The Eurovision in Ukraine was an exercise in soft power

LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS / UNITED KINGDOM – Eurovision 2017, held in Kyiv, may have lacked overt politicisation when it came to the performances showcased on stage, especially in comparison to previous years. But as Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz argues, the contest nevertheless delivered a carefully constructed ideological message about Ukraine’s European aspirations and its pride in its cultural heritage and traditions, while also signalling comradeship with the Slavic world and Eastern Europe. The net result was a quintessential exercise in Eurovision’s enduring soft power.

The Eurovision Song Contest is no stranger to political controversy. Envisioned as a means of forging cultural ties between Europe’s nations in the aftermath of World War II, the contest was closely tied to the idea of European integration taking shape in the 1950s. For a brief period, the Warsaw Pact countries hosted a competing Intervision contest, but it was Eurovision, and the idea behind it, that ultimately prevailed. And it wasn’t until the majority of Europe’s states from the continent’s east (and from its near periphery) entered the competition that it became the political playground which it is known as today.

Time and again it has provided ample data for better understanding European politics and society. In 2014, Conchita Wurst’s “inherently queer and subversive performance” was a sweeping success in the popular vote, but it was shunned by East European juries. As I argued then, this revealed just how complicated the polarisation over LGBTQ+ issues is in the region. Similarly, last year’s victory of Jamala, singing about Stalinist atrocities in Crimea in 1944, was a triumph of cultural soft power that signalled the significance of collective historical consciousness among the European public.

Culture as soft power

This year, however, the 200+ million audience of Eurovision was spared outright political messaging in the performances, and the pre-contest squabble over Russia’s participation was largely lost on the public. The political dimension of Eurovision 2017 was, however, noticeable in how Ukraine decided to, yet again, use it as a vehicle of soft power (albeit less overtly than in years past when one of its songs’ lyrics uncannily sounded like “Russia Goodbye”).

This year was marked by far more discreet efforts. Firstly, the hosts showcased a country with western-democratic aspirations, putting emphasis on freedom, and on being a tolerant and open country that belongs to the European family of liberal democracies. Secondly, it was pride in Ukraine’s cultural heritage that was noticeable, which permeated most vividly from the adjoining performers during the contest’s final and the hosts’ commentaries. Finally, an even more discreet, almost subliminal, message conveyed was that of the regional Eastern European (and Slavic) embeddedness of Ukraine, and its role in the region being markedly different from Russia’s.

A European Ukraine

As noted by the Atlantic, Eurovision “serves as a stage for countries to express their national pride and affirm their European affiliation”. This couldn’t be truer of Ukraine, parts of which are currently engulfed in war with Russia. Openness and belonging to Europe were major themes of the three parts of the song contest, as well as its physical surroundings in the nation’s capital. Most notably, one of the last damaged buildings standing on the famous Maidan square where the 2013 protests, followed by violent clashes, took place, was decorated with a larger-than-life banner stating that “Freedom is our religion”.

The “celebrate diversity” theme of this year’s edition was embodied by altering a Soviet-era monument and trying to put as much daylight as possible between it and a Russia perceived as being intolerant and authoritarian. What once was an arch symbolising Russo-Ukrainian unity, was painted in rainbow colours, much to the dismay of Russia, as well as conservative and nationalist forces within Ukraine who prevented the arch’s rainbow from being completed.

This western-democratic aspiration is closely linked to the idea and the process of European integration. It derives from a profound sense, shared by a sizeable part of the intellectual elite and decision-making class in the country, that Ukraine is, both historically and politically, at the heart of Europe. After all, it was Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU that the Maidan protests erupted over and which put the country at odds with Russia, plunging it into a proxy-war that still has no end in sight. Ukraine’s insistence on its European credentials, including being able to successfully host such a show, is hence part of a soft power effort focused on its geopolitical reorientation. It is, however, only one part of a concerted effort to showcase the country to the outside world.

Слава Україні! (Glory to Ukraine!)

Occidental yearnings among countries of the former Communist East are not a new phenomenon. Almost thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, such aspirations can no longer be simply assimilationist. Hence, the sense of a Ukrainian national self was very much present throughout Eurovision. Contemporary Ukrainian pop stars at the show’s grand final – Ruslana, Jamala and Onuka – draw heavily on Ukrainian folk music in their performances. This link between popular and Ukrainian folk music is very much appreciated by the domestic public where references to Ukrainian cultural traditions and use of the Ukrainian language are integral to the civic and identity soul-searching that the country has been going through in the past few years.

