Nowadays, any international event is influenced by politics in some way. This includes not only sporting events, such as the Olympic Games or World Championships in various sports where political disagreements or interferences can lead to all sorts of incidents (disrespect for athletes of other teams, biased refereeing), but also entertainment shows. Eurovision, being the place where a large number of representatives from different countries gather, is included in this politicized list.
Eurovision is an international annual song contest held among the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. Each country wishing to participate can send an entry with a song to the EBU. The song and the performer correspondingly are selected either by the broadcasters of the states, or by conducting a national selection (Melodifestivalen in Sweden, Festivali i Këngës in Albania and so on).
As of 2022, the contest consists of two semi-final rounds and one final round broadcasted live. Voting for songs is done by summing up the votes of professional juries from each participating country and the votes of viewers. “The country that scored the most points in the final becomes the winner of the competition and gets the right to organize it on its territory next year” .
Back in the early 1950s, Marcel Bezençon, Director-General of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation at the time, proposed creating a spectacular show that would help unite European countries after World War II. “The EBU supported his idea in 1955, and the following year, the world witnessed the first-ever edition of the Eurovision Song Contest” .
Over time, the contest started to grow, with more and more countries wanting to participate. In 1973, Israel took part in the contest – this was the first time that a non-European country took part in Eurovision.
In 1993, Estonia became the first post-Soviet country to participate in the contest, and the following year, Russian singer Youddiph took part in Eurovision. Now any EBU member can enter the competition, regardless of their location on the map. Hence, “in 2022, the aforementioned Israel, Cyprus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Australia participated in the contest, which either have insignificant territories in Europe or are not located there at all” .
The EBU has publicly stated that Eurovision is not a political contest, and that the broadcasters of the countries are responsible for keeping the contest as such. “In addition, participating countries should always respect the values of the EBU and Eurovision, as well as take all steps to protect the integrity of the show” . Despite this, it is obvious that the presence of politics in such a large-scale interstate event will be inevitable. The number of politically motivated incidents that have actually occurred on the show is daunting. All these incidents can be divided into separate categories, such as political (controversial) songs, hostile and aggressive actions of the participants / audience, suspicious voting, etc. For clarity, we decide to look into them thoroughly.
One of the main problematic aspects of Eurovision is political songs or songs on controversial topics. Usually, the purpose of these musical pieces is to raise awareness of different problems in the countries. The degree of politicization of Eurovision entries varies: there are compositions where the theme is completely unsuitable for any political appeals; in turn, there are songs where politics is the main element. The presence of politics in most cases directly affects how the song will show itself during the voting process. For many, the deep meaning in the song is the key to a successful performance at the contest; for others, the instrumental and vocal component are more important.
Songs with political subtexts are present at every Eurovision Song Contest, even as far back as 1956. The first German representative at the competition was Walter Andreas Schwartz, who survived the Holocaust as a German Jew. His song told about the unwillingness of many Germans to accept their past associated with Nazism and World War II, as well as the desire to forget about all the terrible events these Germans were involved in. His rating position is unknown, but it was learned through word-of-mouth that he was the second
The political trend continued in 1967, when Minouche Barelli performed with the song “Boum Badaboum”. Despite the odd lyrics and a rather weak accompaniment, the representative from Monaco was able to come fifth in the final. In the song, Minouche expressed her thoughts about the fear of a nuclear war, which was caused by the confrontation of the Soviet Union and the USA: Minouche said she wanted to live a long, happy life before a nuclear bomb fell on her.
In 1990 and 1991, numerous songs were dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Austrians, Germans, Italians and Norwegians sang about the unification of Western and Eastern Europe. Changes on the continent have also affected the inclusive component of the competition.
In 1998, Dana International, being a transgender, represented Israel. “During the show, various religious figures and right-wing politicians repeatedly humiliated Dana both in her country and abroad. Nevertheless, she managed to win the contest” .
A similar situation happened in 2014, when the Austrian representative Tom Neuwirth, or rather, his female alter ego Conchita Wurst, won the contest. Conservative politicians in Russia, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary criticized Austria’s victory, calling it a sign of the decline and degradation of Europe, propaganda of cultural aggression and accusing Eurovision for blurring the boundaries between man and woman.
It is necessary to mention the Ukrainian entry in 2005. Back then, rallies and strikes, regarding the past presidential election, swept the country. In history, this period became known as the Orange Revolution. The unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution was the song “Razom Nas Bahato” (“Together we are many”), which became the country’s Eurovision entry that year. Due to the Eurovision rules, most of the lyrics had to be redone, but the fact that the song is backed up by politics is obvious.
