Over the years, dozens of countries have withdrawn from Eurovision for a plethora of reasons, including finances, artistic differences, and poor results. On occasion, it may even be just because one broadcaster dislikes another.
Unfortunately, many withdrawals arise from more unpleasant sources, namely international political disputes.
While Eurovision may be branded as an apolitical event that espouses slogans such as “building bridges” and “celebrate diversity”, the contest has long been a victim of frayed diplomatic relations.
The ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine might be unprecedented, but history shows that they’re most definitely not the first countries to drag the contest into murky waters.
Should Russia withdraw, it will join an ever growing list of countries that withdrew from Eurovision due to a breakdown in international relations.
Just three years on from Udo Jürgens’ famous win with “Merci, Chérie”, Austria withdrew from Eurovision 1969. The move was in response to Spain hosting the contest after Massiel’s 1968 victory. At the time, Spain was ruled by the fascist dictator General Franco. The boycott was perhaps unsurprising given Austria’s history with the Nazis.
Ironically, the Iberian country only won by one point the previous year, with the Austrian jury awarding them two points.
Austria returned to the Eurovision fold in 1971, after sitting out the 1970 contest due to the 1969 result where four countries tied for first place.
Greece made its Eurovision debut in 1974, but pulled out just one year later. Despite the EBU blaming “unknown reasons”, the Greek withdrawal was in protest at Turkey’s debut in the 1975 contest. Relations between the two nations were extremely tense following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
Greece returned to the contest in 1976 and Turkey promptly withdrew. This time the controversy was in relation to the Greek entry “Panagia mou, panagia mou”. The song – which urged a mother not to cry over the destruction of her homeland – was interpreted as being about the 1974 invasion of Cyprus.
Despite its withdrawal, Turkey opted to broadcast the contest. However, the Greek performance was censored and substituted with the nationalist Turkish song “Memleketim” (My Motherland). Turkey didn’t enter Eurovision again until 1978.
Tunisia was due to perform at Eurovision 1977, and was even drawn fourth in the running order. However, the country withdrew before the contest took place. While no official reason was given, it is widely believed that the U-turn was linked to Israel’s continuing presence.
Had Tunisia participated, it would have been the first African nation to compete at Eurovision. As of 2017, the country has yet to make its debut.
After its 1978 comeback, Turkey were gone once again for Eurovision 1979. This time the issue was with the host country, Israel. The Turks initially intended to participate, and even selected Maria Rita Epik and “Seviyorum”. However, Turkey ultimately withdrew due to mounting pressure from its Arab neighbours, most of whom were in conflict with Israel.
Turkey returned the following year and, excluding its relegation in 1994, competed in every contest up to and including 2012.
The country withdrew ahead of Eurovision 2013 and has yet to return. Initially broadcaster TRT blamed EBU rules regarding juries and the “big five”. Now, many attribute their continued absence to government policies.
Eurovision 1980 clashed with Israel’s Day of Remembrance and so, despite winning in both 1978 and 1979, Israel withdrew. At the same time Morocco chose to make its debut, becoming the first African nation to compete.
Once Israel announced its intention to return for Eurovision 1981, Morocco withdrew and hasn’t been back since. While never officially stated, it’s widely accepted that Israel’s return was the reason – the country has no diplomatic links with Israel, although there was a brief thawing of relations in the 1990s.
It also probably didn’t help that Morocco finished second to last, with Samira Said and “Bitaqat Hub” receiving just seven points.
An EBU member since 1950, Lebanon finally decided to enter Eurovision in 2005. Aline Lahoud was internally selected to sing “Quand tout s’enfuit” in the Eurovision semi-final. However, problems quickly arose.
Under Lebanese law, the country’s television stations are banned from broadcasting any Israeli content. Therefore, Israel’s performance would have to be cut from the show. However, under Eurovision rules, participating broadcasters are obliged to show the entire contest.
Consequently, Lebanon withdrew. And because they did so after the withdrawal deadline, they were penalised and banned from entering for three years. The country has made no attempt to return since the ban ended in 2009.
In August 2008, after a period of worsening relations, Georgia and Russia went to war over the disputed regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia. The following February, Stefane & 3G won Georgia’s Eurovision selection. As a result they would sing “We Don’t Wanna Put In” at the 2009 contest in Moscow.
Controversy ensued as the song was seen to make reference to Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin. This argument was backed up by the fact that the group pronounced the lyrics “put in” as “poot een”.
The EBU ruled that the lyrics were not permissible under Eurovision rules and that Georgia must either amend them or send a new entry. Georgia refused and withdrew completely, attributing the EBU’s objections to pressure from Russia.
Georgia returned in 2010 and have competed every year since. Stefane & 3G band member Tamara “Tako” Gachechiladze is set to represent the country in Kyiv.
The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is well documented. So from the moment Ell & Nikki laid their hands on the Eurovision trophy in 2011, Armenia’s participation the following year was in doubt.
The government of Azerbaijan responded by guaranteeing the safety of the Armenian delegation, and on 17 January 2012 Armenia confirmed its participation. In late February 2012, Armenian singers issued a statement saying the country should boycott the competition following the death of an Armenian soldier in Azeri sniper attack.
But when PanArmenian.Net released what it claimed to be Armenia’s 2012 Eurovision song and entry on its website, everything looked like it was on track for Baku. Lucia Moon would apparently sing a song called “Delicious Feeling/ Call It Insane”.
However, on 8 March, one day after the purported song appeared, Armenia officially withdrew. This was in response to a speech by Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan. In it, he claimed that Azerbaijan’s “main enemies are Armenians of the world”. As a result, Armenia felt that it could not send a delegation to a country where they “will be greeted as an enemy”.
Armenia returned in 2013.
As at the time of writing, the situation is still in flux.
Russia and Eurovision 2017 hosts Ukraine have been in direct conflict ever since the former illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. Ukraine withdrew the following year, citing financial and political instability resulting from the dispute.
Upon its 2016 comeback, Ukraine won the contest with Jamala’s “1944” — a song which, although about historic events, was interpreted by many as anti-Russian.
As the 2017 deadline submission approached, speculation began to mount that Russia would withdraw. However, with just a few days to spare, they announced Julia Samoylova as their representative with “Flame Is Burning“.
It soon emerged that she was being investigated by the Ukrainian authorities in relation to a 2015 concert in Crimea. They ruled that she had broken Ukrainian law and banned her from entering the country.
A diplomatic crisis ensued. Most recently, the EBU offered a compromise whereby Julia could call in her performance via satellite — both sides flatly rejected the proposal.
Right now, Russia’s Eurovision 2017 participation remains in limbo.
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