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!