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Europe: Serbia-Montenegro Row Not The First To Hit Eurovision

Eurovision (official site) Over the past few months, pop bands across Europe and beyond have been battling it out for their big chance -- to represent their country in the Eurovision Song Contest on May 20. But it's not been an entirely harmonious process. One of the last countries to decide on its official song, Serbia and Montenegro, has pulled out of the competition following a row over which band should go to the final in Athens. It's not the first time the competition -- set up to promote European unity -- has caused controversy.

PRAGUE, March 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- It was an innocuous song, "Moja Ljubavi" by Montenegrin band No Name, that set off the controversy.

No Name won Serbia and Montenegro's national contest on March 11. But Serbian judges accused their Montenegrin counterparts of voting along national lines. The band was booed off the stage, there were demands for a new contest, and crisis talks were held between the two national broadcasters.

But all to no avail. On March 20, the country pulled out of the Eurovision Song Contest.
"I have to say the Eurovision Song Contest wouldn't be the same without some gossip, rumor, or controversy."

The row is not the first such incident to hit the Eurovision Song Contest in its more than 50-year history.

"In the past, the Eurovision Song Contest has had its ups and downs in terms of controversies," says Sietse Bakker, the Amsterdam-based editor of, a website about the contest.

"When you look back at the first edition of the contest in 1956, it started with two jury members of Luxembourg who couldn't attend," Bakker adds. "So the Swiss decided to send two replacement jury members and guess who won? It was Switzerland."

Bakker continues: "This is just one example of how [in] such a big event, such as [a] large contest, you always have these sometimes minor, sometimes bigger, controversies. But I have to say the Eurovision Song Contest wouldn't be the same without some gossip, rumor, or controversy."

History Of Scandal

Certainly, there have been plenty over the years. In 1969 Austria refused to take part because the contest that year was held in Spain, still ruled by the dictator Franco.

More recently, Germany's representative for the 2002 contest, Gracia Baur, was embroiled in a row after it emerged her producer had been buying up copies of her record to boost publicity.

The same year Slovenia's entry, Sestre (Sisters), caused a bit of a storm, with one political leader saying the transvestite group was part of a "crisis of values."

Then there was Israel's 1998 winner, Dana International.

"Over the years the Eurovision Song Contest has become a minor battleground involving national identities. In recent years Israel's inclusion of a transsexual as their performer caused waves," says Simon Warner, a lecturer in popular music at Leeds University in England.

And last year Ukraine's entry, which had become the unofficial anthem for the country's Orange Revolution, had to be rewritten after it was deemed too political.

Bakker says small controversies and scandals can be good for the competition by sparking more interest. But the original spirit of the contest was to promote European unity -- don't the political rows go against that?

"The spirit of the Eurovision Song Contest has indeed a lot to do with getting together in Europe, with European unity in music and sharing cultural values," Bakker says. "[So] when for example -- [like] what happened in Serbia-Montenegro in the past week -- political issues affect the voting or cause arguments between two broadcasters about the national selection, that's a serious issue that should always be avoided."

For the organizers of this year's contest, the Serbia-Montenegro dispute might not be the last.

This year, Armenia is taking part for the first time. But reports say Yerevan's entry, Andre, has prompted protests from Azerbaijan. The reason -- his biography has him from "the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh." The two countries remain formally at war over the territory, an enclave inside Azerbaijan populated mainly by ethnic Armenians.

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