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I’m not an expert, in any sense of the word, on Ukraine. But I want to discuss Ukraine’s voting patterns and representation in Eurovision in light of the current protests, which highlight the East-West divide of the Ukrainian public. If you believe cultural, social, and even political factors influence televotes, then how the Ukrainian people have voted in the past may be reflective of these cultural/political connections. Similarly, how Ukraine represents itself to the rest of Europe is suggestive of how they want Europe to perceive them. There are significant limitations, so don’t think this is an authoritative representation of Ukraine’s situation and please don’t think that I, in any way, mean to belittle the seriousness of the situation by looking at it through Eurovision.
Ukraine’s Voting Record
If the claims of political or cultural voting are true, then how a country votes is indicative of its cultural and/or political relations. Personally, I believe voting is biased more culturally than politically, but it’s likely true that culture influences politics.
Ukraine first entered Eurovision in 2003 and has been quite successful. They won in 2004 with Ruslana’s Wild Dances, have twice come in second, and third last year. Using televoting results from 2003 – 2009, I have looked at which countries the Ukrainian people were both likely and unlikely to vote for. Similarly, I looked at which countries were more and less likely to vote for Ukraine. I controlled for a number of factors, such as language, popularity, and tempo. I have also looked at results under the split vote for 2009 – 2012; I haven’t included 2013 because I used my thesis data set, which only included 2012.
Under the televote, Ukraine is likely to give points to the following countries (significant at the 5% level): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Norway, and Russia. Of these, only Norway is Western European and the rest are former-Soviet countries. Ukrainian televoters were unlikely to vote for Spain, Austria, and the United Kingdom. These results would then suggest that in terms of culture/political connections (measured by televotes), Ukraine is closer to the former-Soviet countries.
Only one country, Switzerland, was unlikely to vote for Ukraine under the televote. However, Ukraine was likely to receive points from the following countries’ televoters: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and Turkey. This would again suggest that Eastern European and/or former-Soviet countries have stronger links with Ukraine than Western European countries, although it is true that six of those 12 countries are EU members.
Looking at the split vote, Ukraine was statistically likely to vote for Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Russia. Ukraine was not unlikely to vote for any country. In terms of receiving votes, Ukraine was likely to get points from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Russia. No country was statistically unlikely to vote for Ukraine under the split vote. Admittedly the split vote results are not as robust as the televotes because there were fewer years in my sample.
Taking the sum of these voting patterns, it seems that Ukraine has stronger ties to Russia and the former-Soviet countries than Western European countries and EU members. Few Western European countries are likely to vote for Ukraine and Ukraine is not statistically likely to vote for them. Ukraine and Russia have stronger ties under both the televote and the split vote.
Granted, this is Eurovision voting and not necessarily reflective of how everyone in Ukraine feels. I also can’t say that Eurovision voters are reflective of the wider population. However, if you accept the premise that Eurovision voting is cultural and/or political, then these results suggest Ukraine has weaker EU/Western European ties. I believe positive biases are indicative of connections between two countries, connections that could be cultural, political, social, geographic, etc. There are obvious connections between Ukraine and Russia. Of course, being unlikely to vote for a country does not mean two countries are on bad terms, just that they lack those connections. The situation in Ukraine illustrates that many people want to have a stronger relationship with the EU countries. Moreover, the fact that Ukraine participates in Eurovision is, by itself, a signal of willingness to be part of the European community.
Song Selection: How Ukraine Represents Itself
Apart from how Ukraine gives and receives votes, song selection is important. The song a country chooses is that country’s representative in front of millions of viewers. One of the key considerations when looking at how a country chooses to represent itself is language. Singing in the country’s native language may be considered more nationalistic, which contrasts with English songs, which are more universal. This doesn’t mean that songs in native languages are jingoistic, but rather because language is such an integral part of culture, English songs could signal a willingness to appeal to pan-European culture. (Or, granted, it could be an attempt to garner more votes.) Looking at Ukraine’s entries, every song has had at least some English and three songs – Wild Dances, Razom Nas Bahato, and Dancing Lasha Tumbai – were mixed English. This suggests a more pan-European, or even Western-oriented, approach than Ukraine’s voting patterns.
Ukraine’s 2012 song, Be My Guest, welcomed European countries while Ukraine co-hosted the Euro Cup. The artist, Gaitana, was unfortunately somewhat controversial because she is half-Congolese. A right-wing party official said of the entry, “Millions of people who will be watching will see that Ukraine is represented by a person who does not belong to our race. The vision of Ukraine as a country located somewhere in remote Africa will take root.” Obviously this comment is unacceptable, but despite the racism, it shows how seriously Ukrainian politicians take Eurovision and how much they want to be seen as a European country (even if their comments are inappropriate).
In 2005, when Ukraine hosted Eurovision they chose Razom Nas Bahato, which means together we are many. The song was the unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution and included references to President Viktor Yushchenko; however the EBU said they had to remove political references. This was a significant song – and message – to choose while hosting Eurovision. After the contest when Helena Paparizou won, Viktor Yushchenko – then President – presented her with the trophy. This was the first time a Head of State has done so and is illustrative of how much Ukraine valued hosting Eurovision. Yushchenko said, “This is a Ukrainian prize for the best European performer in favor of uniting Europe.” Also, that year, Ukraine removed Visa restrictions to make it easier for European visitors; these restrictions have not been reinstated.
Taken together, Ukraine’s entries and experience hosting suggest a pro-European Union approach; Ukraine wants to represent itself and be seen as a European country. This contrasts with the voting patterns, which indicate Ukraine has stronger ties with former-Soviet than EU and/or Western European countries (it is true that some former-Soviet countries are now EU members). And in that way, Eurovision is somewhat reflective of the current situation in Ukraine, although the current protests indicate that the Ukrainian public is split over the EU/Russia issue more so than televoting results would indicate.
Given the claims of political and cultural bias, looking at voting patterns and song choices could be meaningful. If that’s the case, the televote suggests Ukraine’s public has strong cultural links to Russia and other former Soviet countries. However, in terms of representation, Ukraine has tried to present itself as “European.” Let’s not take this too far out of context, though. Eurovision voting isn’t necessarily reflective of political sentiment in the country and choosing an English song doesn’t mean a country is pro-EU. Still, because Eurovision is more than just a song contest, the voting patterns and song choice are not meaningless and in this case may be reflective of the current situation in Ukraine.