The Eurovision Song Contest, a flashy, riotous and at times absurd jamboree, has ceased to be about talent and the enjoyment of friendly competition. Instead, national bias and geopolitical interests have come to dominate the annual event. Ukraine's win last month means that even the debate on the validity of Australia's inclusion has been eclipsed by intra state rivalries.
These new and fierce contentions are among the countries of the ex-Soviet Union, who did not participate in the Eurovision Song Contest until the 1990s. Even when they did join, in the hopeful years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, performers from these countries failed at first to generate the enthusiasm of the voters .It is worth remembering that commercial pop music had a head start of forty years in the West and it took a while for the old Eastern Bloc to catch up. Meanwhile, the mainstream tastes of countries such as the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands had long ago begun to weary of the glamour and pageantry of the annual European contest. Indeed, British participation has become something of a joke to average UK citizens and the whole competition is seen as something to be satirised. Today it is among the 'new' Eastern nations who are most the passionate for Eurovision. Of these, the rivalries between Ukraine, Russia and Azerbaijan have become the most significant.
It was not always like this. When Ruslana won for Ukraine in 2004, her song drew huge support in Russia. Then Russia won in 2007 and hosted a spectacular Eurovision Contest the following year, which was celebrated all across the countries of the Eastern Europe . In fact the balance and flavour of the whole contest was shifted by these two events. For years we had been used to the overtly political voting of Greece and Turkey, but now an even more keen antagonism has arisen within in the context of the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.
1944, Jamala's winning song this year for Ukraine, pulls at the wounds of history. She gave a powerfully simple performance with no extravagant effects and created an atmosphere of tangible and dignified sorrow. 1944 is a song about deportation of the Crimean Tartars by Stalin. This remains a controversial and much contested episode. The song is a stone dropped into the lake of memory and the ripples disturb the sacred sanctity of Great Patriotic Patriotic War. Yet the reasons the song won Eurovision have as much to say about international sympathy for Ukraine's current struggles against Russia as they do about historical events. Voters and the jury seem to have been energised by the plight of Ukraine.
Now, I really do not believe that cultural events, particularly of this type should be clouded by politics. For my part, I liked the Russian entry and also that of Australia, both of which seemed to be in the mainstream of what the public expects from Eurovision - strong, yet mainstream performances.
Naturally the mood in Ukraine, following the Eurovision win was joyous. Yet even some Ukrainians think that the choice of song was divisive. Moreover, many Russians also voted for the song. Likewise, Many Ukrainians also voted for this year's Russian entry. This shows that enthusiasms and loyalties are not so easily defined, even in the context of the present conflict. I believe that the new jury voting system was in part responsible for this year's decision. Ukrainians naturally accept the new system. Russians do not accept it and there has been much talk about sabotage in the Russian media. There are already over three hundred thousand signatures on a petition in Russia calling for the decision to be nullified.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is turning its eyes to its hosting of next year's competition. However, even this is problematic. Ukraine's finance minister announced recently that the country will not be able to afford 40 million dollar price tag for staging Eurovision 2017. The funding will have to come through loan credit/aid, with private parties to contributing for sponsorship. Russia has also declared that unless the security situation improves in Ukraine it will not send performers to Kiev next year.
Sadly, instead of the traditional glitz and glamour, Eurovision 2017, looks set to be riven by the fault lines of conflict that are in danger of fracturing our continent.
By Mahommad Zahoor
Publisher of the Kyiv Post
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