In 2009, the contest came to Moscow. Georgia, which had a military conflict with Russia a year earlier, nevertheless decided to take part. Stephane & 3G, a group that should have represented the country, made a song titled “We Don’t Wanna Put In”, which had some heavy references towards Vladimir Putin. EBU demanded to change the lyrics of the song, but there was no response from Georgia, and as a result, the country refused to participate in the contest that year
Belarus’ last Eurovision entry was the song “I’ll Teach You” by Galasy ZMesta, selected by Belteleradiocompany (BTRC) without holding a national selection. At that time, the country was gripped by protests regarding the suspicion of fake elections, which may have led to the selection of a representative that was not against the current government. The song, in which singers “taught to dance to the tune”, “to toe the line” and “to bite the bait”, was scolded by many fans of the contest for political overtones. EBU demanded either to change the lyrics of the song, or to replace the song entirely. BTRC later announced a “Song about a Hare”, which was subsequently disqualified for the same reason. Thus, Belarus did not enter the competition in 2021, and later withdrew from the EBU altogether.
The most important part of Eurovision is voting. As mentioned earlier, the points of each country are made up of the votes of the professional jury and the votes of the viewers. This makes it easier to eliminate some bias or injustice during the voting process; however, but no more than that.
As practice has shown, individual countries regularly give each other big amounts of points. This concerns not only the jury, consisting of several people, but also the viewers. Adam Price, an analyst, conducted a study where he collected all the points from the contests in the period from 2014 to 2019. It turned out that all participating countries are divided into so-called blocks, within which the frequency of points transferring to neighboring countries increases remarkably. Hence, the term that is popular in the Eurovision community – block voting. According to the results of the study, the Balkans became the most “solidary” block: for example, Greece and Cyprus share points so often that viewers chant “Greece” or “Cyprus” in advance, because they know where the points will go. They are followed by Eastern Europe, where the Baltic countries (and Russia , Belarus, and Ukraine in the past) “help” each other.
“Scandinavia and Australia are allocated to a separate block, as well as Western Europe and Iberia (Spain and Portugal) with Germany, where “international relations” are less visible” . Comparing with the results of this year’s contest, the data roughly adds up: Moldova received 12 points from the viewers of Serbia and Romania, Norway received 10 points from the viewers of Australia, Iceland and Sweden, Spain received 12 points from the jury of Portugal, etc. This information only confirms the hypothesis of block voting.
The hosts of the Eurovision Song Contest are always trying to oppress any signs of hostility (racial, religious, national, etc.). This is noted on the contest’s website, as well as on its YouTube channel. Despite this, various incidents involving the audience or the performers have happened in the past.
The Eurovision stage is constantly guarded; however, this did not prevent some agile viewers from intruding.
In 2010, Jimmy Jump, a prankster that was already known for his illegal infiltrations at other major events, disrupted the Spanish performance. In 2017, during Jamala’s performance, Vitaly Sedyuk climbed on stage and took his pants and underwear off, for which he received a fine of 8,500 hryvnias.
The most dangerous case, however, happened in 2018. During the performance of SuRie, a British representative, a man ran onto the stage, took the microphone from her and shouted in French: “Nazis of the British media, we demand freedom!”, after which he was neutralized by the guards. SuRie finished her performance with dignity and received loud applause. The singer was given the opportunity to perform again, but she refused, saying that the performance turned out fine. The violator turned out to be Dr ACactivism, a popular activist, who had previously committed similar antics on local shows.
Not only viewers are involved in controversial moments on the show. For example, in 2016, Iveta Mukuchyan (the representative of Armenia) unfolded the flag of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic at the show. According to the rules of the EBU, the only flags that are allowed at the show are flags of countries that are recognized by the UN. Because of this, organizers criticized the actions of Mukuchyan. The official representative of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Hikmet Hajiyev, called the actions of the Armenian representative provocative and unacceptable, stating that “the Armenian side deliberately resorts to such steps in order to promote and propagandize the illegal education created in the occupied Azerbaijani territories” .
In 2019, when the contest was held in Israel, various orthodox Jewish groups petitioned the state not to hold the contest on Saturday – on this day, which is called Shabbat, Jews refrain from any work. However, these requests were rejected. Additionally, many people had a negative attitude towards Eurovision because of the Israeli policy towards partially recognized Palestine. Others, on the contrary, stated that no cultural boycott would lead to an improvement of the situation in the region.
Madonna, who was invited to Eurovision, stood out particularly: at her performance, dancers with flags of Israel and Palestine on their clothes jointed hands. The most notable, however, was the case of the Icelandic group Hatari, which raised Palestinian flags during the voting sequence. For this incident, the Icelandic broadcaster had to pay a fine of 5 thousand euros.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the removal of Russia from the competition. In 2022, after the military actions in Ukraine have started, the EBU decided to exclude Channel One and The Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) from the union, explaining that these broadcasters were “a mouthpiece of the Russian government for the dissemination of political propaganda”. Initially, Russia was allowed to participate, according to the formal rules of the competition, but on February 25, the EBU announced that Russia was banned from entering the contest, as it would “bring the competition into disrepute” .
