By Lovis Lindquist
The Eurovision Song Contest brings millions of people together from all over the world every year. It’s the biggest, and maybe craziest, music contest in the world. Since its start in 1956 it has undoubtedly presented all kinds of different songs and acts worth remembering. It’s fun. There are many examples of crazy performances during the contest’s long history, the Ukrainian Verka Serduchka’s silver packed performance and the Finnish Lordi’s “Hard Rock Hallelujah” are only two of the most memorable ones. However, Eurovision is not just fun, it’s also highly political. It doesn’t matter where you look, there will probably be some political issue involved in even the most seemingly unpolitical act. This although political texts officially are prohibited.
There have been many controversies during the last few years. One of the biggest ones regards the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. As a consequence of the war on Crimea the relationship between the two countries has been bad to say the least. In 2017 Russia couldn’t participate in the contest because of this. The previous year Ukraine had won with, yes you guessed it, a political song, and thus Ukraine became the host country of Eurovision. Since the participant from Russia, Yulia Samoilova, had visited Crimea and thus violated Ukrainan law, she was banned from entering the country which led to her not being able to participate. Naturally, this led to even more controversy and debate. Some argued that Russia sent Samoilova just to provoke Ukraine. One could ask why they didn’t just send someone not banned from entering Ukraininan territory if they actually wanted to participate. Regardless whether it was a conscious provocation or not, this clearly shows that what is happening in the real world will be reflected in Eurovision.
Another controversy is Armenia’s entry in 2015, a song about the Armenian genocide. Neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan liked this since both countries don’t recognise the genocide, which is a very sensitive subject. However, it doesn’t end there. Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1990’s, a region mostly populated by Armenians that is under Azerbaijani control. In 2009 the Eurovision Song Contest became a battleground for this conflict. Azerbaijani authorities allegedly questioned citizens that voted for Armenia in the contest in the name of national security. This clearly shows that Eurovision is far from just a contest, especially in regions affected by conflict.
As earlier implied there are countless examples of political controversies in Eurovision. Some highlight bad relations between countries and others a disagreement regarding values. One entry that is especially noteworthy when it comes to values is Conchita Wurst’s performance in 2014. Conchita Wurst’s participation and victory might seem uncontroversial to some, after all it is just about a drag queen. However, Vladimir Putin has called Eurovision a “Europe wide gay-parade” and Conchita Wurst received a lot of homophobic hate. I usually don’t agree with Putin but he is correct in the sense that the LGBTQ+ community is a huge part of the contest. It has been for a long time and thus it might seem strange that the subject still creates debate. However, LGBTQ+ issues are political and in this context it highlights the East-West divide within Europe. At large, Eastern Europe is more conservative than the west and thus identity politics, or values, are political in the Eurovision Song Contest.
However, the fact that Eurovision is political is nothing new. Francisco Franco, fascist dictator of Spain 1939-1973 put in a lot of effort in order for Spain to win the contest and thus come closer to the rest of Western Europe, which at this time didn’t quite want to associate with fascist Spain. In 1968 Spain even managed to win the contest. That Franco wanted to “fit in” and make Spain look good is evident when looking at the extravaganza when Spain hosted the contest the following year. This might be the earliest example of how important politics, international relations in particular, is in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Eurovision Song Contest is not just about music. It’s a tool for countries in order to make a point but is also highly affected by political decisions. Politics is important in Eurovision and Eurovision is important in politics. Whether this is good or bad, it’s inevitable. In a contest where many different countries with different values and opinions compete, conflict and thus politics are to be expected. Before the start of the contest Europe’s countries fought with tanks and bombs, now Europe’s countries fight with controversial statements wrapped in disco lights. It might not seem very mature but it’s certainly the better option and to some it might even make the contest even more interesting to watch.
Cover image: Aditya Chinchure
Lovis Lindquist studies her first year at the Bachelor Programme in Peace- and Development studies at Uppsala University. When she is not studying she likes to read, Hjalmar Söderberg and Tim Marshall are two favourites. She also enjoys politics, despite its rather chaotic nature.