political one with unknown consequences.
Russian show business in Ukrainian realities, before and after the annexation
After the USSR’s breakup, Russian show business felt at home in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. It was another way for Russia to present itself as an older brother for these countries and to create an appearance of inseparability of the former Soviet states. In general, the music of the Russian showbiz artists was of the same low quality as of the majority of showbiz artists from the other post-Soviet countries. However, Russians had something that Ukrainian or Belarus artists did not have – petrorubles. It allowed them being broadcast at lots of TV channels and radio stations.
This unconscious consumption of the Russian music would have continued if not for Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine.
You can still hear and see Russian artists in Ukraine. Also, there are many people who would attend their concerts, because mass culture prevails. However, lately Ukrainians are making a bid to support their own performers. This is caused not by the quality of the music, not because of the Russian language and even not because of promoting Russian pop culture, but because Russian performers undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine, exhibit Russian chauvinism, and support Russian aggression against the country.
Legislation preventing entry of Russian performers to Ukraine was developed during the last three years of Russia’s undeclared war against the country.
For example, in November 2016 Ukraine forbade entrance to 140 Russian artists.
“The entrance is forbidden to people whose actions or statements contradicted the security interests of the country,” Vasyl Grytsak, the Head of Security Services of Ukraine, explained the decision and added:
“I hope it will also close the discussion on the total passivity of the security services in this direction.”
Reasons for being banned
Ukrainian activists constantly demanded to ban Russian entertainment products – films and TV series which promote the ideas of the “Russian world” in Ukrainian informational field.
In 2015, Ukraine got a legislative field for this purpose – the Law on Amending some laws of Ukraine on the Defense of the Informational TV and Radio Spaces, which influenced other laws adopted afterward.
Let’s take a look what exactly artists should do or say to be banned in Ukraine.
For example, the world-known French actor Gerard Depardieu, who received Russian citizenship and also known for his pro-Russian views, in August 2014 said that Ukraine is a part of Russia.
Born in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, singer and an MP of the Russian Duma Yosip Kobzon who is popular among the older population is in the ban list because of his radical views. In 2014, he criticized Ukrainian tyrant president Viktor Yanukovych for being weak and not using force against the protesters of the Euromaidan Revolution. After the massacre of anti-government protesters by government snipers in central Kyiv, he supported using force against the activists. He was also in the list of Russian artists who signed the letter called “Culture activists support the President’s position on on Ukraine and Crimea,” which added legitimacy to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The movement on boycotting these artists went international, with activists protesting performances of their music in Boston, New York, including the Metropolitan Opera, London, Toronto, Munich, and even on airlines.
Representatives of the younger generation of Russian artists were also banned in Ukraine. For example, in November 2016 singer Kristina Si was forbidden entrance to Ukraine during the next 3 years, just like Samoilova, for entering the occupied territories without permission from Kyiv. The singer has a musical contract with the label Black Star Inc which belongs to popular rap singer Timati. Just listen to his song to figure out how showbiz and politics are connected in Russia. The main phrase which is repeated in the song is “My best friend is president Putin”:
Despite violating Ukrainian legislation and neglecting its integrity and independence, some Russian artists still manage to organize their concerts in Ukraine. In these cases, activists are the main force which try to derail them.
For example, these days activists in Dnipro protest the concert of an underground Russian band Big Russian Boss.
“From the songs of the artist you can better learn how to have antisocial lifestyle; which drugs are popular today and how to use them better; details of sexual perversions; and the most important – when the occupied Crimea will turn into Russian Miami, as sings the artists in one of his songs,” ironically wrote one of the activists when calling others to come and to protest holding the concert.
So why is Samoilova banned?
The only difference between the Russian Eurovision contestant and other banned Russian artists is that because of her health conditions Russia uses her as a tool for manipulations and a shield for aggression.
All the other aspects are the same. Security Services of Ukraine banned her because of two reasons:
- violating rules on entering occupied Crimea;
- dubious online statements about Crimea and Ukraine’s authorities.
Just take a look at her words:
“I simply take into account the facts: the West is threatening [Russia] with consequences for bringing troops to Crimea. American warships are sailing towards Ukraine. Even if everything is settled in a diplomatic way, it’s unlikely that the claims and provocative actions of the West will stop. The fact that [the West] tries to divide our, in fact, single people and to rule us is obvious for any sane person.”
“Practice shows that almost all the states of the former USSR which were now included to the EU do not prosper, but undergo a deep crisis in many areas. To count on a different fate for Ukraine in the EU is an unjustified optimism. Ukraine needs its own independent path!”
“If Russia does not defend Ukraine, Russia will then take the next blow. And a brother will go against brother.”
Ukrainian society’s anger towards Ukraine’s own artists
Russian showbiz used to be the place with the best profits for Ukrainian artists. However, after the occupation of Crimea and de-facto the beginning of war in Donbas, many refused to have the concerts there over moral reasons, even though they lost monetarily.
If Ukrainian artists do give a concert in Russia, it is often followed by a stormy reaction in society. The artists who perform there are perceived as the supporters of the aggression.
The most telling example of a star that was toppled from her pedestal in Ukraine is Ani Lorak. Before 2014, she was one of the most famous and popular female singers in the country. She also used to be a judge in Ukraine’s version of The Voice. However, even after the occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas, she actively continued to give tours across Russia and even has been awarded there. Of course, officially she was not banned in Ukraine, but the way she is perceived in the country has changed dramatically. She is not welcome anymore.
Some other artists attempt to hide the fact that they perform in Russia. Society is less strict towards those that support the Ukrainian Army (with money, ammunition etc.).
De-jure Ukraine is not at war with Russia, but de-facto it is. And following the unwritten rules of the state of war, Ukraine did everything right: preventing the Russian participant from entering the country and following its own law. The support and help of the international community is important, but nobody will care about Ukraine’s security apart from Ukraine. However, what the international community would do well to realize also that it is also already involved in the information war. And considering the reaction of the West in Samoilova’s case, Russia won this battle, as it got the exact reaction it wanted.