As it turned out, the political component of Eurovision has been major since the foundation of the contest. The political influence on the contest intensified along with the historical events taking place and was expressed in songs, statements and during the voting process. With all that in mind, let us proceed to the analysis of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2022. Were politics a big part of the event?
In 2022, the contest was under attack due to the deterioration of the political situation in Europe. The hosts had a task to preserve the neutral nature of Eurovision and reduce the politicization of the contest to a minimum. The problems already began in mid-February, when after the national selection in Ukraine, the winner Alina Pash was suspended from participating in the competition due to illegal border crossing. At Eurovision, the country was represented by the group Kalush Orchestra, which eventually won the contest with the song “Stefania”, setting a record in the audience vote with 439 points (out of 468 available points). Many viewers have criticized the final part of the performance, where Oleg Psyuk, one of the members of the group, asked to “help the Ukrainian Mariupol” and those people who were at the Azovstal plant at the time. According to the rules, the group should have been disqualified, since political remarks are prohibited at the contest, but the EBU considered this statement humanitarian rather than political. This caused a wave of negative reaction among viewers who accused the EBU of being biased. Currently, the YouTube video of this performance sits at 307 thousand dislikes (opposed to 473 thousand likes).
Some countries also resorted to the political coloring of their songs, albeit not so obvious.
For example, the Moldavian song “Trenulețul” (“Little Train”), made by Zdob şi Zdub & Advahov Brothers, is remembered by many for being simple and fun. In the official music video, the singers travel by train from Chisinau to Bucharest, simultaneously playing folk instruments and performing folk dances. The hidden idea of the song is the desire of many Moldovans to join Romania forming a single state. It also traces Moldova’s desire to move away from the old, corruption-soaked and Soviet past of Chisinau and reach a new, free and European Bucharest. The song was not appreciated by the professional jury, but the viewers were delighted giving Moldova 239 points. Thus, the country became the second in terms of audience voting after Ukraine and the seventh overall.
Many people considered Serbia’s performance to be the most unusual performance of this year’s Eurovision. Konstrakta, the country’s representative, performed the avant-garde song “In Corpore Sano” (“In a healthy body”) – the first composition in the history of the competition that contains Latin lyrics. Many perceived her song as satire, irony or a full-fledged criticism of the Serbian health care system (translated from Serbian: “God, give me health, because I do not have health insurance!”), beauty standards, and fashion trends. It is indicated by the opening lines of the song (translated from Serbian):
“What is the secret of Meghan Markle’s healthy hair?
What is the secret?
I think it is all about deep hydration.
They say that our skin and hair show it all”.
Throughout the performance, she was washing her hands and toweling them, showing people’s obsession with physical health due to the COVID-19 pandemic and inattention to their mental health. This is indicated by the final lines of the song (translated from Latin and Serbian):
“A sick mind in a healthy body,
A sad soul in a healthy body,
A desperate mind in a healthy body,
A frightened mind in a healthy body –
Now what shall we do?”
In the end, Serbia placed fifth in the overall standings, receiving a mediocre score from the jury and a high score from the viewers.
Finally, Latvia had an extraordinary performance. The group Citi Zēni performed the song “Eat Your Salad”, encouraging listeners to adopt a more ecological lifestyle: for example, by giving up cars at the expense of bicycles, using reusable bags or glass jars for storing food, etc. The song declares the “sexuality” of the vegetarian lifestyle from the very first line, which probably caused its sharp rise in popularity: “Instead of meat, I eat veggies and [obscenity]”. However, this did not help the Latvian performers to advance to final.
The political intensity of Eurovision 2022 was visible not only in the songs. A few days before the start of the first semi-final, the representative of Northern Macedonia, Andrea, threw aside the national flag of the country during the opening ceremony in order to take a photo. The broadcaster of North Macedonia, MRT, considered her actions an outrage against the state symbol and even intended to remove her from the contest. The next day, Andrea publicly apologized for the incident.
After summing up the voting results, broadcasters in some countries accused the EBU of changing the assessments of professional juries. In a statement, the EBU claimed that “voting irregularities” were found in six participating countries, i.e. someone manipulated the votes of the jury members. “According to the rules, in case of the detection of this discrepancy, the EBU has a right not to accept the results of the jury vote and calculate the result independently based on the voting of other countries with similar results of performances. The EBU specifically mentioned that this method was recognized by an independent auditor who oversaw the vote count” . The broadcasters of Montenegro, San Marino, and Romania, who came under suspicion, denied their involvement in the incident. The latter even threatened to leave the contest; however, the EBU later retracted the accusations.
Overall, the hosts of Eurovision 2022 relatively managed to preserve the non-political integrity of the contest. There were no extremely politically tinged songs, apart from the Ukrainian artists, and the only serious incidents included a flag mishap and voting irregularities.
Thus, the politicization of Eurovision remains a serious problem both for the European Broadcasting Union and for the whole of Europe. There are few events that allow the whole continent to unite in culture and creativity, so it is extremely necessary to fight against manifestations of political interference.
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