A sense of pride in the success of Eurovision hosted by Kyiv is seen as validation of the skill and ability of the Ukrainian people and plays a crucial role in the process of crystallising its national self-understanding vis-à-vis Europe, rather than just emulating its neighbours to the west. In this instance, Eurovision performed a function which for many countries around the world is carried out by large sporting events. There was, however, yet another dimension to Ukraine’s soft power Eurovision pitch.

Eastern Partnership

Ukraine cannot defy geography, especially its proximity to Russia and its client states. Therefore, the final message communicated in Kivy was how much Ukraine cherishes its Slavic ‘cousins’ and how it maintains positive relations with its neighbours in the East European region, while highlighting how different it is from Russia. Paired with an emphasis on the country’s western-democratic and European credentials, it was a conscious attempt to demonstrate the distinctions between Ukraine (positioned as pro-Western, liberal, democratic, and tolerant) and Russia (presented as anti-Western, illiberal, autocratic, and intolerant).

This message follows Ukraine’s current diplomatic efforts. The above was communicated side-by-side with a less explicit signalling of Slavic/regional brotherhood. During the final show’s last stage, where points are collected from Europe’s capitals, almost all Slavic-speaking countries were greeted with the Ukrainian добрий вечір (dobryy vechir), which can be largely understood in the region, while niceties and other linguistic innuendos were also exchanged.

Most importantly, however, 12 points from the Ukrainian jury (representing the country’s elite voice) went to Belarus, which can be seen as a proxy for Russia, absent from the competition. In underlining its Slavic and East European credentials, Ukraine exercised a fine balancing act between Europe and Russia (which claims ownership of the idea of pan-Slavism). It was a deliberate attempt to prove the country’s western-democratic credentials while stressing its regional embeddedness, and its shared cultural and historical heritage.

Despite lacking overt politicisation, this year’s Eurovision was a quintessential exercise in soft power for Ukraine, a country fighting for the right of self-determination on the world stage. The contest delivered a carefully constructed ideological message about what kind of country Ukraine wants to be: a western-democratic and a European state, which takes pride in its cultural heritage and traditions, and which at the same time is rooted in the Slavic world and supports liberal change in the region of Eastern Europe.


Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz – LSE
Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz is a sociologist. He is Managing Editor of LSE Brexit and a Research Officer at the Generation Brexit project at the LSE European Institute. He tweets @RochDW

Source: lse.ac.uk

What does Eurovision mean for Ukraine?

Ukraine is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest for the second time after Jamala won the competition last year in Stockholm, Sweden. What does hosting the contest mean to Ukrainians?

Rehearsals are underway in Kyiv ahead of the live broadcasts of the Eurovision Song Contest. This is Ukraine’s second time that it has hosted the competition and the country is taking this as a serious opportunity to promote itself on the world stage.

Investing in the future

UA:PBC, the Host Broadcaster of the 2017 contest is proud to host one of the largest TV shows in the world and the team have worked around the clock to ensure that everything from the crew catering to the press centre is ready on time.

Viktoriia Sydorenko, International PR Manager for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest shared her thoughts on the contest: “For me, personally Eurovision is a chance to showcase Ukraine in a completely different light, to show that the country celebrates and shares its values, history and heritage. It’s an opportunity to send a positive wave of energy to the entire world and to put the country on the map, so that everyone will recognise it,” she said.

Ukraine has been in the news in recent years and the challenges of hosting the competition have been well-documented however for many in the country, staging the contest is an opportunity to invest in Ukraine’s future. Viktoriia explained that the young democracy is still developing and making its way on the world stage. “The contest is a huge investment into the image of Ukraine as it draws much attention and interest towards our country as well as develops tourism industry,” she added.

Made in Ukraine

The Eurovision Song Contest differs every year and 2017 is no exception. “This year the contest will incorporate modernity and Ukrainian features, starting from presenters’ costumes tailored by Ukrainian designers and ending with the outstanding artists who will perform,” said Green Room Host Timur Miroshnychenko.

For many Ukrainians the contest also offers an opportunity to showcase the country’s hospitality as well as culture. “Hospitality and generosity run in our blood. We strive to show that we are tolerant, modern and always ready to move forward,” added Timur.

