Last week, fans gathered in Lisbon for the 63rd Eurovision Song Contest. Held last Saturday night, it was won by Israel’s Netta Barziilai with her song Toy. It is often said that Eurovision and politics should not mix. Yet there are many examples of when it does:
- Azerbaijani and Armenian juries always vote each country’s act last due to ongoing political tensions.
- Russia and Ukraine are also locked in political tensions which have resulted in Ukraine’s banning of the Russian contestants from participated because she performed in the disputed territory of Crimea.
- Bloc voting is a common occurrence between countries who are politically friendly with one another, such as Greece and Cyprus, Russia and Azerbaijan and sometimes the UK, Malta and Ireland.
The winner of Eurovision traditionally has the honour of hosting the contest the following year. Due to financial issues this tradition has occasionally not been followed. In the run up to the 2019 contest, the European Broadcasting Union will face a new kind of challenge given the political situation in Israel.
James Martin, member of the UK Eurovision fanclub OGAE, told me that he wouldn’t be going ‘anywhere near’ next year’s Eurovision. ‘Not only have 50 plus people died in Israel alone on Monday, 14 May,’ Martin said, ‘but Eurovision security has been breached two years in a row. Whoever is planning the hat-trick will be doing a bit more than flashing their backsides or grabbing a mic. It’s a Manchester waiting to happen.’
In 2005, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was in full swing. Yet, against all the odds, Kiev had its first outing as a Eurovision host city. These protests were not large enough to disrupt the day-to-day workings of the people who keep the contest running. And in 2013, during the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev, the Maidan protests reached the city during rehearsals. Protests occurred just minutes away from where the under 16-year-olds were due to perform, and the contest for that year lost their star interval act, Ruslana. At first, it was claimed by NTU that Ruslana withdrew due to ‘illness,’ but this soon became apparent that this was not the case. Maidan was in its early days on the streets of Kiev and Ruslana went to protest with the people of Ukraine.
Kath Lockett was in her first job as Head of Press for Junior Eurovision during the 2013 contest in Kiev. She told Backbench: “We were in regular contact with the communications unit of the EBU in Geneva. For the first few days of JESC, the atmosphere at independence square was pretty jubilant. However, a couple of days later we knew that things were going horribly wrong. A lot of Ukraine national flags started appearing from balconies of apartments opposite our venue, we also heard that the police and military were no longer putting up with the demonstrators, and they were starting to get violent and shoot.'
Although the contest was later held without any serious problems, Lockett cricised the EBY for failing to prepare for the disruption and for its equally lacklustre response. She was later fired by the EBU for her comments.
With violence continually present in and around Israel, and wiht the 2019 contest expected to be held less than fifty miles from the Gaza strip, can the European Broadcasting Union really guarantee the safety of its workers, delegates, contestans and fans, especially considering its previous failings? Eurovision should not be political, but when you have the safety of several thousand people to consider in an environment fraught with terrorism, ignoring politics could be a lethal mistake.