The politics of the Eurovision Song Contest are, as a rule, reassuringly simple: countries with shared cultures, languages or borders, or a combination thereof, can generally be relied on to support each other. So the Greeks vote for Cyprus and the Cypriots vote for Greece; all the Scandinavians vote for each other, as do the Balts, as do Austria and Germany… and Russia and Ukraine.
It is a pattern that seems to transcend historical differences including war, genocide and economic catastrophe. For instance, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been reliable co-supporters for years; in 2009 Greece came a creditable seventh despite being widely blamed across the continent as the feckless idlers responsible for the eurozone’s woes; and in 2011, just as the Germans were being vilified for their insistence on hairshirt austerity – with frequent references to the Nazis – they managed a reasonable tenth. At Eurovision, it appears, ancient grudges that have started fights in bierkellers and tavernas from Hamburg to Trieste are generally submerged in a welter of kitsch and predictably awful key changes. When in 2009 Georgia, still smarting from its defeat at Russian hands in South Ossetia, tried to enter a song entitled “We’re Not Gonna Put In” (geddit?), the Eurovision organisers rejected it as too political. Read more
It’s a competition with some questionable talent, scorned for its lack of taste, and yet the Eurovision Song Contest has an audience of 125m and brings pundits out in force to discuss what it says about the state of Europe today. With this year’s final coming up this Saturday in Malmö, Sweden, we give you the best pieces on how it works and why Europeans care, so that you can mingle with confidence at Eurovision parties.
Did we mention it is seen as a proxy for the political situation in Europe? The FT’s Gideon Rachman wrote in 2008: “With both Eurovision and the EU, expansion has had a similar effect – west Europeans complain that they no longer recognise a club that they founded, and that they continue to fund.”
In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.
Courtney Weaver, a correspondent for the FT in Moscow, visited Azerbaijan ahead of the Eurovision song contest – the final of which is being held in the country’s capital, Baku, on Saturday.
Why now? The fact that Azerbaijan is hosting Eurovision this year has shone a light on the Caspian country of 9 million people – and in particular, its human rights record. The event itself is typically a festival of kitsch in which contestants from 41 European countries, clad in sequins and tights, sing their hearts out for their nation. Azerbaijan has embraced the contest as a chance to shape the West’s opinion of the country and what defines it. Read more
with Gideon Rachman
About this blog
Commentary on international affairs, with Gideon Rachman and his colleagues
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Gideon became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. He also edited The Economist’s business and Asia sections.
His particular interests include American foreign policy, the European Union and globalisation