When I was little, the Eurovision Song Contest was an exciting highlight; partly because I was allowed to stay up late, but also because of the nervousness when waiting for the final results of the voting. I remember how happy I was when Sweden (my home country) won in 1999 – I am slightly embarrassed that I still know ‘Take Me to Your Heaven’ by heart.
Maybe it has to do with growing up, maybe the quality of the songs is falling, maybe I’m not buying the patriotic message – but Eurovision Song Contest is not what it once was. What seems to irritate the audience the most however is the neighbour voting. One only needs to look at comments on Youtube videos to realise that many people are annoyed about Azerbaijan winning this year’s competition in Düsseldorf, Germany. ‘This is not a song contest anymore, it is a neighbourhood contest’ is a complaint shared by many. The fact that the musical quality seems to be secondary in the competition, argues for the Eurovision Song Contest being a political phenomenon.
The history of Eurovision Song Contest shows some agreement. Paul Jordan, a PhD student at Glasgow University, argues on the homepage of the Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest, www.escinsight.com, that political events have transcended onto the stage before. For example, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 songs of the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest embraced themes of freedom and unity. In 2003, Cyprus gave 8 points to Turkey, reflecting the improved situation between the Greek and the Turkish parts of the island. Also negative examples of politics have intruded the contest. Azerbaijanis voting for the Armenian song in 2009 were accused of being unpatriotic.
The patriotic theme of the contest is hard to disguise. The division between ‘us’ and ‘the others’ is distinct, especially when it comes to how countries are voting. Let’s face it, eastern European states vote for each other, Scandinavians do the same, and England was happy to give her twelve points to Jedward (the fact that the Irish twelve was not returned is of course unacceptable). To stop the unfair voting a hybrid system was installed in 2010 where 50 per cent of the votes are coming from the national jury and 50 per cent from the population. The fact that the organisers saw the need for change also promotes the fact that the Eurovision Song Contest is about political neighbourhood voting.
Paul Jordan argues, however, that to call the competition a political event is to draw the line too far. To him, the voting is about cultural similarities. Sharing languages and cultures creates a preference for the same type of music, hence people in neighbouring countries vote for each other. Still, diaspora communities seem to play a role in the voting. Both Finland and Israel, for example, have a big Russian diaspora and this was reflected in the high points that were given to the Russian artist this year.
Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest is affected by votes for recognisable tunes. Just as eastern European countries are more inclined to vote for their neighbours, so are we going to continue voting for Ireland (or in my case Denmark and Norway). The neighbour voting is here to stay. Once one can accept that musical talents like Celine Dion and ABBA are no longer to be born from this musical competition, one might even find the contest enjoyable. As long as the UK contributions continue to stay on the top-10 list of course.