Ukraine's political and economic Euro-integration might not be progressing as quickly as many would like but its cultural integration continues apace. On May 23, Ukraine's entry Go_A placed a very respectable fifth out of the twenty-six countries that qualified for the grand final of the 65th Eurovision song contest held in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
A two-time winner - with Ruslana in 2004 and Jamala in 2016 - Ukraine has a genuine track record in what is a love-it-or-loathe-it contest of kitsch, camp (and occasionally even music) that draws the largest TV audiences of any non-sporting event anywhere. The 2019 viewing figure - last year's event was canceled due to COVID - was 182 million and the early indications were that this year's viewership would be even bigger.
The voting system is so byzantine that it might lead one to believe it was concocted by the EU bureaucracy. The first stage consisted of votes cast by professional juries and was supposed to eliminate (not altogether successfully) the almost comical love-thy-neighbor reciprocal voting practiced by many countries over the years. Ukraine languished in mid-table at this stage. But, courtesy of the second, popular voting stage Go_A were rocketed into their final position (even briefly occupying first place before the remaining popular votes were allocated).
Like many of its predecessors, this year's Eurovision was not scandal-free. The Belarusian entrant was banned because his song contained lyrics mocking the anti-Lukashenko demonstrations, while official Moscow was said to have been displeased that its participant was presenting an overly feminist ballad. Hungary withdrew because officials thought that Eurovision was overly pandering to sexual minorities.
Two days before the event the respected British broadsheet, The Guardian, published its list of the "wildest" Eurovision entries. Three of the featured acts, including their number one choice, are Ukrainian. It has often been said that Ukrainian athletes and celebrities have done more to promote Ukraine than anything done through the plodding and often opaque mechanisms of traditional diplomacy. While Eurovision clearly has its detractors - what form of cultural expression doesn't or hasn't? - over the years Ukraine's artistic community has contributed hugely to promoting Ukraine's image as a dynamic, contemporary country, including through the massively popular Eurovision contest.
It goes without saying that everyone's entitled to their view of Eurovision. But, equally, everyone knows there's no such thing as bad publicity - especially when it comes to eroding the enduring mainstream media image of Ukraine as Europe's largest, least-known country.