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The Eurovision Song Contest has long divided opinion – hailed by some as the most popular symbol of European unification, others consider it mere cultural trash.
This was no different this year. But at a time where Europe is facing bigger challenges than ever, this year’s edition of Eurovision had a notable political twist.
Voting blocs have become more prevalent over the last decade. Most likely due to the introduction of televoting in 1997 and increasing numbers of contestant. Research has found a range of different factors influences these voting patterns, including political, as well as cultural and linguistic aspects. Migration and diasporas also play a role – and probably explains how this year’s entry for Poland, Michal Szpak, who was second to last after the jury votes, managed to secure an eventual top ten finish due to a huge audience vote from spread across Europe.
Nonetheless, there’s good reason to think that this year’s edition of Eurovision was the most political yet, with some of Europe’s biggest current challenges getting explicit mentions:
Crimea - The conflict between Ukraine and Russia took centre stage, as Ukraine’s entry 1944 – which evoked the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union – won this year’s contest.
The Refugee Crisis - This year’s theme ‘Come Together’ arguably called upon Europeans to unite themselves around this challenge. Both the entries from Bosnia Herzegovina and Greece were interpreted as referring to the refugee crisis. Most explicitly, during one of the semi-finals, the dance performance ‘Grey People’ was shown during the interval as a tribute to the refuges. The BBC’s decision not to air it is equally notable in the same week where DCMS ’White Paper on the future of the BBC was published – a paper that hasn’t silenced fears over political interference.
Brexit - Not quite as explicitly, Eurovision also entered into the debate about the UK’s upcoming referendum on their EU membership. For instance, Brexit supporter John Redwood noted that Germany, France, Spain and Italy failed to give the UK any votes – a sign, to him, that the ‘EU don’t seem to appreciate us – as usual’.
Arguably though, Poland’s secret to success this year was based on the opposite: more European participation, rather than less. And, according to the charmingly mangled English of the Swedish hosts, ‘the future belongs to the Eurovisionaryies, not to the Eurodon’tyounaries’.
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Ulrike is a research and evaluation specialist with 15 years of experience of working with arts and cultural organisations in the UK and internationally.
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