Opting for Ukraine in Turin

After all, they all are also a form of human expression, and the human spirit should be free to state what it wants to state, whatever the means used to communicate the message

Kalush Orchestra
Kalush Orchestra

So Kalush Orchestra have won the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest for Ukraine with their song ‘Stefania’. Surprise, surprise!

As The Washington Post put it, Ukraine’s victory on Saturday was political. This doesn’t make it unusual. Eurovision has always been about politics, even if the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – the organisation responsible for Eurovision – sometimes claims the opposite.

The EBU, after all, had already banned Russia from participating in this year’s contest.

Even before this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, commentators had already claimed that if Ukraine took home the trophy, it would not be for the quality of its entry, “Stefania”. Instead, it would be a sign of European support for Ukraine in the context of the Russian invasion.

And so it was. The public vote was clearly a sympathy vote for Ukraine in the current circumstances, more than it was an appreciation of the musicality of the Ukrainian entry.

Purists claimed that this was not on. This was just a song contest that has annually entertained millions of televiewers in Europe and Australia. Spoiling the fun with the ugly head of politics in the background, some even said, was unethical.

This year was not the first time that Russia’s neighbours have weaponised Eurovision songs to retaliate against Russian actions. In 2007, Ukraine submitted a song called “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.” In Ukrainian, the pronunciation sounds very much like “Russia Goodbye”.

After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, that country tried the same trick with a song called ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’ – ‘coincidentally’ pronounced in the song like ‘we don’t want a Putin.’ It didn’t work: the entry was disqualified.

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine’s entry was a song about the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars. The song, entitled ‘1944’, also won the contest.

Evidently, sympathy for the Ukraine runs high.

The Washington Post even claimed that an analysis of voting patterns demonstrates that Russia, too, has engaged in Eurovision politics. Since Russia first entered the contest in 1994, its entry has frequently finished in the top five, with many noticing how Russia almost always collects the maximum twelve points from Belarus and other allies.

Politics is not new to Eurovision song contest. The 1974 Portuguese entry was more politically consequential: it served as a signal for coup plotters to begin the overthrow of Portugal’s authoritarian regime.

In the same year, Italy censored its own entry for fear that listening to ‘Sì’ too many times would influence voters to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum on divorce that was to be held within a month.

People have been making political statements via sports and song from time immemorial.

James Cleveland ‘Jesse’ Owens, an American track and field athlete, won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin that were being used by Adolf Hitler to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. Owens became a symbol for those who were opposing Hitler’s racial theories. As a black American man, he was credited with ‘single-handedly’ crushing the myth of Aryan supremacy. That his achievements were registered even in the Berlin Olympics organised by Nazi Germany made his feats more politically symbolic than anything else.

Over the years, the idea that music, entertainment and sports should be completely divorced from politics, has become a non-starter. Autocratic regimes use them for their own ends while democratic countries allow their being used to promote particular issues of a clearly political nature.

After all, they all are also a form of human expression, and the human spirit should be free to state what it wants to state, whatever the means used to communicate the message.

Londongrad calling

When, some time ago, I maintained that there was more money-laundering going on in London than in Malta, I was labelled as being ‘anti-British’.

Followers of English football must have realised how murkily business is done in London when Chelsea FC was recently sold to Todd Boehly after the assets of former owner Roman Abramovich were frozen as part of the sanctions on Russian oligarchs.

A recent issue of The Economist in fact reported on the Russian scene in London, publishing a leader under the title ‘Dismantling Londongrad’ and a report on financial abuses in London under the title ‘Dirty Capital.’

Things came to a head recently with the sanctions against Russian oligarchs who are friends of Putin as retaliation against Russia’s invasion of the Ukaine. The leader of The Economist maintains that if the British government “really wants to take on oligarchs, it should fund its corruption-fighters properly.”  The leader claimed that “Russian loot is a major contributor to a money-laundering problem that the National Crime Agency puts conservatively at ₤100 billion ($125 bn) a year.”

The leader goes on to say that one advantage Britain enjoyed “is the financial secrecy offered by both Britain and its network of offshore satellites from Jersey to the Caymnan Islands.” This has “helped make Britain murkier than classic havens such as Panama and Liechtenstein according to a respected global financial-secrecy index.”

Dismantling Londongrad is no easy task.

In its report on the same topic, the Economist claims that “for years, London has been awash in Russian money.”

Why was London so attractive to Russians? According to this report, “some sought tax benefits. Others were seeking to launder dirty money, or to recycle wealth earned in circumstances which, though not brazenly criminal, looked corrupt to Western eyes.”

The Economist also refers to a report published by Chatham House in 2021 and damningly titled ‘The UK’s cleptocracy problem’. This report described how Britain has adopted a ‘risk-based’ approach to anti-money-laundering, whereby much of the front-line policing is delegated to banks, lawyers and others in the public sector; thus leading to “failures of enforcement and implementation of the law.”

Reversing the trend and acting on impropriety is no easy task.

According to this story Britain, British Overseas Territories, Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United States are among the more important money-laundering centtres.

Meanwhile Maltese banks have been terrorised into practically refusing to open a new business account to my friend Toni (not his real name) who has decided to move forward in life by quitting his employment as a plasterer, and to do the same work independently as a small trader.