Eurovision: Who’s European?

A close family member who shall remain nameless looked at the list of finalists and gasped, “Why, there’s not one real European country on it!”

Ah, I thought that would get your attention.

The full list of finalists is here. Pop it open and take a look.

Top five: Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria. Hmmm.

Next five: Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary, Moldova. Again, hmmm.

Putting aside the “real European” thing, it’s clear that Eurovision is now dominated by countries from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This has been a trend for several years now, but it’s getting stronger. Eurovision’s center of gravity is now somewhere around Bratislava.

To narrow it down: Eurovision is now dominated by countries that are either former Communist (FC) or former Ottoman (FO). FO strikes me as a meaningful category because all these countries are neighbors, share certain musical styles, and tend to vote for each other. The FO category includes Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Bosnia, with the last five being also FC.

Now, we had 24 finalists. Of those, four don’t count. Britain, France, Germany and Spain are guaranteed slots in the final round, because they’re Eurovision’s four biggest financial supporters. And all four of these countries did very poorly… they occupied four of the last six places. In a fair contest, they probably wouldn’t have made it to the final round.

Of the other 20 finalists, 15 were FC and 6 were FO. In fact, once you take out the Big Four, only three finalists — Ireland, Finland and Sweden — were neither FC nor FO. And the winner was both.

Further. It’s hardly news that Eurovision rewards logrolling in voting. But it was more blatant this year than ever before. Serbia won in large part because it got “12”s from every single former Yugoslav Republic. Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro: all gave Serbia the coveted “douze”. The post-Soviet voting cluster was almost as obvious… Russia and Belarus swapped 12s again, and Russia also collected high scores from Armenia, Estonia and Ukraine.

So what does it all mean?

Well, for one thing, it means the West is likely to continue getting locked out of Eurovision. Remember that 10 of the 24 finalist slots are reserved for the top 10 countries from the last year. This means that Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, etc., are guaranteed positions. Another four spots go to the Big Four. This means that Western countries besides the Big Four will be competing for the last ten slots. To reach them, they’ll have to get through a semi-final that’s just as log-rolled as the finals. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that not more than three Western countries — here defined as non-FC, non-FO — will get into those ten slots.

In fairness to the finalists, this isn’t only about logrolling. Eastern Europe just seems to take Eurovision a lot more seriously. This doesn’t mean the acts are better, but it does mean they’re chasing victory with a lot more energy.

In the long run, the “Easternizing” of Eurovision may have consequences. In the old days, every Eurovision member got three minutes in the sun. But in the last few years, so many countries have joined that it’s impossible to show them all. So only 24 make it to the finals. Oh, everyone gets three minutes in the semifinals, but, well. Not exactly the same thing.

So: If Belgium, Switzerland and Norway go for years without reaching the finals, then after a while Belgians, Norwegians and Swiss will start losing interest. Eurovision will become something that Eastern and Balkan Europeans get very excited about, while Western Europeans roll their eyes or look blank. And something meant to bring Europeans together will become something that divides the continent in two.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, as to the Serbian winner. Eurovision is won by showmanship, and the act — while cheesy in the extreme — was good showmanship. It takes a brave artist to dress down, then surround herself with supporting singers who are taller and more, let’s say, conventionally attractive. But she pulled it off; kudos.

Apparently she’s of some sort of mixed ancestry, including Turkish and Roma. I don’t doubt this will be advanced in some quarters as proof of what a tolerant country modern Serbia is. (In other quarters it will be studiously ignored.) And isn’t it wonderful that she sang in Serbian!

But really, this isn’t a time for snark. There was dancing in the streets of Belgrade all Saturday night. And next May Serbia gets to play host to all Europe.

So, congratulations to Ms. Serifovic, and to Serbia. Next year in Belgrade!

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture and tagged , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

6 thoughts on “Eurovision: Who’s European?

  1. As I tried to note in my previous comment, the issue may not be so much neighbourhood voting (though there is plenty of that, there does appear to be a limit to just what a country’s voters are prepared to accept, even from their closest allies, if a song outright hideously sucks even by ESC standards) as it is divergence and lack of interest/effort on the part of the western countries.

    Looking at the past three contests, one finds that in each case, even were the non-FC/FO countries’ votes to have been the only ones counted, no further members of this “bloc” would have entered into the Top-10, let alone placed first (the one exception being Sweden this year, but only barely and as a result of neighbourhood voting from the rest of the Nordics, and an unexpected 7 from the U.K. Indeed, in 2005 it was the efforts of FC/FO countries that seems to have kept Switzerland *in* the top 10). Put simply: countries in western Europe just plain don’t vote for one another a whole lot, they mainly go for the FC/FO entries (and not always the same FC/FO countries as the actual FC/FO ones chose: both this year and the last the overall FC/FO “favorite” would have been Russia, despite respectable levels of support for the winners, and Moldova’s drumming grandmother came a very close second behind Greece the year before that, quite possibly only stopped from winning by a decisively cool interest in her in the non-FC/FO countries).