A journey of self-discovery

Hosting the Eurovision Song Contest also serves as a reminder for many in Ukraine as to how far the country has come since independence in 1991. “Ukraine is hosting this competition at the highest possible level, we want to make our people proud,” said Timur (pictured below, left)

Victoriia with the hosts of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest

Viktoriia Sydorenko explained that Ukrainians often lack confidence in themselves and the Eurovision is an opportunity to change this. “We are hosting one of the largest TV events in the world, the eyes of the world will be in our country, we should be proud,” she said.

On Sunday evening the Red Carpet and Opening Ceremony of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest will take place which marks the start of the event week leading up to the Grand Final on Saturday 13th May.

Author: Yullia Kryvinchuk

Source: eurovision.tv

EU Parliament approves Ukraine visa waiver

Ukrainian citizens will be exempted from EU short-stay visa requirements, after EU Parliament endorsed an informal deal with the Council on Thursday.

Under the new law, Ukrainians who hold a biometric passport will be able to enter the EU without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period, for tourism, to visit relatives or friends, or for business purposes, but not to work. The exemption applies to all EU countries, except Ireland and the UK, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

“Ukraine has achieved all the benchmarks, so the visa requirement should be lifted”, noted rapporteur for the proposal Mariya Gabriel (EPP, BG), adding that the visa waiver will be “another very strong message that Ukraine is a key partner for the European Union in the Eastern Partnership”.

The legislation, approved by 521 votes to 75 with 36 abstentions, still needs to be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers. It is likely to enter into force in June, 20 days after it is published in the EU Official Journal.

Before exempting Ukrainians from visa requirements, the EU strengthened the visa waiver suspension mechanism, to allow visas to be reintroduced more easily in exceptional cases.

Source: europarl.europa.eu

Ukraine’s IT boom could speed up EU integration

Ukraine has a literacy rate of 99.7 percent, which is higher than most EU states

June 2017 will mark the three-year anniversary of the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, and while the Eastern European state has taken major steps towards European integration, its progress has been slow.

With the signing of the EU agreement in 2014, it seemed as if Ukraine’s dream of Western integration would finally become a reality. This feeling materialised in 2015 as Ukraine took significant steps in its fight against corruption.

Last year, however, presented new challenges.

The failure to remove various corrupt government officials undermined progress. Furthermore, as anti-corruption efforts stalled, Odesa governor Mikheil Saakashvili, among others, resigned in frustration.

Events within the EU further stymied Ukraine’s progress towards European integration.

In April 2016, the Dutch overwhelmingly rejected closer EU ties with Ukraine. Matters became worse in June when the United Kingdom, one of Ukraine’s staunchest advocates in the EU, voted to leave the bloc.

Implementation of the agreement allowing visa-free travel to the EU has also been delayed. Given these developments, Ukrainian enthusiasm for Europe is slowly waning as many Ukrainians believe the EU may not deliver on its promises.

Critics of Ukraine argue that it is far from ready to join the EU, citing corruption as its major hurdle.

Furthermore, some EU members are concerned that Ukraine’s economy would be a drain on European resources.

This comes at a time when the EU faces the loss of the UK, one of its biggest financial contributors. Some critics argue that it will take at least 20-25 years for Ukraine to be admitted into the organization.

Ukraine continues to face these problems in 2017. It was ranked 131st in the world on the Corruption Perceptions Index, and the war in Donbas has escalated.

New case

While Ukraine’s future may seem bleak, the eastern European state has a new case to present to the EU.

Its educated populace and the IT sector may accelerate the membership process and boost national morale during this difficult period in its history.

Ukraine has a literacy rate of 99.7 percent, which is higher than most EU states. This statistic demonstrates that it can be a vital member of the international community.

The well-educated populace has also led to a booming IT sector, with venture investments in Ukrainian start-ups jumping 237 percent from 2014-2015.

There are currently over 100,000 skilled IT professionals in Ukraine, and the training and knowledge of Ukrainian software developers are on par with those of Silicon Valley. The IT sector accounted for 3 percent of Ukraine’s annual GDP, and has generated billions of dollars in exports.

The work of these Ukrainian developers has not gone unnoticed. Corporations such as Snapchat and Uber have performed well in Ukraine.

Moreover, GitLab co-founder Dmitriy Zaporozhets was listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 as one of the most successful people in the world in the enterprise technology sector.

In addition, international companies are outsourcing to numerous Ukrainian tech start-ups.

Firms such as Ecois.me and Petiole have gained international acclaim and were recognized for their contributions to the Ukrainian market.

