Monday, April 28, 2014

Eurovision 2014 -- Will Voting Reflect Geopolitics?

The Eurovision Song Contest was created by the war-weary countries of 1950s Europe to unite the world through song... in theory.  Through 58 years, that idealistic dream has held on in the campy, hugely popular tv reality-show competition, even though reality often succumbs to political situations that keep on intruding. In recent years, the addition of many nations of the formerly Communist East, and subsequent bubbling up of old territorial tensions has affected the relations and voting patterns of the 40-odd countries that participate.

In the past, ancient rivalries between Greece and Turkey, Turkey and Armenia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Georgia and Russia has pulled focus from the musical competition, to the point that Georgia had to withdraw in 2009 when it's disco ditty "We Don't Wanna Put In" was seen as a thinly-veiled statement against Russia's Putin. In 2011 Azerbaijan got headlines when it came to light that the government was investigating locals who voted for Armenia's entry, and the next year when the Azeris hosted, Armenia withdrew (as officially at war with Azerbaijan over their common border region, normally Armenians are not even allowed to enter that country).

Last year, when Sweden hosted a successful, scaled-down Contest in Malm√∂, the conflicts were more of an economic variety.  Greece was barely able to participate, and Portugal, Poland, Slovakia and Bosnia were MIA due to lack of funds. The same worries were offered (more as an excuse) this year when Serbia and Turkey withdrew for 2014.

But now, two of the major powerhouse countries of Eurovision are on the world stage for their territorial battles, and the rest of Europe is cautiously lining up to take sides. Ukraine is one of the most successful recent entries to the Eurovision family, having won the contest in 2004, and consistently placing near the top in jury and public televoting since then.  Meanwhile their former protector or oppressor Russia has won the contest in 2007 and placed in the top three five more times since their debut in 1996.  The other former Soviet states have generally supported both nations and contributed greatly to their success.

This year's tension and annexation of the Crimea and areas of Eastern Ukraine by Russia has many countries worried for their own fragile stability.  The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have their own problems with Russian ethnic minorities, and could suffer similar aggression from their giant neighbor.  Georgia is smarting from Russia's incursions in 2008 and 2009.  And many human rights-aware nations of the West are still appalled with Russia's frightening moves to isolate and criminalize its gay population.  This could be reflected in many countries' votes for Russia's entry, the happy, optimistic (some say totally hypocritical) "Shine" by sweet teen sister act, the Tomalchevy Twins.  Many in the Eurovision community are genuinely afraid the Russian entry will face boos from the audience this year.

Meanwhile Ukraine's entry was originally seen as one of its weakest ever, before Mariya Yeremchuk's "Tick Tock" got a makeover into a Rihanna-style current radio pop song.  It now has rocketed up into 4th place with Eurovision bettors, due greatly to the world's sympathy with Ukraine and its Russia trouble.  Can the political situation help them win?

Soon we will have an answer.  In less than two weeks in Copenhagen, the 59th Contest will reach its Grand Final--we will see how much music can overcome politics, and how much the world's political concerns might make that ideal impossible.

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