• Ford Carter

Curses of the Eurovision Song Contest: The curse of 43

The Eurovision Song Contest is believed by some (mainly the superstitious) to be plagued by curses.


They’re curses that can cause bad results or even have countries leave the Contest.


In this short series, we take a look at a few of these, starting with the curse of forty-three.


The curse is known as such due to incidents where, after the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has announced an original list of forty-three participants at the contest, countries have withdrawn (voluntarily or forcibly) from the contest, reducing the number of participating countries to forty-two.


Although it hasn't happened every time there has been 43 nations, it has occurred four times, including two years in succession.


Let's take a look at the years impacted:



2009



In 2000 the EBU announced the participation of 43 countries at the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow, Russia and it was Georgia that caused the beginning of this curse.


The road to Georgia’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009 was rocky from the very beginning. Georgian Eurovision broadcaster GPB announced in the August of 2008 that they would be withdrawing from the contest in Moscow due to the ongoing conflicts of the 2008 South Ossetia war, only to return in December and announce they would start planning for their third Eurovision participation.


A national final held in February, 2009, selected Stefane & 3G’s ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’ as Georgia’s entry to the competition. Shortly after it was selected, the song received widespread coverage around Europe due to its lyrics, whose political connotations were seen as a jab at Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.


Once submitted to the EBU as GPB’s official entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, the EBU informed them it would be ineligible to compete due to contest rules forbidding “lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature”, requesting for the lyrics to be rewritten or for another song to be submitted. GPB refused to change the lyrics or the song, denying the political connotations of its lyrics, and withdrew from the competition.


Following the dispute surrounding their song, GPB did not broadcast the 2009 contest, but returned the following year in Oslo.


2012



Following the success of the contest in Düsseldorf the year before, the EBU announced for the second year in a row the participation of 43 countries at the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, Azerbaijan.


This year, Armenia caused the continuation of the curse of forty-three.


Doubts had been raised over Armenia competing in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 since the night of the 2011 Grand Final.


Doubts had been raised for months regarding special security guarantees for any potential representatives or the Armenian delegation due to ongoing conflicts in the Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, when the list of the forty-three competing nations was announced by the EBU in the January of 2012, Armenia was listed.


In February, more than twenty Armenian singers signed a petition requesting Armenian Eurovision broadcaster AMPTV withdraw from the contest, citing the death of an Armenian soldier who had allegedly been shot by and Azerbaijani sniper during a ceasefire just a few days earlier. Despite a statement from the Armenian Ministry of Defense later that he had been shot by a fellow Armenian soldier and the Azerbaijani army, the Armenian singers claimed that the country should not be competing anyway, calling for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest.


On 7 March, ARMTV and the EBU announced that Armenia would be withdrawing from the contest. AMPTV stated that it was no longer confident that Azerbaijani authorities would make good on their promise to guarantee the security of the as-yet unannounced Armenian artists and delegation following a statement made by Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev that Azerbaijan’s “main enemies are Armenians of the world” the week before, and that they could not send participants to a country where they would be “greeted as an enemy”.


Following the announcement of Armenia’s withdrawal, the executive supervisor of the contest, Jon Ola Sand, stated that the EBU was disappointed with Armenia’s withdrawal.


“Despite the efforts of the EBU and the host broadcaster to ensure a smooth participation for the Armenian delegation in this year’s contest, circumstances beyond our control lead to this unfortunate decision.”

AMPTV was fined by the EBU for the late withdrawal, charging the regular participation fee plus and extra 50% of the amount, with the broadcaster still to broadcast all three shows live.


2016



For the fifth time in the competition’s history, the EBU announced the participation of 43 countries at the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, Sweden.


However, for the third time in the competition’s history, the curse of 43 took place, although for the first time not due to political or military conflict. This time, the nation at the centre of the conflict was Romania.


Romania was announced to be competing in the 2016 contest back in the September of 2015, and had even organized and then held its long-running national final ‘Selecţia Naţională’ in the March of 2016. The competition had seen Ovidiu Anton’s ‘Moment of Silence’ selected as Romania’s representative at the contest.


Throughout most of April, Romanian Eurovision broadcaster TVR and Ovidiu had been promoting ‘Moment of Silence’ across Europe, taking part in ‘Eurovision in Concert’ in Amsterdam, ‘Israel Calling’ in Tel Aviv, and the ‘London Eurovision Party’ in London.


However, on 22 April, the EBU announced that Romanian national broadcaster TVR was being withdrawn not just from the Eurovision Song Contest, but from all EBU member services, due to the repeated and ongoing non-payment of debts. TVR had been given a deadline of 20 April with which to pay their debts to the EBU to avoid disqualification. These debts totaled roughly 16 million Swiss francs (more than €14.5 million, or AU$22.5 million).


In relation to the non-recovery of debts, the general director of the EBU, Ingrid Deltenre, said:


“It is regrettable that we are forced to take this action. We are disappointed that all our attempts to resolve this matter have received no response from the Romanian government . . . The EBU is a not-for-profit association which represents 73 public service broadcasters in 56 countries. The continued indebtedness of TVR jeopardizes the financial stability of the EBU itself.”

2017





For the second year in a row, the EBU announced the participation of 43 countries at the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, Ukraine. And, for the fourth time, the most recent affliction of the curse of 43 was implemented by Russia.


Russian Eurovision broadcaster Channel One announced in March of 2017 that they had internally selected the singer Julia Samoylova to represent the country in Ukraine with the song ‘Flame is Burning’. However, the following day, an investigation into the singer was begun by Ukrainian officials.


The investigation surrounded alleged claims that, in 2015, she had illegally traveled to Crimea, a region of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia in 2014, to give a performance. Ukrainian legislation required visitors to enter the region through points under the control of the Ukrainian government, or risk the potential of being banned from entering the country for several years.


Following Russia’s internal selection and the beginning of the Ukrainian investigation, it was speculated by many that Russia’s choice in selecting Julia Samoylova to represent them may have been a deliberate political statement, having knowingly chosen a singer who had performed in the disputed territory. Russia denied that their choice of performer was meant to be a political statement.


More than a week later, the Ukrainian secret service confirmed that Julia had been banned from entering Ukraine for three years for illegally traveling to Crimea, ensuring that she would be unable to perform at the contest. The following day, the EBU offered a compromise to Channel One, where Julia would be able to perform remotely from a venue of the broadcaster’s choice. Had this occurred, it would have been the first time that a Eurovision entry had been performed from an outside venue via satellite.


The compromise was rejected by both the Russian and Ukrainian broadcasters, and three weeks later, the EBU announced that Russia would no longer be able to take part in the 2017 contest. Channel One responded by announcing that they would not be broadcasting the contest.


Julia went on to perform at the 2018 contest in Lisbon where there were 43 entries competing.


This does prove (along with other years) that the curse doesn't apply every year but it certainly has made an impact over the years.


This year only 39 nations will take part in Eurovision, the smallest field since 2014 when there were only 37 entries.