Eurovision Debuts ‘Anti-Booing Technology’ to Protect Russia from Wrath over Ukraine

AP Photo/Ronald Zak
AP Photo/Ronald Zak

After an “embarrassing” episode in which a European crowd protested Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine by booing Russia’s 2014 entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, event organizers have installed “sound reducers” designed to remove booing from the broadcast when Russian contestant Polina Gagarina takes the stage on Saturday.

The Daily Mail reports that the Vienna stage will be protected for the first time in its history by sound reducers described as “anti-booing technology” to protect the spirit of the contest, which explicitly bans any political statements in an effort to foster harmony among the European states. Russian political aggression has been the most consistent challenge to maintaining the peace at Eurovision in the past decade, with a punny entry from Georgia titled “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (get it?) banned after Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. Last year, the Tolmachevy Twins act was booed soundly upon taking the stage despite their apolitical and uncontroversial entry, largely taken to be a rebuke of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (Maria Yaremchuk, the Ukrainian contestant, received raucous applause).

“It was very embarrassing for us last year when this happened, as it is not in the spirit of the contest,” Jarmo Siim, Communications Coordinator for Eurovision, told the Moscow Times. He added that “Plan A is to use regular audience sound,” but a “Plan B” had been installed to protect Gagarina. While she was not booed upon performing at the Eurovision semi-finals this week, Russia’s 2008 Eurovision winner Dima Bilan was booed earlier this year, allegedly in protest of Russia’s draconian anti-LGBT laws, although Bilan had spoken out against them.

Gagarina has escaped this fate so far, perhaps by openly embracing last year’s Eurovision winner, “bearded lady” Conchita Wurst. She has received significant criticism from Russian fans for posting a video on Instagram in which she appears alongside Wurst, celebrating each other:

The Moscow Times quotes Russian legislator Vitaly Milonov as warning Gagarina, “Don’t you dare soil Russia by hugging the europervert.” Milonov has previously called Eurovision a “Europe-wide gay parade” and a “Sodom show.”

In addition to alienating much of Europe with its foreign policy, the Russian government has been outspoken against the acceptance of LGBT performers at Eurovision, particularly in light of Wurst’s victory last year with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Communist legislator Valery Rashkin went as far as proposing a “straight” version of Eurovision organized by Russia. It would not be a first in the contest’s history — the USSR once hosted a communist alternative to the world’s largest song contest called “Intervision.”

This year, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has taken the lead in condemning Eurovision, calling it “repulsive to our soul and our culture.”

Organizers may be especially concerned that Russia’s entry will receive strong pushback from the audience due to Ukraine’s absence in this year’s contest. It is the first year that the nation will not send an entry to the contest since being admitted to participate after the fall of the Soviet Union. “We don’t want to do something badly, and we don’t have the money to do something well,” said state broadcaster Zurab Alasania of the decision. It is believed that government resources being pouring into keeping Russia from invading and controlling more territory has left Ukraine too destitute to organize a song entry.

Ukraine has been historically one of the strongest competitors in Eurovision, having never lost in the semi-final phase, and their absence will be felt. The nation won the contest in 2004 with the song “Wild Dances” by Ruslana:

Ukraine has taken the bronze medal once and the silver twice, most notably with another drag act: Verka Serduchka, whose song title, “Dancing Lasha Tumbai,” was widely interpreted as gibberish meant to sound like “Dancing Russia Goodbye,” though the performer denied this was his intention:

Ukraine had, indeed, begun to prepare an entry for this year’s contest: Eduard Romantuya, whose song “I Want Your Love” was created as a Ukrainian entry but, due to Ukraine’s inability to fund the entry, Romantuya competed on behalf of neighboring Moldova. He was eliminated in the semi-final round earlier this week.

The finals of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Vienna on Saturday, May 23.