Editorial: How can we address political tensions in Eurovision today?

Editorial: How can we address political tensions in Eurovision today?

As we head towards the end of the year, we tend to reflect on the big things that took place in the previous one. For myself, it’s the fact I obtained a masters’ degree in journalism. I’m sure you will have your own moments, be they good or bad.

In a Eurovision context, there are of course two big events that dominated Eurofans’ lives in 2021 – both the adult and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. In May, we all held our breaths in between the debates and skirmishes while we found out who would win this year’s adult Contest. We did the same in December, when we cheered all 19 nations on and watched as Armenia took its second victory in Junior Eurovision.

Well…most of us…

Eurovision as an instrument of soft power

Before we go any further, it’s important to recognize that the Eurovision Song Contest is used as a political instrument. This might spark debate among Eurofans, but politics is not entirely what we see on television. Politics is not always two parties arguing over policy decisions in cryptic languages; politics can be sewn into settings in the most subtle of ways.

Eurovision has played host to overtly political entries – often seen as elements of ‘hard power’, where countries deliberately try to aggravate political tensions. One of the clearest examples of this is Greece’s entry in 1976 – Mariza Koch’s “Panagia Mou, Panagia Mou”. Talking about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus two years prior, the song’s inclusion in the Contest prompted Turkey’s withdrawal that year.

From hard to soft

In addition to the so-called ‘hard power’ entries, there are also entries that try to manipulate others through persuasion. These are ‘soft power’ songs and often indirectly reference political events without overtly naming them.

The most popular song to targeted with this label is Jamala’s winning “1944”. However, I would argue that despite the inspiration from the 2014 Ukrainian war, the events directly speak about 1944 and represent a retelling of history through Jamala’s great-grandmother Nazylkhan.

Instead, I would point people towards Georgia’s disqualified entry from 2009 – Stephane and 3G’s “We Don’t Wanna Put In”. Chosen in the aftermath of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, Georgia’s entry was found to be too political, enunciating the final two words of the title to sound like the Russian Prime Minister at the time – Vladimir Putin. After refusing to change the lyrics, arguing there was no political intent whatsoever, the song was removed from the Contest. Georgia was thus forced to withdraw.

As the Contest has gone on and rules have changed, the quality of entries has had to adapt. The days of “Panagia Mou, Panagia Mou” are gone, and the era of “We Don’t Wanna Put In” and the subtle use of politics is in.

Case-in-point: Armenia and Azerbaijan

I now want to bring in the two offenders which inspired this editorial – the two Caucasian nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two countries, despite being neighbours, have one of the most bitter histories in modern history.

Following Azerbaijan’s debut in Eurovision in 2008, sporadic skirmishes have happened as the two countries try to co-exist with each other. 2009 saw conflict over Armenia’s postcard, which had included the ‘We Are Our Mountains’ monument in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan.

In another incident, with Azerbaijan preparing to host the Contest in Baku in 2012, officials could not guarantee the safety of Armenia’s delegation. As a result, Armenia, who had provisionally confirmed participation, promptly withdrew – incurring a fine from the EBU.

The most recent spat between the two nations off the Eurovision stage resulted in the withdrawal of Armenia from both the Junior Eurovision 2020 and the adult Eurovision in 2021. However, AMPTV’s return to the Junior Contest demonstrates the use of soft power – even in a children’s contest.

The Junior issue

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan returned to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, held in Paris. After a fantastic show with 19 participants, Armenia emerged victorious – with Maléna’s ‘Qami Qami’ scoring 224 points. This was Armenia’s second victory in the Contest, with the first happening 11 years prior.

For most people, Armenia’s win would have sufficed their need for Junior Eurovision content. However, in the wake of the show, footage emerged from Azerbaijan’s broadcast of the show. In the clip, Azerbaijani commentators were clearly speaking over Armenia’s performance and only stopped when the music stopped. The video is included below:

In contrast, Armenia’s commentators remained silent during Azerbaijan’s performance in order to adhere to the EBU’s rules regarding fairness.

Once the footage emerged, there were calls for Azerbaijan to be disqualified and suspended from future Eurovision events. Many argued that the broadcaster – İctimai TV – had broken the rules and deserved to be disqualified.

Reactions from the broadcasters

That Eurovision Site has reached out to both Armenia’s broadcaster AMPTV and Azerbaijan’s broadcaster İctimai Television. The website is waiting for formal statements from both broadcasters about the incident. We will update this article as we receive both statements.

The EBU gave a statement on the matter, saying:

The EBU has been made aware of this matter and are currently seeking clarification from its Azerbaijani Member İctimai TV. The rules of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest insist on the fair, respectful and equal treatment of all artists taking part and we are committed to ensuring they are followed by all those who participate in the event.

European Broadcasting Union

What can we learn from this?

The main take-away from this incident is to realise that political tensions will infiltrate all levels of Eurovision events – even the events for children. All of Azerbaijan’s jurors ranked Armenia within the bottom two, while Armenia’s jurors all ranked Azerbaijan in last place. These shenanigans are what we expect in the adult Contest. But we must accept that the ‘hard powered’ political element will persist within the jury votes.

What can be done, however, is show our influence as fans on the televote. People who believe in the power of politics have the power to change it, and the televote/online vote gives us that chance. We are able to eradicate the so-called “political” nature in the Contest by treating each entrant equally without national prejudice. Despite the political tensions between the two nations, Armenia did award Azerbaijan one point in 2009.

The shake-up in the voting system has helped to facilitate the voting revolution. By setting an example and showing broadcasters that the public is more open-minded, it can in turn affect the diversity of the music scene. Once the scene has shifted to a more international mindset, juries will then be more likely to vote fairly.

Could this be wishful thinking? Potentially, but in the world of Eurovision, you never know!

What do you make of the incident in Junior Eurovision? Do you think Eurovision could reach a point where political tensions are a thing of the past? Will Armenia and Azerbaijan ever resolve their difference in the Eurovision world? As always, let us know what you think by getting in touch in the comments below. And be sure to also follow ‘That Eurovision Site’ on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more Eurovision news!

News Source: That Eurovision Site

Photo Credit: EBU / Andres Putting

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