by Zenia Duell
For the first time since its conception in 1956, Eurovision has been cancelled. 2020 will not be bringing any awkward accented presenters, chicken dances, or cutting commentary from Graham Norton. Perhaps now is the best time to reflect on everything that Eurovision has graced our screens with in the last 64 years. In one respect, Eurovision is a wonderful expression of European solidarity, using the power of creativity as a unifying force for reconciliation. This musical hug extends far beyond the borders of the EU – of the 41 countries participating in Eurovision, only twenty-four are in the EU.
Eurovision was originally a telecommunications initiative, rather than a political one. It was the brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which represents countries located within the European Broadcasting Area (EBA) – an area extending from Greenwich to the northern part of Saudi Arabia, spanning the entire Mediterranean basin. Membership to the EBU makes countries eligible for participation in Eurovision, thus Israel, Turkey and even Morocco have competed. Perhaps, then, another way to look at Eurovision is to view it as a statement of ‘Western values’ such as pluralism, diversity, and progressive union. This is certainly reflected in Eurovision’s slogans of the last few years: ‘celebrate diversity’, ‘building bridges’, ‘we are one’. This would explain the participation of countries like Israel and Turkey: Israel has been described as a ‘Western stronghold’ in the Middle East due to its firm alliance with the US, while Turkey has only recently stopped knocking at the EU’s door. In 2015, Australia was invited to participate – despite most definitely being outside the EBA, it was deemed to share those common ‘Western’ values, since its colonised history gave it more in common with the United Kingdom than with its geographical neighbours.
But as Eurovision continues to expand its horizons, it seems to be experiencing a bad case of mission creep and the musical celebration has started to become hijacked by political agendas. This is reflected in the financial clout of the so-called ‘Big Five’ (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) who, because of the amount of money they contribute to the competition, are guaranteed a place in the contest’s final regardless of the quality of their entries. Perhaps not coincidentally, these countries are also the five largest EU budget contributors of the past decade. Once again, art reflects politics: the alleged ‘diversity’ and ‘unity’ so heavily promoted in Eurovision’s slogans appear to be just a veneer, lacquering over the reality of European financial inequality. Turkey objected to the ‘Big Five’ rule so strongly that they withdrew from the competition completely, and set up their own rival song contest: Turkvisyon. Although it only ran for three years, this alternative contest coincided with Turkey’s decision to shelve its effort to join the EU. Both these actions were a clear manifestation of Turkey’s new foreign policy, as Turkey turns its head from the West to fix its gaze on the East.
The ongoing tension between Europe and Russia has also found a platform on Eurovision. When the cross-dressing Austrian singer Conchita Wurst won Eurovision in 2014 with her seismic ballad ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, Russian officials proposed an alternative ‘straight’ Eurovision (though this never came to fruition). In 2016, Russia expressed further outrage when Ukraine won with their entry ‘1944’, which commemorated the deportation of the Crimean Tartars during the titular year, and doubled as a thinly veiled critique of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
And then there’s the fraught political voting. This incredible infographic illustrates how each of the Eurovision voting ‘blocs’, roughly organised geographically into Northern, Eastern, Southern and Iberian, exchange votes. Only four countries have ‘broken rank’ and have, on average, awarded the most votes to another country outside their voting bloc. One study notes that these blocs may have formed due to similar cultural traits that result in homogenous music tastes – although another study points out that loyal bloc voting also correlates to countries with less impartial political institutions. Countries with impartial governments tend to vote more meritocratically. The infographic also demonstrates that eight countries share ‘special relationships’ – consistently awarding each other the most points in Eurovision. Notably, Cyprus regularly awards their douze points to Greece, and Greece responds in kind. Enosis, the desired political union of Greece and Cyprus so famously (and destructively) advocated by Bishop Makarios III may still be a political pipe dream, but it is a Eurovision reality.
In 2008, MP Sir David Amess tabled a motion in the Houses of Parliament for Britain to leave Eurovision on the basis that it was ‘more about politics than about talent’. However, I for one would much prefer political wars to be waged by sequinned singers than with fraught rhetoric, political fragmentation and economic disengagement. The latent political subtext of Eurovision can be seen as a healthy pressure valve, a cathartic performance which relieves global political tensions and should therefore be embraced. As the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei once said, ‘everything is art; everything is politics’. This, to me, is why Eurovision is everything.
UK Government. “EU-EEA”. Accessed 17th March 2020. https://www.gov.uk/eu-eea
 Russell, “Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Russell) to the Secretary of State”, in Glennon, John P. (ed). Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers. (1955 – 1957, Vol XVI), pp. 136-138.
 Ersen, Emre and Seckin Kostem. “Introduction: Understanding the dynamics of Turkey’s pivot to Eurasia”, in Turkey’s Pivot to Eurasia: Geopolitics and Foreign Policy in a Changing World Order, ed. Emre Ersen and Seckin Kostem, (Routledge 2019), pp. 2-4.
 Stockemer, Daniel, Andre Blais, Filip Kostelka and Chris Chhim. “Voting in the Eurovision Song Contest”, Politics, (2018), Vol. 38 (4), p. 432.
 Charron, Nicholas. “Impartiality, friendship-networks and voting behaviour: Evidence from voting patterns in the Eurovision Song Contest”, Social Networks 35 (2013), p. 495.
Zenia is a documentary producer and part-time MA student in Strategic Communications. Outside of the office or the library, Zenia enjoys reading about ancient history, doing burpees and trying out new recipes.