Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ding ding-a-dong: the politics of Eurovision

The final of the 50th Eurovision Song Contest last Saturday in Kiev, Ukraine was the usual mixture of kitsch, karaoke and craziness. But where was the Polish entry?

I had better explain to those of you who don’t live in Europe and have not had the unique privilege and pleasure of ever watching Eurovision, what it actually is.

The competition was founded in 1955 by the European Broadcasting Union – an organization that pools the resources of public broadcasters in Europe when they are covering live sports events and the like. In order to help justify their existence the EBU had the great idea of setting up a song contest where all the member countries could send along a singer or group and compete in an atmosphere of fun and harmony.

That was the theory, anyway. In the early years singers in sensible outfits would sing nice little songs with titles like, Ding ding-a-dong or Boom bang-a-bang.

In the last few years, however, the song has taken a back seat in the contest. Eurovision has mutated into a contest to see who can come up with the most outrageous performances.

For instance, last year the competition was won by Ruslana from the Ukraine. The song was so unmemorable that even an elephant would have trouble recalling it. The performance, though, consisted of a scantily clad singer surrounded by butch looking men banging very large drums.

This year every other performance consisted of a scantily clad singer, or singers, being surrounded by butch looking men (and women) banging very large drums.

The contest has also expanded in size – as the European Union has done – mostly in an easterly direction. This year 39 countries took part, with a semi-final on the Thursday, which eliminated some of the most obvious and hideous crimes against musicality, and then 24 countries took part in the final on Saturday.

The most memorable performance this year was from Moldova – a tiny country between Romania and Ukraine. The song was called Grandma bangs the drum, and the performance consisted of what looked like Iggy Pop and the Stooges being accompanied by their Grandma who was banging a drum. I kid you not. Grandma spent most of her time sitting in a rocking chair, only to emerge, center stage, during the last chorus, where she banged her drum like crazy for Moldova.

Another trend over recent years has been that the voting process has become much more interesting than the songs or the singers.

Europe votes for its favorite via text-message. Geo-political alliances form as a consequence. Scandinavia and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, etc form one voting block and the Balkan countries including Greece form another.

The reason why Poland wasn’t in the final was because it failed to get through the sem-final.

But why?

The song was called Foxy Lady and it was sung by a group called Ivan and Delfin and the singer is the Russian born Ivan Komarenko, who also stars in a very popular soap opera here. The song, such as it was, was no worse than most of the other entries – lots of big drums banging away in the background, etc. But Poland failed to get into the final by just four votes. Poland was four text-messages from the final.

Could this be because Poland lies between the Baltic and the Balkans but is not actually part of either?

Does the nasty world of politics encroach on what is supposed to be a harmless little song contest?

Well, of course it does. And this favoritism is often blatant and shameless.

The contest this year was even more political than normal due to the fact that it was being held in the Ukraine only months after the so-called Orange Revolution. Ukraine’s entry was actually an eastern European rock version of a chant that rang out of Independence Square in Kiev during those heady days last December and January. It was sung by an over weight, middle-aged guy wearing a denim jacket.

But this was too much for the Eurovision text messaging, voting public, who refused on mass to vote for it. Perhaps if Ukraine had included a few scantily clad ladies and a few big drums in their act they might have done better.

The only country to give Ukraine full marks was Poland – a country deeply involved in the Orange Revolution from start to finish.

Half way through the semi-final the time came for the Belarusian entrant to make her mark. Before Angelica Agurbash came on stage you could cut the tension with a plastic spatula. Belarus is a country that is frozen in time. No advertising hoardings color the city of Minsk, which is as drab as it was during the Soviet Union. The country has been described by Condoleezza Rice as being, “the last dictatorship in Europe.” The president of Belarus is Alexander Lukashenko, a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like who seems intent on turning his country into a pariah. Even President Putin seems embarrassed by him.

So would Angelica Agurbash look as drab and as weird as Belarus? Well, no. Not at all. She burst on stage with flaming red hair, dressed in a gold lame cloak – which made her look like a particularly glamorous oven-ready turkey.

But hardly anyone voted for her. Belarus simply has no friends at all.

In the final on Saturday, all eyes were on how Belarus would vote. Of course, they gave top marks to Russia.

The final was eventually won by Greece. I didn’t vote at all. But I did vote in the semi-final on Thursday. In fact, I voted twice, which is apparently allowed in the rules. I voted once for Denmark, because it had the best song, and I voted for Belarus because it has no friends.

But voting twice as I did reminded me of something. And then I remembered. It reminded me of an old style, pre-Orange Revolution, Ukrainian election.


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Man, you really don't have any clue about what you're writing. You're a stereotyped and frozen in time. I wish you had a broader view of the world. Stereotypes are created by people like you.

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