eurovision
Image: Wiki Commons / Martin Fjellanger, Eurovision Norway, EuroVisionary

Eurovision song contest should be about unity, not politics

As the seemingly most political year of Eurovision to date comes to pass, the event’s origins tell us how far we’ve strayed from its original purpose. Eurovision began in the aftermath of the Second World War with an aim to unite Europe. If the international popularity of the competition is anything to go by, it has been a massive success. Yet the ongoing political conflicts between competing nations, and how they inform the proceedings, would suggest otherwise.  

With Madonna’s politically-inspired dance routine, Iceland branding a Palestinian flag, and Britain’s worse-than-usual result being tied to Brexit, it seems Eurovision is irrevocably established as a politically-motivated popularity contest. The representative judging panels of the competing nations consistently vote for their historical allies and neighbours, and this has come to be expected, yet this year saw a leap from background favouritism to overt partiality.

Eurovision is an international platform, an unmatched diplomatic access to public consumption. Alliances themselves are harmless but in the turmoil of the European environment, conflict should not have a place in an event designed for unity.

And yet any fan of the competition would be able to list off examples of political actions and lyrics at a moment’s notice

A European Broadcasting Union spokesman said: “The core values of the Eurovision Song Contest are to celebrate broadcasters from different nations coming together through music, and supporting quality public service broadcasting. These have remained the same since the contest began in 1956”.

The rules of the contest require that no lyrics, speeches or gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted, and no messages promoting any organisation, institution or political cause shall be allowed. And yet any fan of the competition would be able to list off examples of political actions and lyrics at a moment’s notice.

The EBU claim to enforce the measures in place to ensure these rules are upheld, and that the contest remains a non-political event, including a review of each of the delegations’ songs before the contest. For example, Georgia’s 2009 entry was removed, called We Don’t Wanna Put In, it was thrown out because judges decided that the last two words of the song title spelt out the name of Russia’s current president to comment on the historical tensions between the two countries. The members who carry out this process include the executive supervisor of this year’s show and the two previous years’ producers; a chairman; and three members from European public service broadcasters: Italy, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

“The EBU understands that there are many different ways elements of songs can be interpreted, however the reference group aims to review these decisions with an objective eye in order to make informed decisions.” An interesting consideration in the light of the EBU spokesman’s assertions are the politically-motivated songs that made it through the reference group’s review.

Armenia used the centenary of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire — an event recognised as genocide by many European countries but which is disputed by Turkey and Azerbaijan — to enter a controversial song. “Don’t deny, ever don’t deny, baby don’t deny,” sang it’s chorus, sparking critics to suggest it was calling for recognition of what Armenia considers a genocide.

As people are losing their lives on either side of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, waving a flag on an International singing contest seems inappropriate to say the least

In 2016, Ukraine’s entry, 1944, was widely interpreted as referring to Joseph Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars — which happened in the same year — and Russia’s more recent annexation of Crimea.

“When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say, we’re not guilty, not guilty,” sang Jamala, the first ever Crimean Tatar to perform at the annual music contest. Despite her protestations against a political interpretation of her music, the Russian media did not turn a blind eye as reference group must have seen fit to do.

Whilst the effects of Brexit on the votes we received are irritating, this seems petty compared to the divisive messages promoted by Madonna and Iceland. An event created to bring unity should not be used as a platform to exhibit personal opinion of ongoing conflict. In the first place, both of these actions are against the explicit rules of the competition, but there is a wider issue here than just complying with the rules. As people are losing their lives on either side of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, waving a flag on an International singing contest seems inappropriate to say the least.  

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