Skip to main content
Skip to main Navigation
Skip to Search
toggle search input
toggle main navigation
All RFE/RL sites
Forgettable Songs, Memorable Scandals
May 01, 2014 11:43 GMT
The Eurovision Song Contest draws more than 1 million viewers a year. But sometimes it's the controversies, not the music, that steal the show.
The Buranovskiye Babushki were seen as a refreshing change of pace when they sang in their native Udmurt language representing Russia at Eurovision in 2012. A number of the "grannies" were among the cultural figures to sign a letter this year supporting the Kremlin's policy in Crimea.
The 2014 contender from Armenia, Aram Mp3, angered Eurovision fans when he made disparaging remarks about the Austrian entry, bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst. Aram later apologized publicly in a televised encounter.
Azerbaijan's contender, Farid Mammadov (right), performs in the final in Malmo, Sweden, in 2013. Oil-rich Azerbaijan came under fire when host country Sweden accused it of attempting to bribe jurors in several countries. The scandal forced Eurovision organizers to revise jury voting for better transparency.
Eurovision performers are asked to refrain from political activity during the competition. But Swedish singer Loreen, who won the contest in 2012 in Baku, met with Azerbaijani activists before the final, and later traveled to Belarus to meet with families of political prisoners.
Activists attempted to use Baku's 2012 stint as Eurovision host as an opportunity to call attention to the regime's dismal rights record. Here, plainclothes police officers detain protesters outside Azerbaijan's public television station during the week of the Eurovision broadcasts.
Azerbaijan is believed to have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Eurovision preparations, including the construction of the elaborate Crystal Hall venue. Human Rights Watch claimed up to 20,000 people were forcibly displaced after the government demolished their homes to make way for the new building.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen as closely supervising Moscow's lavish preparations to host the competition in 2009. One analyst remarked that Putin saw Eurovision as a chance to promote "national dignity." Here, the president meets Azerbaijan's contenders, Arash (center) and AySel (right).
Georgia's 2009 entry, the pop group Stefane & 3G, was disqualified after its song, "We Don't Wanna Put In," was seen as mocking the Russian president. The competition was less than a year after the Russia-Georgia war over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The Ukrainian drag performer Verka Serduchka angered Russians with his 2007 Eurovision song in Helsinki, "Dancing Lasha Tumbai." Serduchka defended the last two words of the title as a Mongolian term for whipped cream -- but many people thought they heard the phrase "Russia Goodbye" come through loud and clear.
The Eurovision tradition of neighborly voting can sometimes go to bizarre lengths. In 2007, ethnic Russians rioted in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, after officials relocated a Soviet World War II memorial. Weeks later, the Baltic country nonetheless awarded Russia a maximum 12 points in the song contest.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, by contrast, have almost never voted for each other. Andre, who became Armenia's first Eurovision contestant in 2006, drew howls of protest from Azerbaijan and Turkey when he featured an image of the Ottoman-era Armenian massacre in his promotional video.
In 2009, Azerbaijani authorities called in more than 40 people for questioning after they voted for Inga and Anush, the contenders from rival Armenia. Rovshan Nasirli says his interrogators accused him of having no "ethnic pride" and for posing a national security risk.
The Ukrainian band GreenJolly first became famous when its song, "Razom nas bahato" ("Together We Are Many") became the unofficial anthem of the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004. The band performed the same song when it was chosen to represent Ukraine during its host year in 2005. The performance drew a tepid two points from Russia.
Some countries have been known to throw in a last-minute political gesture as a way of dodging Eurovision constraints. Wig Wam of Norway produced an orange flag to signal its support for host Ukraine in 2005.
Forgettable Songs, Memorable Scandals
Czech Leaders Silent, Or Spurned, As Country Marks 50th Anniversary Of Crushing Of 'Prague Spring'
Back to top