This week, the 64th Eurovision Song Contest gets underway.
Forty one countries from across Europe (as well as Australia) will each have a musical act competing to be crowned 2019 Eurovision winner. As a music contest, Eurovision really should be a simple, uncontroversial, problem-free event. Yet it couldn’t be further from that.
For decades, Eurovision has been affected, and occasionally marred, by political alliances, rivalries and controversies. Even though the contest was founded in 1956 to bring ‘peace and unity’ to a war-blightened continent in the form of music, political tensions have made it hard to achieve their fundamental goal.
One of the key examples of politics in Eurovision is the ‘voting blocs’, where certain countries will always vote for each other based on their relationship rather than the act itself. For example, Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway will always allocate their highest points to each other, while Greece consistently exchange points with Cyprus and Albania.
Additionally, Russia has been extremely unpopular in recent years due to their annexing of Crimea back in 2014 as well as their human rights record. Whenever a Russian act receives points, they are always met by a chorus of boos, though they have still managed to finish in the top three in their last five grand final appearances, last winning in 2008.
However, this year could be one of the most controversial contests in the Eurovision history. Despite international outcry from celebrities around the world, including Madonna and Sharon Osbourne, calling for a boycott, the 2019 contest is being held in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israeli singer Netta’s triumph last year means that, as is tradition, the winners host the contest the following year.
The controversy arises due to Israel’s poor human rights record and the ongoing conflict with and occupation of Palestine. Tensions are extremely high in areas like Gaza and the West Bank where Palestinians are practically imprisoned and isolated, with high death tolls in conflict after conflict.
This dispute has been ongoing for as as long as Eurovision has been around, and now that Israel prepare to host Eurovision it has cause uproar once again. Many people are outraged by the injustice faced by Palestinians, and this has had an effect on the perception of Eurovision 2019, with widespread protests and planned boycotts.
This controversy forces us to ask the question: Where do we draw the line between Eurovision and politics? For example, in 2016 Jamala of Ukraine won the contest with her song ‘1944’, which was about the ethnic cleansing and deportation of the Crimean tatars under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Meanwhile, China’s broadcaster Mango TV censored part of Ireland’s 2018 performance due to a dance segment between two men, along with censoring out LGBT symbols and tattoos in their performances. Subsequently, Eurovision organisers banned China from any future broadcasting of the contest.
When you look at the world we live in today, it’s almost impossible to escape the world of politics. It dictates everything in our day to day lives, appearing everywhere from Eurovision to the World Cup. After all, when 41 countries are competing for continental superiority in the world of music, how can you avoid politics?