Eurovision: Does size matter?
EDITORIAL – So far, in 60 years, 51 countries have taken part to the Eurovision Song Contest. Some have vanished (Yugoslavia, Serbia-and-Montenegro), and some have appeared. All those states, even if they can be divided into “blocks” (the Big 5, the Scandinavian block, the Balkan block, the former Soviet block…) are quite different from one another, but the question is, do they all have a real chance of winning the trophy?
Today, let’s focus on the small participants. First let’s explain who they are. It’s not really a matter of area but of population. Today Europe includes 5 “microstates” (Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City) with a population of less than 100,000 citizens. They should not be confused with the so-called 4 “small states” (Iceland, Malta, Montenegro and Luxembourg) that have a bigger population, less than 1 million though. (in the early 2000’s, Cyprus has left this category).
Throughout the 60 editions of the contest, 3 microstates and 4 small states have taken part. Today, most of them seem reluctant, and only San Marino, Iceland, Malta and Montenegro are still in the race. The other left the competition, probably thinking that a victory or at least a top 10 ranking, or just a qualification for the final, was just impossible for them.
If we are honest, we must agree with the fact that in the 1960’s, the 1970’s and the 1980’s, Eurovision was a pure “song contest” and any country with a good song could win. That’s why, 1 “small state” (Luxembourg) won the contest in 1961, 1965, 1972, 1973 and 1983. Even a microstate (Monaco) was victorious in 1971. But today, things have changes. Participation to the Eurovision Song Contest means money, a bit of lobbying, a great staging, professional performances and geopolitics as well. That’s why some have given up.
Let’s see each of these countries in details:
VATICAN CITY (pop. 836): RV (Radio Vaticana), the broadcaster of the smallest state on Earth has been a member of the EBU since 1950 and could hence take part to the contest. They can sing and have glamorous outfits but for some obvious reasons the Holy See will never send an entrant to the contest.
SAN MARINO (pop. 32,400): San Marino RTV (Radiotelevisione della Repubblica di San Marino), joined the EBU in 1995 and took part to the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in 2008. This year, on its 5th attempt, the tiny republic qualified for the Grand Final with “Maybe” by Valentina Monetta. In 2013, San Marino also joined the Junior Contest.
LIECHTENSTEIN (pop. 35,200): Recently created 1FLTV (1 Fürstentum Liechtenstein Television) hasn’t joined the EBU yet. The Alpine principality tried to send an entry in 1976, but it was of course rejected. Since 2008, and the creation of 1FLTV, Liechtenstein has unsuccessfully tried to become a member of the EBU. Today, because of costs, they don’t seem to will to join us anymore but interest in the contest is still high.
MONACO (pop. 36,400): TMC (Télé Monte Carlo) is one of the oldest members of the EBU. The Grimaldi principality was a regular participant from 1959 to 1979 with a victory in 1971 with “Un Banc, Un Arbre, Une Rue” by Séverine. Unfortunately, they failed to organize the 1972 contest. In 2004, Monaco did a come-back with 3 consecutive entries that could not make it to the final. After those bad results, and probably because TMC is now almost entirely owned by French private TV channel TF1, the microstate does not express any interest in the contest anymore.
ANDORRA (pop. 85,000): RTVA (Ràdio I Televisió d’Andorra) has been a member of the EBU for 12 years now. They took part on 6 occasions from 2004 but never qualified for the final. Because of costs (and results) the principality gave up, and in 2011, they even considered leaving the EBU. The Pyrenees principality feels too isolated.
ICELAND (pop. 326,000): RÚV (Ríkisútvarpið), since its first participation in 1986, has given great attention to the contest. As in other countries of the “Scandinavian block”, Iceland loves Eurovision, and its national final (Söngvakeppnin) is still a popular cultural event. With 27 entries, and two silver medals (1998 and 2009), the island is still expecting its first victory.
MALTA (pop. 450,000): PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) first gave a try to Eurovision in 1971, 1972 and 1975. After a long break, Malta came back to the contest in 1991, and has been a regular participant since then. It is probably one of the most successful “small states” with some good results, with many Top 10 placing, as well as a bronze medal in 1998, and two silver medals in 2002 and 2005. The archipelago is also a member of the Junior Contest family. Malta won the trophy last year, and is organizing the 2014 edition.
LUXEMBOURG (pop. 550,000): RTL (Radio Television Lëtzebuerg) was a founder of the contest and one of the most successful nations (with 5 victories and several hosting). From 1994, the Great-Duchy has been snubbing Eurovision and many still hope this historical entrant will join us again.
MONTENEGRO (pop. 780,000): RTCG (Radio Televizija Crne Gore) was the last broadcaster to join the EBU, back in 2006, after the country’s independence. They have taken part 7 times and last year, Montenegro managed to reach the Grand Final for the first time with “Moj Svijet” by Sergej Ćetković.
Given all those facts, let’s try now to answer a few questions:
Can a small state win?
I would say that a victory from a microstate is highly hypothetical. Countries like San Marino have a tiny music market, and finding an artist that could wear the Eurovision costume is quite difficult. Of course they could hire singers from other nations (like Luxembourg and Monaco used to do), but since the 2000’s, participating countries tend to go local. In the case of small states, a victory can be more considered. Compared to their low population, those countries have an incredible bunch of local talents. Just have a look at the line-ups of their national selections (Iceland and Malta) and you’ll understand that they have an impressive number of talented artists for such small states. They also tend to send good songs to the contest (at least since 2014 for Montenegro). So, a surprise can still be possible. Outsiders can still win the whole thing. Remember Estonia 2001 or Finland 2006. The 2014 contest was probably a magnifying glass since we realized that for the first time all “small nations” could qualify for the final.
Why taking part?
For most of those countries, Eurovision is just like the Olympics or the United Nations. You have to be part of it in order to show people you exist. If you want the world to know where you stand on the global map, you have to be heard, you have to be seen. And the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the best occasions to shine.
Why giving up then?
Some will put “costs” as an excuse. I’m not sure broadcasters like RTL or TMC have a real bank account problem. Those countries used to be important participants. But now, in the 2010’s era, with nearly 40 participating countries, they are a bit afraid of getting lost, and, to be honest, Luxembourg and Monaco already have a secure place amongst the nations of the world.
Do we want them to win?
A victory from a “small state” would be a big event and Eurofans would be delighted to fly to an novel host city (just like Baku 2012). But on the day after the final, many problems would occur. Can they host the contest? With the criteria of modern Eurovision (arena, facilities, press centre, Euroclub…) could we all fly to Podgorica or San Marino City for the biggest event of the year? Not so sure. Remember in 1973, Monaco could not host the show, and it was on a much smaller scale. Venues of a capacity of more than 10,000 are not common in all those countries, but with their will to shine, they would do their best to host the show (even if it means dozens of sleepless nights for the EBU staff).
Some “small states” have eventually understood that, amongst the events of the Eurovision Family, one could help us shine a bit more easily: the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Malta, San Marino and Montenegro are taking part to this contest since a victory seems more reachable, and the hosting is much easier. Malta is a good example of this state of things. But we must be careful, the Junior Eurovision should not become a second category contest only for countries who fear not to shine in the Eurovision Song Contest (just like Croatia and Bulgaria seem to do in 2014). What happened in the Olympics (with the creation of the Games of the Small States of Europe) should not happen.
So yes, let’s face it, size kind of matters now in the Eurovision Song Contest, but it’s not an immutable rule. If I was asked to choose a Eurovision rule, I would prefer it to be “the gathering of nations” or the famous Pierre de Coubertin’s phrase “Being part of it is everything”. Small states, please keep surprising us, it’s your time to shine!