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Europe: Postcommunist Countries Lead Eurovision Charge

Verka Serdyuchka is flying the flag for Ukraine (ITAR-TASS) May 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- With the semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest held last night, postcommunist countries are leading the way.

Nine out of the 10 semifinal winners are from postcommunist countries. Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary, and Slovenia all qualified. The other country was Turkey.

This year, it seems folksy ethno-pop -- complete with Cossack sword dancing and panpipes -- is triumphing over drum machines and techno.

Gimmicky entries haven't fared well either. Israel's Teapacks, who caused controversy with their entry "Push The Button," were knocked out. As were Switzerland's entry, DJ Bobo, with their song "Vampires Are Alive."

Eurovision Enlargement

In recent years, the contest has expanded to include countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Ukraine won the contest in 2004 and hosted the finals a year later. Belarus, which has been ostracized internationally due to the politics of its strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has entered this year for the fourth time. Georgia, which made its debut this year, has qualified for the final.

"I won't pretend to be a real singer and show off my voice, or whatever. I sing with my heart." -- Verka Serdyuchka

The nine countries plus Turkey will join the 14 countries already in the May 12 final.

Ukraine's entry, Verka Serdyuchka, already in the final, continues to make waves. Serdyuchka, real name Andrej Danilko, is a well-known drag star.

A popular television character who pokes fun at Ukrainian housewives, Serdyuchka has angered Ukrainian nationalists, who say the song's portrayal of a village woman degrades their country.

'Big Salad'

But he -- or she -- says it's all just for fun.

"Why did I come here? Eurovision is a very big salad. Actually, it's a whole dinner. And I'll be a small dessert. I'm not a singer, I mean, I won't pretend to be a real singer and show off my voice, or whatever. I sing with my heart. What's principal for me is for the people in the whole of Europe to see me on the screen with a star on my head and smile. That's all!" Serdyuchka said.

Eurovision is big money -- with a central budget of around $20 million, not to mention the individual budgets of the national participants. It's important for small countries, not just in showcasing their national cultures -- but also in attracting potential tourists.

The contest is going through something of a resurgence, due partly to the popularity of Saturday-night talent contests around Europe, where the public votes by phone or text message for their favorite act.