Eurovision and politics; an all time drama
EDITORIAL – Every year for the past 59 years, almost all European nations gather for a major event that is broadcast simultaneously on all screens across the Old Continent. I’m not speaking of some EU summit but of the Eurovision Song Contest. A cultural « rendez-vous »? It obviously is. A political meeting? Not really but the contest hasn’t always been an event that is completely impervious to European political turmoil.
1950: a first “European Union”
Even before the EU was created, some states of post-war Europe, decided to collaborate in the field of broadcasting, hence creating the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 1951. The culmination of such collaboration was the establishment of the « Grand Prix Eurovision De La Chanson Européenne », a cultural and peaceful competition between EBU members, the first edition of which was held in 1956 in Lugano, in very neutral Switzerland.
Eurovision and the Cold War
For 40 years our continent was at the core of this Cold War which divided the world into two rival parts. The very creation of the EBU is a direct consequence of this conflict. In 1946, the International Broadcasting Organization (OIR) was established in Brussels, under a French-Soviet presidency. But because of growing political tensions, Western European states decided to leave the OIR and created the EBU. In the meantime, Eastern European countries moved to Prague and founded the International Broadcasting and Television Organization (OIRT). From 1951 two networks were facing one another, the Eurovision (in the West) and the Intervision (in the East). Only one nation, Finland, was a member of both. Of course, the Eurovision Song Contest had an Eastern counterpart for some years when, from 1977 to 1981, the Sopot Festival (which has been held since 1960) was transformed into the Intervision Song Contest, and turned into a political forum. In 1993, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the OIRT merged with the EBU, and from 1994 countries from the former Soviet bloc gradually joined the Eurovision Song Contest, highlighting continental reconciliation.
Hardly hidden political messages…
In the 1990’s an increasing number of songs would refer to ongoing political events. In Zagreb, in 1990, several countries were inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall. The German duo wanted to be « Free To Live « (Frei Zu Leben), the Norwegian guy paid a tribute to the « Brandenburg Gate » (Brandenburger Tor), the Austrian lady asked for « No More Walls » (Keine Mauern Mehr) and the Finnish band wondered is the were eventually « Free? » (Fri?). In Rome, in 1991, a newly reunited Germany declared that « This Dream Should Never Die » (Dieser Traum Darf Niemals Sterben). In 1993, in Millstreet, three countries from former Yugoslavia, then at war, entered Eurovision stage, and two of them could not hide what was happening on their home soil. Croatia sent PUT who sang the very nostalgic « Don’t Ever Cry », and Bosnian singer Fazla performed one of the most connoted songs so far, « All The Pains In The World » (Sva Bol Svijeta).
Another example is the 2000 Israeli entry in Stockholm. PING PONG performed the up-tempo « Happy » (שמח) and waved Israeli and Syrian flags at the end of the song. The Israeli Broadcasting Authority got highly upset!
An often politically influenced list of participating countries…
Nowadays the EBU has 56 members, but some of them have never entered the Eurovision Song Contest, and thus for political reasons. Northern Africa and Middle East members (Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) would participate under one condition: the right not to broadcast the Israeli entry (a state that some of them don’t even recognize). The EBU has always rejected such a demand. In 2005, in Kyiv, Lebanon was about to make its debuts with Aline Lahoud’s « When Everything is Fading Away » (Quand Tout S’Enfuit). The song was disqualified when the EBU realized that Lebanon had no intention to broadcast the Israeli entry.
In 2009 Russia hosted its very first Eurovision Song Contest, after having made the news headlines all summer long with its military intervention in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (two secessionist provinces of the Republic of Georgia).
As a revenge, Georgian broadcaster decided to send the entry « We Don’t Wanna Put In » to Moscow. Because of the clear reference to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the EBU asked GPB to change song. Georgia refused and was disqualified.
Last example to date, Baku 2012, when Armenian broadcaster refused to take part to the contest because it didn’t feel safe on Azerbaijani ground. Indeed the two countries have been at war for the past decades.
What can be expected in the future.. ?
As mentioned above, the Eurovision Song Contest is trying to protect itself from politics but cannot be 100% impervious to what’s happening around it. The EBU sometimes has to become a genuine diplomat to ensure the smooth staging of the contest. In years to come, more polemic will appear. Some EBU members have already expressed some doubts about future participation if the contest was held in a non-democratic country (Belarus…) or in a state that does not respect fundamental rights (Putin’s Russia and its homophobic laws…). Moreover, a future participation of Kosovo (independent state for some, Serbian province for others), or of an independent Scotland (depending on the 2014 referendum outcome) could lead to even more debates in the forthcoming editions of the Eurovision Song Contest. But, to be honest, there’s nothing to worry about as this proves one fundamental thing: the Eurovision Song Contest is alive and very contemporary.
originally posted on www.concours-eurovision.fr