Eurovision: The White City in the distance

Eurovision is in Belgrade this year. Beo Grad, the white city of Serbia! Where the Danube meets, you know, some other river!

Pretty cool, no? It will be the first Eurovision in the former Yugoslavia. (Yes, there was a Eurovision in Yugoslavia in 1989. But it wasn’t former then. Doesn’t count.)

May 24 — mark your calendars. Right, right, it’s over three months away, but about half the countries have already picked their acts, and the pot drawing (which determines who sings against whom in the semifinals) took place a couple of weeks ago.

It will have the largest number of participants ever: forty-three, up from forty-two last year. (Azerbaijan and San Marino joined. Austria dropped out last month; what’s up with that?) That’s far too many acts to show in one night. So, they’re bringing on a deliriously complicated system with six “pots” of countries (sorted to separate habitual vote-swappers) and two semi-finals, all to winnow the 43 down to “just” 25.

As I noted last year, recent years have seen a spate of first-time winners — every winner since 2001, in fact. And the last seven winners have all come from the eastern half of the continent (Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, Finland and Serbia). This may reflect simple numbers — there are more countries in the east, and they tend more to vote for their neighbors — or it may be that Eurovision is taken more seriously in Eastern Europe. Whatever the reason, it won’t be surprising if this summer finds another former Soviet Republic anxiously calculating the renovation costs of the Palace of Sport and Culture.

One Eastern European entry we won’t see this year, though: Kosovo. The Kosovars will have declared their independence by then, but they still won’t be participating. Much to their annoyance! For years now, the Kosovars have been sending bands and singers down to Albania to compete in the Festivali i Kenges, the Albanian national song contest that’s held every December. Alas, the snotty city slickers down in Tirana have refused to pick a single Kosovar. This year was even worse: although lots of singers talked about Kosovo, no Kosovar finished in the top five.

Which has all right-thinking Kosovars really ticked off. If they united with Albania, would they ever get a Eurovision entry? No! It would go to another perfectly coiffed teenege girl from Tirana! Forget it!

Mm, what else… oh, yes, Serbia. Serbia’s going through some complicated times right now, what with Kosovo about to cut loose and the Kostunica government playing chicken with the EU. Hopefully all this will have resolved by May. Serbia may also be hosting some countries that Serbia has a complicated relationship with, like Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. In my experience, though, Serbian music lovers usually forget nationalism if an act is good. And it’s Eurovision, so all the acts will be good! So everything will be fine!

(Seriously, the Balkan countries like the same sorts of music and tend to vote for each other. Serbia has had some weird experiences with Eurovision in the past — most notably in 2006, when they couldn’t agree on an entry — but I doubt it will be a problem.)

Anyway, Eurovision: it’s coming. Are you ready?