WORLD

Oh Lordi, it’s so political

Eurovision isn’t about music, it’s about national pride and old feuds

MICHAEL PETROU June 5 2006
WORLD

Oh Lordi, it’s so political

Eurovision isn’t about music, it’s about national pride and old feuds

MICHAEL PETROU June 5 2006

Oh Lordi, it’s so political

WORLD

Eurovision isn’t about music, it’s about national pride and old feuds

MICHAEL PETROU

Karl von Clausewitz once described war as the “continuation of politics by other means,” but he might as well have been talking about the Eurovision Song Contest. Every year, upwards of 100 million Europeans watch the annual international talent show that pits singers from across Europe against each other in a festival of kitsch and cleavage. Voters in each European country phone in to rank their top 10 choices, and points are distributed accordingly. This means that all Europeans can see how neighbouring countries judged their own entries.

It’s not about the music—the 51-year-old song contest hasn’t produced a truly memorable hit since ABBA triumphed in 1974 with Waterloo, and most entries are complete rubbish. This year featured singing monsters, some sort of robot puppet, and a Spanish band named Ketchup, which prompted the BBC’s sardonic commentator Sir Terry Wogan to note: “Spain lost the plot years ago.” Rather, it is all about national pride, regional alliances and old feuds. Cyprus and Greece can be counted on to give full marks to each other, and Russia relies on its former Soviet partners Ukraine and Belarus to remember their old ties. Most countries align themselves in regional voting blocs—the Scandinavians stick together in the powerful “Viking bloc,” as do the Baltic states and Balkan countries.

Some countries with few regional allies can slip through and do well. No one minds voting for plucky Norway, for example. But Europe’s powerful states, especially France and Britain, which are united only by their

mutual contempt, are typically locked out. In 2003, Britain failed to receive a single vote— a result that was widely seen as reflecting Europe’s anger over the Iraq war. It left many in Britain wondering why their government was so intent on forging closer political ties to a continent that clearly hated their guts. “They’re just jealous,” one Briton snorted. “I couldn’t care less.”

In truth, the contest is taken much more seriously in eastern Europe and in countries new to—or eager to join—the European Union, where participation in the song contest is seen not only as a key to bragging rights, but also as proof of democratic bona fides and membership in the European cultural community. “It’s pretty close [in importance] to the European Cup,” Dimitar Bechev, a Bulgarian, said at a spirited Eurovision party held in England. Turkey, for example, is far too desperate to be accepted into Europe to enter with a song featuring the immodest lyrics, “We are the winners of Eurovision,” which is exactly what Lithuania did. (It finished sixth.)

On the outskirts of Europe, regional conflicts feature heavily. The Armenian entry provoked wrath from neighbouring Azerbaijan because the singer listed his place of birth as the “republic of Nagorno-Karabakh”—a contested region over which tens of thousands have died and a million more have been displaced. Then, an Armenian member of parliament complained that the song wasn’t Armenian enough because it contained Turkish words.

In the end, however, all of Europe was seduced by gargoyles from Finland during the contest final on May 20: Lordi, a heavy metal band in monster uniforms, who flicked their tongues, rolled their red eyes, growled and set off fireworks on stage. “There’s not enough silliness in the world,” Sir Terry once said. “Eurovision helps to keep it balanced.” M