Given their expertise, Ukrainian developers would be a valuable asset to the European community as they have demonstrated that they are very motivated, well-trained, and capable.

The recent rise in Ukraine’s tech industry has had a major impact on foreign investment. The tax burden in Ukraine is one of the lowest in Europe, and many investors have capitalised on this opportunity.

Investors

Private sector technology firms from Sweden have invested millions of dollars into the tech industry.

The strong performance of IT companies such as Sigma Software and Beetroot have encouraged others, like Danish company Clio Online, to enter the market.

As the IT sector continues to expand it is likely that private tech companies from other EU members will conduct business in Ukraine. This partnership could strengthen international cooperation between the EU and Ukraine.

The IT sector in Ukraine could also help reduce corruption. During the early 2000s Estonia invested heavily in the tech industry, even choosing to develop electronic services to oversee transactions online between government and citizens.

These programs established greater transparency and facilitated good governance. In the words of former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, “you can’t bribe a computer.”

Thanks largely to the effect of technology, the Baltic state is now ranked 23rd in the world on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Using Estonia as a model, Ukraine’s IT sector could play a critical role in fighting corruption, thereby building confidence in Ukraine and easing the concerns of critics in the EU.

With demonstrated strength in the growing IT sector, Ukraine is showing that it can compete with the tech industries of any Western state, and data processing solutions can contribute to greater efficiency and investments across both the private and public sectors.

This suggests that Ukraine is not as far behind as critics suggest, and that skeptics in the EU should not be so hasty in dismissing a potential engine of growth on the continent.

Author: Mark Temnycky is a Ukrainian-American pursuing a masters in public administration and international relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse University, New York, in the US

Source: Euobserver

Ryanair will start working in Ukraine in March

The largest European low-cost airline Ryanair may start working in Ukraine since March 15, 2017, reports avianews.com with reference to the information in the code of the Dutch version of the website Ryanair.

It is reported that the flight information Ryanair of airports in Lviv and Kyiv (“Zhulyany”) found one of the users, who in January reported on the appearance of flight Lviv-Wroclaw, two days before its announcement.

We will remind, earlier the Minister of infrastructure Volodymyr Omelian announced that a new low-cost the fall will begin flights from Lviv to European cities. However, the Minister refused to disclose the name of the company, noting that now there is a negotiation process and by agreement with the carrier, he is not entitled to disclose his name.

Council of the European Union confirms agreement on visa liberalisation for Ukrainians

On 2 March 2017, EU ambassadors confirmed, on behalf of the Council, the informal agreement reached on 28 February 2017 between the Maltese Presidency and the European Parliament on visa liberalisation for Ukrainians.

The agreement provides for visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens when travelling to the EU for a period of stay of 90 days in any 180-day period.

We have demonstrated our strong commitment to visa-free travel for Ukranian citizens, now that Ukraine has met the necessary conditions for a visa free regime. The reform of the suspension mechanism adopted on 27 February enabled us to finalise this agreement.

Carmelo Abela, Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security 

Next steps

Now that the agreement has been confirmed by EU ambassadors, on behalf of the Council, the regulation will be submitted to the European Parliament for a vote at first reading, and subsequently to the Council for adoption.

Background

In December 2015 the Commission found that Ukraine had met all the benchmarks of the visa liberalisation plan and was therefore ready for the exemption of the visa requirement. On 20 April 2016 the Commission published the proposal for visa liberalisation for holders of Ukrainian passports.

Once the new visa regime for Ukraine is formally adopted, it will  move the country from Annex I of Regulation 539/2001 (countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen area) to Annex II of the same regulation (visa free countries).

In the context of the current migratory and security situation in the European Union, and taking into account its proposals on visa liberalisation for Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey and Kosovo, the Commission decided in May 2016 to present a proposal for a regulation revising the current suspension mechanism. The revised suspension mechanism allows, in specific circumstances, for the suspension of the visa waiver for the nationals of a specific country.

In its negotiating position on visa liberalisation for Ukrainian citizens, agreed on 17 November 2016, Coreper took the view that the instrument should not enter into force before the entry into force of the revised suspension mechanism. The Council adopted the regulation on the suspension mechanism on 27 February 2017.

Ireland and the United Kingdom will not be subject to the application of these measures, in accordance with the protocols annexed to the EU treaties. The visa regime of these member states remains subject to their national legislation.

consilium.europa.eu