LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — This weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest will have Ukrainian flags, Ukrainian musicians and Ukrainian fans — but not the country’s wartime leader.
Organizers rejected a request from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to make a video address to the final of the pan-continental music competition on Saturday. He was expected to urge the world continue its support for Ukraine’s fight to repel Russian invasion.
The European Broadcasting Union, which runs Eurovision, said that letting Zelenskyy participate would breach “the nonpolitical nature of the event.”
Zelenskyy’s request “to address the audience at the Eurovision Song Contest, whilst made with laudable intentions, regrettably cannot be granted by the European Broadcasting Union management as it would be against the rules of the event,” the organization said.
Founded in 1956 to help heal a continent shattered by war, Eurovision strives to keep pop and politics separate. Overtly political lyrics, signs and symbols are banned.
But politics can’t be shut out entirely. Russia was banned from the contest after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Belarus had been kicked out the previous year over its government’s clampdown on dissent.
Last year’s contest was won by Ukraine, and the U.K. has stepped in to host on its behalf.
Acts from 26 countries will compete in Saturday’s live final at the Liverpool Arena, which will be co-hosted by Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina. It will feature a performance by last year’s Eurovision winner, Kalush Orchestra, and other Ukrainian performers, and images of Ukraine will be shown before each act performs.
“We believe that this is the best way to reflect and celebrate Ukraine’s Eurovision Song Contest win and show we are united by music during these hard times,” the broadcasting union said.