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Should We Be Boycotting Eurovision?

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

Two years after Eurovision and the European Union made their support for Ukraine visibly prevalent, the anticipated annual music contest has set a different precedent when it comes to the conflict in Palestine. 


The events organisers have informed viewers that they reserve the right to remove any Palestinian flags and pro-Palestinian symbols during their events, with their main show, the finals, taking place tomorrow (May 11th).



It’s not been clarified yet if the watermelon will be considered as a symbol of support, but hopefully this vagueness may mean many manage to make their way on-screen.


They clarified, rather passive-aggressively, that this decision was made to ensure a peaceful and inclusive atmosphere for all participants.


But with the presence of Israel in the competition, I don’t believe those of Arab heritage will be feeling particularly comfortable. And this enforcement is quite the U-turn from their extreme support towards Ukraine during past events. 



Taking place in Sweden, last years winners after Ukraines win the year prior, Eurovision is a notoriously political show despite its lighthearted appearance - something that is a big appeal for many of their viewers. It’s a chance to see how countries are being perceived by each other. 


The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) who created the show has specified that “given the sensitive geopolitical context, they want to maintain a focus on the music and cultural celebration that Eurovision represents.”


I am aware that many of you may have opinions on this matter – I do, too – but before we get into the matter at hand in more detail, let’s contextualise a bit. 


What is Eurovision, when it started and why? And, more importantly, how was this talent show used as a political tool for the last seven decades?


The origins of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) can be traced back to the early 50s and are closely linked to the post-World War II era and the emergence of television as a new medium for mass communication and entertainment. It first was broadcast in the format of radio – both for economic and media reasons.


In the aftermath of World War II, Europe was rebuilding both physically and emotionally. There was a strong desire among European nations to promote peace, reconciliation, and cooperation. 


They also wanted to reconsolidate the diplomatic relationships between the ‘power nations.’ Thus, the Eurovision Song Contest emerged against this backdrop as a way to bring – certain – countries together in a spirit of unity and friendship.



The 50s saw the rapid expansion of television broadcasting across Europe. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of public broadcasters from various – not so much Southern or Eastern – European countries, recognised the potential of television as a tool for fostering cultural exchange and collaboration.


Radio became a very important, if not the most important, form of broadcasting information after WWI and WWII, because of its accessibility.

 

Eurovision, as a show, was first held in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. Seven countries participated: Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Switzerland. I want you to look at these countries again, and take a mental note about the thing that tied them all: economic and political power.


Each country was invited to submit one original song performed live by a soloist or group. The winner was determined by a jury vote, with Switzerland’s Lys Assia emerging as the inaugural winner with the song “Refrain.” 


It’s important to note here that Switzerland had the chance to vote twice, while all the other countries had each one a vote. This eventually led to the rule that the jury can’t vote for their own country.


Over the decades, the Eurovision Song Contest has evolved into a massive cultural phenomenon, mostly thanks to artists like ABBA (Sweden, "Waterloo") and Céline Dion (Switzerland, "Ne partez pas sans moi").


Now, it attracts millions of viewers worldwide and showcases a diverse array of musical talent. 


However, alongside its celebration of music and shared culture, Eurovision has often implicitly been entangled with politics.


Throughout its history, political tensions and controversies have occasionally overshadowed the competition. From voting blocks based on geographic proximity to accusations of strategic voting and bias, Eurovision has been subject to various forms of manipulation and influence.


One notable example of political tension within Eurovision occurred during the Cold War era, with countries from Eastern and Western Europe using the contest as a platform to showcase ideological differences. 


The voting patterns often reflected these divisions, with mutual voting common among countries with shared political alliances.


In more recent years, Eurovision has continued to grapple with political controversies, particularly regarding issues of national identity, cultural representation, and human rights. 


The decision to potentially remove Palestinian flags and symbols from the show is just the latest instance of politics intersecting with the contest, this time with the show being on the wrong side of history. It also underscores the ongoing intersection of politics and culture within Eurovision. 



We need to acknowledge the significance of Eurovision as not just a music contest but also as a platform for cultural exchange and diplomacy. 


Since its inception in the 50s, Eurovision has aimed to foster unity and cooperation among European nations, not only in the later years but since its inception, particularly in the aftermath of World War II.


As the contest has evolved into a global phenomenon, it has increasingly grappled with political tensions and controversies that threaten to overshadow its original mission.


By censoring symbols associated with Palestinian identity, Eurovision risks alienating segments of its audience and undermining its commitment to diversity and freedom of expression.


Moreover, the debate (can we even call it that?) surrounding the handling of Palestinian flags and symbols highlights broader questions about the role of Eurovision in addressing complex geopolitical issues.


As a platform with global reach and influence, Eurovision has a unique opportunity to engage with important social and political issues, including human rights and justice. Why host it in the first place?


How Eurovision opts to address these challenges will not only impact its reputation as a cultural institution but also its ability to promote dialogue and understanding on the world stage.


There has been a notable response from various advocacy groups and individuals calling for greater accountability and transparency within the contest. Some of these groups have gone so far as to advocate for the outright banning and/or boycotting of Eurovision, citing concerns over its handling of political issues and its impact on marginalised communities.


Petitions have also emerged urging Eurovision organisers to reconsider their stance on Palestinian symbols and to uphold principles of inclusivity and freedom of expression – a principle that is thought to be an important part of European culture.


These petitions highlight the importance of recognising and respecting the cultural and political significance of symbols such as the Palestinian flag, particularly within the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


We could even argue that Eurovision’s history of political controversies, coupled with its perceived failure to adequately address issues of human rights and social justice, calls into question the contest’s legitimacy as a cultural institution.


For some, the call to ban and boycott Eurovision represents a broader push for accountability within the entertainment industry and beyond. In an era marked by increasing social consciousness and activism, there is growing pressure on individuals and institutions like Eurovision to align their actions with progressive values and principles.


Political correctness and activism are not just social media trends! They talk about real people, with real problems, in the real world.


As Eurovision prepares for its upcoming final in Sweden, the controversy surrounding the handling of Palestinian flags and symbols serves as a reminder of the complex interplay between music, politics, and culture on the world stage. 


Whether Eurovision can navigate these challenges while remaining true to its founding principles of unity and cooperation remains to be seen. Why would a competition, made specifically to ease the after-feelings of a World War, now want to perpetuate hate and exclusion to a nation that is suffering a genocide?


Edited by Emily Duff

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