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Eurovision: Art and Protest

The Eurovision Song Contest is known as an event that merges music and culture. Its purpose is to bring together artists from different countries to offer a musical feast and promote cultural interaction. However, the history of the contest has always included political controversies and manipulations, including this year.

Especially during the Cold War, some countries manipulated the voting process to reflect their political alliances and animosities. Contestants delivered political and social messages through their performances.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest, although held annually, wasn’t on many people’s radar until it took place in Sweden. However, it has been the site of many controversial events. Particularly during the Cold War, the political tensions between the Eastern and Western blocs were evident in the voting process. Some countries supported others that were their allies, leading to political manipulations.

In 1980, Israel hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem led to a boycott by many Arab countries and Turkey. Turkey withdrew from the competition despite having selected the song “Seviyorum” by Maria Rita Epik & 21. Peron through a public vote. These boycotts clearly showed the impact of regional political tensions on the contest.

Turkey first participated in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1975 with the song “Seninle Bir Dakika” by Semiha Yankı. However, in 2013, Turkey withdrew from the contest in Malmö, citing changes in the rules and political voting as reasons.

Turkey’s firm diplomatic stance on issues like the Palestinian cause and Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital was noticeable. This aligned with the policies of Arab countries generally supporting Palestine and having tense relations with Israel.

In 1998, a major technical malfunction occurred at the contest in Birmingham, causing the first semi-final to be canceled on television. This incident remains one of the rare and memorable moments in Eurovision history.

After the Russia-Georgia War, Georgia’s participation and reference to Russia in their performance caused significant tension. Russia’s reaction led to the interruption of Georgia’s performance during the 2008 contest, and the controversies never ceased.

Russia was disqualified from the contest following its invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine, winning the 2022 contest despite the invasion, highlights how complex voting rules since the inception of Eurovision have always been susceptible to manipulation. Votes often revolve around political tensions.

“Rain falls from my eyes,

My heart is sad, looking to the sky,

I wander these foreign streets,

Tracking your name,

When I look back, are you there?”

Portugal’s Eurovision history includes a remarkable story from 1974, when Paulo de Carvalho’s song “E Depois Do Adeus” (And after the goodbye) was seen as a signal for the country’s transition to democracy. This song rose as a voice for the freedom of Portugal’s former colonial regions like Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and East Timor.

That same year, the legendary Swedish group Abba won Eurovision with their song “Waterloo.” Abba’s victory propelled them to become one of the most iconic music groups in history and garnered them worldwide fame. Few Eurovision contestants have achieved the global success that Abba did.

Since 1973, members of the European Broadcasting Union have been accepted regardless of their geographical location. However, controversies have never been absent. In 2019, Ukraine withdrew from the contest after candidates refused to participate in Russia. Ten years prior, Georgia’s song “I don’t wanna put in,” referencing Russian leader Vladimir Putin and potentially seen as derogatory, was not allowed in the contest.

In the lead-up to this year’s contest, artists from Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden called for the suspension of Israel’s participation in the contest due to the devastating impact of the war in Gaza on civilians. Some cited the disqualification of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine as a precedent. However, organizers rejected these requests, stating that the situations in Ukraine and Gaza were different.

Israeli artist Eden Golan was protected by armed guards funded by Israel’s internal security and intelligence agency Shin Bet during her stay in Malmö for the contest. She was not allowed to communicate with other artists. Golan, known as a popular singer in Russia, performed on stage for Russian soldiers in Crimea.

During the week of the contest in Malmö, demonstrations supporting Palestine were held. Among the contestants, there were those opposed to Israel; however, some faced threats backstage. Dutch singer Joost Klein was disqualified due to threats, and Irish singer Bambie Thug was warned about messages on her clothing.

Irish singer Bambie Thug stated that they were told to remove political symbols from their costumes before the semi-final performance. The costumes originally included Ogham symbols, an ancient Celtic script, which were interpreted to mean “ceasefire” and “freedom for Palestine.” Bambie expressed, “This was important to me because I am an advocate for justice and peace, but today I had to change these messages… an instruction from EBU.”

The Eurovision Song Contest, until now, has often been regarded not just as a musical competition but as an event with seemingly trivial lyrics. However, this year, French contestant Slimane emphasized that Eurovision should not only unite through music but also spread messages of peace and love.

In music history, music has always been a voice for challenges, disappointments, rebellions, and revolutions. Although it is claimed that Eurovision was not designed to serve such a purpose, it’s evident that such messages have been shared with the public during the contest. The recent event in Malmö became noteworthy not only for its music but also for the various graffiti commemorating traces of genocide around the world.

Like every year, the Eurovision Song Contest has transcended being merely an event filled with music and entertainment to become a platform for political discussions and conflicts. This year’s contest was no exception, and numerous protests and activism actions also took place. These actions highlighted that the contest is part of a larger political and social discussion.

It remains uncertain whether next year’s Eurovision Song Contest will contain more political messages, but the potential for new tensions is evident. Hopefully, the contest will continue to highlight the unifying power of music and provide viewers with colorful and unforgettable moments.

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs. He serves as the Foreign Relations Director of the International Journalists Association e.V. and holds the position of Editor-in-Chief at Journalist Post.

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