Ukraine's Eurovision entry stirs racism row

By Staff Reporter
AFP Global Edition

Feb 22, 2012 13:40 EST

A nationalist politician prompted fury in Ukraine on Wednesday with racist remarks about a singer of African origin who will represent the country at this year's Eurovision song contest.

"The show's millions of viewers will see Ukraine represented by someone who does not belong to our race, and they will think Ukraine is located somewhere in Africa," Yury Sirotnyuk of the Svoboda (Freedom) party told local media.

On Saturday a vote by a professional jury and television viewers selected 32-year-old pop singer Gaitana and her song "Be My Guest" as Ukraine's entry to the annual pop extravaganza to be held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Born in Kiev to a Congolese father and a Ukrainian mother, she lived in the Republic of Congo as a young child before moving to Ukraine, where she became a famous singer, mostly performing in Ukrainian.

An opposition party led by WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko slammed the comments by Sirotnyuk, a senior official in a nationalist party that does not have any parliamentary seats.

"This deplorable instance of xenophobia is not consistent with Ukraine's European aspirations" and deserves "severe public condemnation," Klitschko's UDAR party, an acronym meaning punch, said in a statement.

A lawmaker in President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling Regions Party also called for a probe into whether Sirotnyuk's statement broke the law.

"I am ashamed that this man is a citizen of my country," said lawmaker Olena Bondarenko in comments reported on the party's website.

Ukraine's state television called on the Svoboda party to apologise.

"Racism undermines the authority of our country," the First National Channel, which screens the contest, said in a statement.

In a report released Tuesday, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance urged Ukraine to step up its efforts to fight racial discrimination.

Ukraine won the Eurovision song contest in 2004 with "Wild Dance" performed by Ruslana and hosted the next year's contest in Kiev.

Source: AFP Global Edition