Although some have already labelled this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon as 'Eurovision on a budget', the competition will actually be even bigger than last year. Well, in terms of competing countries, anyway.
The 2018 contest has a total 43 competing acts, one more than last year. And that’s because Russia – who withdrew from the 2017 competition – is once again returning to Eurovision. Why? Here’s everything you need to know…
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Why did Russia withdraw from Eurovision last year?
Although Russia had originally planned to send Yulia Samoylova to the competition, hosts Ukraine barred the singer from entering the country.
Why? The Ukrainian security services, SBU, said that the singer-songwriter had violated Ukrainian law with a 2015 performance she had given in Crimea, a territory annexed by Russia the previous year.
Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Brygynets said Russia was “hiding behind a disabled person”, when Samoylova – who has used a wheelchair since childhood after being diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy – was announced as the country’s entrant.
“This is yet another outrageous, cynical and inhumane act by the Kiev authorities,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the Interfax news agency.
Why didn’t Russia perform by a video link in Eurovision 2017?
Interestingly, this was something suggested to them, with Eurovision offering to let Samoylova perform in the contest via satellite.
However, Russia’s Channel One rejected the offer, saying performing remotely would be “weird”.
“We find the proposal on a remote-access participation in the contest to be weird enough and do not accept it,” Channel One said in a statement, quoted by Tass news agency, adding that it “counters the very essence of the event.”
So, Samoylova didn’t compete at Eurovision 2017. But she did sing again in the Crimea, including the song which was she intended to perform at the contest, on the day of the final.
Was this the first Eurovision controversy between Russia and Ukraine?
Unfortunately not. Eurovision tensions between the countries came to a head in 2014 with the controversial annexation of the disputed Crimea region by Russian forces.
The events of 2014 were thought to be subtly referenced in Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision entry, 1944, which told the tale of the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. Lyrics included “When strangers are coming/They come to your house/They kill you all.”
Russia was furious about this and complained about singer Jamala’s entry, accusing Ukraine of attempting to politicise the competition. Eurovision Song Contest authorities wouldn’t ban the song though, and 1944 went on to take top honours in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2016.
Is Yuliya Samoylova returning to Eurovision for Russia this year?
Yes, the singer will be singing for her country, but with a different single than the previous year. Her new song, I Won't Break, holds a message of perseverance and hope. This could be a reference to Samoylova's health struggles, but perhaps also it’s a response to the trying months Yulia had ahead of Eurovision 2017.
How’s the song gone down so far? Not great. The bookies predict Russia will finish in the bottom half of the table (but still perform better than the UK).
Could Eurovision relations between Russia and Ukraine be a problem in future?
If Ukraine or Russia wins this year’s contest it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll permit the other country to perform on stage next year.
But fortunately, that probably won’t happen. Although Ukraine is tipped to do better than Russia, both countries are predicted to finish outside of the top 10.
The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final is on Saturday 8th May, 8pm on BBC1