One of my favourite little anecdotes from the history of the Eurovision Song Contest has to be the story of Karl Pihelgas. Piheglas risked imprisonment and loss of employment in the former Soviet Union due to his fanaticism for Eurovision. In the 1970s and 1980s he was President of Estonia’s Eurovision fan club. It says a lot about the sheer paranoia of the communist régime at the time that such organisations were officially listed as illegal and treasonous. For Karl and his friends gathering to watch the contest every year on a homemade satellite dish was a little bit more than an annual fete of glitter and key changes, it was a glimpse of the democratic world and a beacon of hope. Heaven knows it’s probably un healthy how much I love this contest, but I think I might draw the line at risking prison time for it. When the contest was first held in a democratic Estonia ten years ago, Karl was given special recognition in the audience shortly before transmission and rightly so.
So what can be said for that same beacon of hope now in 2012 as the contest is yet again held in a former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan? Already, we have heard how the EBU seems to avoid criticism of the country’s less than glowing record on freedom of expression and, perhaps yet more worryingly given the demographic that Eurovsion appeals to, on LGBT rights. It would appear to those who seek democratic reform in Baku that Eurovision and perhaps by extension Europe itself is endorsing repressive government policy by refusing to comment upon it. Armenia, a traditional foe of Azerbaijan has withdrawn as they say they simple cannot trust Azeri assertions on their delegation’s security.
There were warning signs that this was not a good idea many months ago. There is provision in the rules of the contest for the EBU to withdraw the offer of hosting the contest should preparations be less than satisfactory- in my opinion this should have been invoked due to the situations as outlined in the links above and the offer given to the country that came 2nd last year (Italy). Calls from fans and others for this to happen largely fell on deaf ears.
It is just another example of the control-freakery we’ve seen from the EBU around the contest in general in the past few years. The host broadcaster, for example, is more restricted than ever before in terms of what they can and cannot do. It is widely believed a few years ago for example, that when Norwegian television wanted to use the services of the world reknowned NRK Kirekskastingorkestriet to provide backing to entries that the EBU rejected the idea immediately. But I digress – don’t get me started on the live music question!
What’s to be done? Fans attending the contest from Europe should co-opearte with Azeri dissidents and gay rights activists as best they can. There is precedence for this from Moscow 2009. The media attending this year would do us all a service if they reported on what life is like there in general as well as the state of the Swedish singers frock. The media can shine a light on what the Baku government would like to be kept in darkness and who knows what may happen.