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Historical wounds in Eurovision.

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Thursday 6 April 2006

John Kennedy O’Connor, author


Historical wounds in Eurovision  


For fifty years, the Eurovision Song Contest has annually proven to the whole world that while political European borders become more and more blurred, European culture remains as disparate as ever. The predictable voting en bloc from neighbourly nations often leaves viewers wondering why they bothered to perform the songs at all.  


Historical wounds are often reopened by the opportunity to snub the musical efforts of one's ancient foes. Ireland and Malta have found a neat way to retaliate for centuries of British Imperialism by refusing to award the United Kingdom anything more then meagre scores, while the British in turn treat the French and Germans with similar contempt. The Nordic countries will reliably band together and, despite freeing themselves from the Iron Curtain and Russian oppression, the newly enfranchised Eastern bloc will rarely vote for anyone outside their regional alliance. Greece and Cyprus are guaranteed top marks from each other before a single note is sung, while both will ignore Turkey’s effort completely.  


The politics of the voting often spills over into domestic nationalistic battles, even before the contest itself. The fractious alliance of Serbia-Montenegro made their debut in the 2004 Eurovision. Their united front was severely tested in 2005 when a Montenegrin band won glory at the ill-tempered national final, when the Montenegrin judges blanked all the Serbian songs.  


This year, with Serbia hosting the local final, Montenegro’s judges did the same again, to the disgust of the mainly Serb audience. The victorious Montenegrin group were booed from the stage and bombarded with bottles and other missiles, leaving the hapless boy band with no option but to flee.  


Such was the discord between the two uneasy nation partners that the state TV channels were forced to withdraw from this year’s Eurovision, somewhat poignantly just a few day’s after the death of their former leader, Milosevic, as no resolution could be found to assuage the anger of the two communities, who will be asked whether to continue this uneasy political alliance in a referendum the day after this year’s Eurovision final; another reason why each side was desperate to appear in this year’s competition.  


Perhaps they should have taken a leaf from Belgium’s book. Right from the inaugural contest in 1956, the Belgians have solved the problem of their ethnic divide by alternately choosing a French entrant one year, followed by a Flemish song the next. Both sides of the Belgian community freely admit they pay no attention to the contest in the year they are not represented, but it has at least led to fifty years of domestic musical harmony.  


At the end of the day, it’s just a song contest, and does any of this really matter? Well clearly to the fractured Serbian-Montenegrin populous - the undoubted answer is 'yes indeed'. Their chance to take their place on the international stage has slipped away and considerable national pride has had to take a back seat; made worse as their place in the contest is now taken by the old enemy next door - Croatia. Thankfully the Serbian viewers will have a chance to vote in the contest and snub their replacements in the process.  


The Serbian-Montenegrin battle is not the only scandal to hit this year’s selection process. The organizers failed to break a three-way tie in Moldova’s heat and, to the fury of the joint winners, the contest was scrapped and run again - with a new set of songs.  


Romania, the Ukraine and Lithuania all had songs disqualified from their heats, which oddly seemed to eliminate the most popular entrants in each case. A tie in Portugal was broken in favour of the song that lagged in the public telephone vote. Ireland and Greece both commissioned their leading stars to sing their entries this year. Conveniently for both singers, the apparently open public vote selected the songs the artists had written themselves. 


Eurovision is one of the few opportunities that most European nations have to compete on equal terms with the mighty political and economic powers of Germany, France and Britain. No wonder they take it so seriously. Organizing the political minefield of the Olympics is nothing compared to what the Greek hosts can expect when the musical mighty from 37 nations gather in their ancient capitol on May 20th.  


Meanwhile, in Germany, former contest winner and ‘Grande Diva’ Vicky Leandros protested her defeat in the German qualifier vehemently. But that’s nothing to do with politics: That’s just sour grapes.  


Guests on this program:

John Kennedy O'Connor