The most popular musical event, with hundreds of millions Europeans tuning in, is the Eurovision Song Contest. This year’s edition, taking place in Stockholm the 14th of May, hopes to unite Europe in front of the television once again. Even though the singers’ musical performances play the most important role in the contest, the influences of politics are not to be underestimated. While the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) tries to ward off politics as much as possible, musicians use their acts and the publicity to address political issues in their country and speak out on human rights violations.
The year 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and marked the beginning of a new era in European history. Therefore, many singers addressed these changes in the Eurovision Song Contest the year after. Entries such as “Brandenburg Gate” by Norway’s Ketil Stokkan or “No walls anymore” by the Austrian participant Simone directly related to the fall of the wall. The winner of the contest, Italy’s Toto Cutugno, addressed the issue of cooperation when he performed “Insieme: 1992”, a song about bringing the separate European nations together.
However, the Eurovision rules try to prevent entries that are considered too political. The EBU’s rules state that “no lyrics, speeches, gestures of political or similar nature” are permitted. For that reason the broadcasters disqualified the Georgian entry “We Don’t Wanna Put In” by Stefane & 3G in 2009. They considered the relations of the words “Put In” too close with the name of then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Not everyone welcomed this decision, the Georgian broadcaster in particular was convinced that the EBU took the decision under pressure from the Russian government.
To use a song to trigger political debates is just one of many methods that have been used during the Eurovision series. In 2013 and 2014 the stage was used by Finish singer Kristia Siegfrieds and Austrian entry Conchita Wurst to speak up for lesbian and LGTB rights. Siegfrieds kissed one of her female backing singers at the end, what got widely labelled as the first “lesbian kiss” at Eurovision. As was the case with the performance of Conchita Wurst one year later, reactions varied: While Siegfrieds received a lot of positive feedback for her courageous statement, China removed the kiss from their pre-recorded broadcast. Conchita Wurst received little points from Eastern European countries still she managed to win the Contest despite her strong political statement.
As the contest is held in the home country of the previous’ year’s winner, challenges have occurred from time to time with regards to the political situation in the host country. Azerbaijan, a country widely known for its violations of human rights, was one such case in 2012. The Swedish winner of the contest that year, Loreen, made clear: “One should not be silent about such things”. Even though she was the only participant meeting with local human right activist, she was not the only one speaking up. Before submitting the votes from Germany, Anke Engelke elegantly phrased her criticism by saying: “Tonight nobody could vote for their own country. But it is good to be able to vote. And it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey, Azerbaijan. Europe is watching you.”
Even though lots of participants of this years’ contest sing about the topic of love, some have a clear political message or connect both. Like Lighthouse X from Denmark is doing with their song “Soldiers of Love” about the power love has to create a better world. Ukraine’s Jamala is giving a reminder to the past with her song “1944”, at the same time emphasizing that everyone is responsible to design a better future.
Join us on Saturday for our grand public viewing of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 and our debate “Eurovision & the power of music”.
Register here: http://nationaal.fb.mi.addemar.com/c619/hf26ef
Frauke Ohler is an intern at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Brussels.