This article is written in (unsolicited and unnecessary) response to a recent Comment article titled ‘Eurovision isn’t political’
The author of the aforementioned article argues that the Eurovision Song Contest is apolitical through a personal lens. While she recognizes the existence of voting blocs that consistently form between neighbouring countries and the monumental sway of the diaspora vote, she maintains that this doesn’t mean Eurovision is political. Or rather, that to prove Eurovision is apolitical one needn’t disprove that voting blocs and the diaspora are an unavoidable element of the contest.
Instead, it is truly celebrating the nature of the contest, and its importance in our yearly routine, that depoliticises the contest. However, what if the very nature in which we, the audience, watch Eurovision is political? The author addresses this, bringing up the classic example of last year’s Ukraine win. Those who say that was political are supposedly wrong, because Ukraine’s victory was merely a show of empathy and support from Europe’s audience.
That’s all cute and nice and whatever, Europe showing affection. But if we’re supposed to believe that Ukraine winning the popular vote was not political but merely the public showing its support, then where is this support (for Palestine) when Israel takes the stage? While Palestine isn’t a competitor at Eurovision, discontent with Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian nationals is strikingly similar to the reaction invoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If Russia was banned from Eurovision for initiating the war, how come Israel is still allowed to compete?
Unequal treatment [of Russia and Israel] shows an inconsistent stance that can only be described as politically influenced
In the year of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia was banned from entering the contest. The year Israel’s Netta won Eurovision (with an amazing song) – 2018 – Israeli forces killed 290 Palestinians and injured over 29,0000. How is the decision to allow Israel to compete, and even win, not political, if Russia is banned for similar crimes? Unequal treatment shows the uneven standards and an inconsistent stance that can only be described as politically influenced.
I also want to note, if we’re talking about how the 2023 contest wasn’t political, that despite banning Russia from singing and painting the whole city of Liverpool in yellow and blue, essentially resembling a seizure-inducing neon anti-war party, Eurovision still didn’t let President Zelensky address the audience. “This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the contest,” said a spokesperson for Eurovision. One would be right in asking themselves: “Well, what have we been doing until now?”
Eurovision isn’t the only high profile international event that turned Zelensky down. FIFA, the Oscars, and Toronto International Film Festival also rejected his offer, on the same grounds as Eurovision. As we all know, the consensus surrounding these organisations is that they are as political as they come. I would find it hard to believe that the people who maintain Eurovision is not political can watch FIFA without outrage at the petrodollar-infused Western teams. Why wouldn’t Eurovision be the same?
Being ‘political’ shouldn’t be a condemning label in a contest of this magnitude
Further, we’re being told Eurovision isn’t political because, by removing political messages from the performances, we are finally free to truly listen to the music. However, music is inherently political. For example, national selection in Switzerland has to make the yearly decision of which of its three languages to showcase in its competing song.
In 2016, Ukraine won the contest with Jamila’s ‘1944’, an obvious apropos to Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Despite protest that the song is too political, Eurovision allowed it to win, deeming it “historic”. I don’t think that allowing the song to win was a bad decision, I just think it was undeniably political, and that isn’t necessarily bad. It only becomes bad when it becomes a double standard.
In 2023, Ukraine’s correspondent announced the win from a bomb shelter. In times of war, ‘business as usual’ just isn’t possible. Institutions have to take a stand for what they think is right, and lean in support of one or the other. For the same reason, Ukrainian tennis women face controversy when refusing to shake Belarusian or Russian players’ hands, even though, in my opinion, that is perfectly valid.
These are trying times, and sitting on the fence isn’t an option anymore. Being ‘political’ shouldn’t be a condemning label in a contest of this magnitude. It can be a force for good. Let’s stop shying away from it.