    Why is this, then? Well, immigrant communities/naturalized citizens/minorities/etc. voting for the “Mother Country” probably play some part (Turkey is the model example, and Armenia seems to be up-and-coming in this regard. One also reckons that it may well have explained an otherwise quite peculiar 12 from Estonia to Russia, given present circumstances… Much as I’d like to think it was an olive branch, it’s more likely to have been a determined nationalist effort) and this of course includes countries in the Balkans (it’s telling that Bosnia-Herzegovina actually seems to have a penchant for doing *better* in the west than among the FC/FO countries…), but I still don’t think that is anywhere near the whole story, since clearly non-FC/FO countries do not just pour points into their local immigrants’ country of origin (Greek ex-pats somehow voting Helena Paparizou to first place may not be *entirerly* impossible, but there is no way in heck that Lordi’s victory last year was the work of the Finnish Diaspora), and sometimes do turn out a decent level of support for one another (often not as divergent from the FC/FO countries support for the same countries as one might have thought).

    Rather, I think a lot comes down to the “wessies”, aside from usually neither trying as hard or with as much inspiration to win, just don’t have the kind of musical overlap/inegration, in terms of tastes and artists, as I hear told is the case in much of the FC/FO area. If so, it shows: this year’s non-FC/FO entires were, stylistically if not as much quality-wise, all over the map, and almost none of them were really known outisde of their home countries (if even there). Whereas much of the FC/FO ones appear to have stuck closer to a smaller number of formulas (Hungary aside, and Hungary was more popular in the non-FC/FO area, those who did diverge, such as the Czech entry, seem to have been punished for it, if indeed justly in that particular case…). To put it another way: the non-FC/FO countries can agree on what they like in the FC/FO countries’ music, but not what (if anything) that they like in their own. Producing entries that would be so “pan-western” (or better yet: pan-European!) in nature seems like a challenge none of them will meet in the short run. Only the Brits really seem to be able to stand a chance of pulling it off, and they ain’t going to be doing it any time soon, given their prickly* relationship with the contest.

    So, in summary, the problem may well be primarily one of perception, but that can definitly be bad enough (certainly, the image of shifty and evil Eastern Europeans huddling together and squeezing out western songs, or western artists/TV producers/blog or message board commentors cussing the FC/FO countries out based on that image won’t be doing any *good* for the case of European unity, unless it is as a resurrection of the Cold War, or possibly the Great Schism…) and indeed, few countries are likely to remain interested in the long run in something they never stand a realsitic prospect of winning anything in, or even get to be let into in the first place (it’s just like with an EU memebership!), so it might just be that the contest has seen its best days (such as they were) already…

    * (as in; behaving like a bunch of pricks about it)

  2. But really, this isn’t a time for snark. There was dancing in the streets of Belgrade all Saturday night. And next May Serbia gets to play host to all Europe.

    Don’t forget the role this Eurovision win could play as a political factor for the good in Serbia (“the good” defined here as open to the world, to Europe and to diversity). The Serbian opposition already used it as a reference point when commenting on the stepping down of radical-nationalist parliament speaker Nikolic after only five days in office, saying “Mr Nikolic’s nationalist and anti-European stand no longer had a place – especially as Serbia had just won the Eurovision song contest” (according to the BBC website).

  3. The “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (link below) noted that if only the votes of northern, western and southern European countries (including Turkey and Israel) counted the rang list would be the following:

    Serbia, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Armenia, Greece, Rumania and Bosnia-Hercegovina

    The authentic list is:

    Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary and Moldavia

  4. Serbia stole the song from some singer from Albania…according to some UK tabloids.

  5. Just sour grapes — The western Europeans don’t care for the fact that nightclubs everywhere will soon be pulsing to polka, done with a strong techno beat.

    Oh, the sweet, sweet sounds of the squeezebox. KOTJMF!

  6. As the title of this blog rightfully questions who is in fact european, it seems to me that the eurovision competition has totally lost out to any sense of forward thinking competition.
    If there is to be a musically vision in europe is should encourage the creation of multinational bands and songwriting.
    Now, this may sound pathetically europhilic and idealistic. But why not have a competition with nations needing to twin at random prior to any competition round. This can enhance a sense of eurovision, downgrade historically motivated fake-voting and inspire crossborder experiences. I am looking forward to the first Maltese-Irish Rock Ballad, or Armenian-Danish Folk-Opera type song. (or am i just being completely silly?)

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