Monday, 16 May 2011

Azerbaijwhat?


Picture the scene: after months of diplomacy and backroom bartering two countries finally commence historic talks designed to settle deep-seated disputes which have festered between them for years. A historic accord is drawn up, with the more powerful of the countries offering a generous international aid package, an exclusive trade agreement and military backing in return for political support. Signing appears imminent. The world’s media waits with baited breath in anticipation of this momentous occasion but then, at the 11th hour, talks break down and the smaller of the two countries storms out of negotiations citing the failure to agree a guarantee of maximum points at all future Eurovision Song Contests as their reason. 

Tactical voting at the Eurovision song contest is well documented and criticising it is something of a national pastime. The Scandinavians vote for other Scandinavians, the Balkan states vote for other Balkan states and the Eastern bloc countries...well you get the picture. The point being that seldom does anybody actually vote for the UK. Most people accept this flawed scoring system as part and parcel of Eurovision’s charm. The 3 hour long glorified Karaoke contest, which is broadcast live in 25 countries in Europe alone, is ultimately rendered pointless by a voting system that even Robert Mugabe would class as suspect. Terry Wogan used to find the predictability of scoring worryingly irritating and the programme used to be worth watching for his mock indignation alone. The former Lib Dem MP Richard Younger-Ross took such affront to Eurovision’s lax attitude to the tactical voting ‘problem’, that in 2007 he put forward an Early Day Motion to debate the subject in the House of Commons. Sadly, the EDM was ignored so one can only speculate whether he would have championed the Alternative Vote as a fairer solution, in which second-rate singers would have to work harder for our 12 points.  

Though I’m very much of the opinion that those who are bothered by tactical voting at Eurovision should get out more, I am intrigued by why it happens in the first place. Much has been made recently of Lord Triesmen’s allegations of FIFA corruption with regards to 2018 World Cup bid and although only the foolishly naive believe a word of what Sepp Blatter and co say, you can at least understand, if not condone, why corruption would exist in deciding the host for football’s most prestigious and financially lucrative tournament. But Eurovision, really who cares? Cyprus has awarded Greece maximum points in every Eurovision song context since 1996. Are we to assume that if they gave their twelve points elsewhere, Greece would let the island fall under Turkish control? Serbia also tends to give maximum points to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I doubt that many in Sarajevo will see that as fair compensation for Milosovic’s genocide. The idea that countries would place any significance on who gives them what points in a contest dominated by the cruise ship crooners of tomorrow is baffling. Of course there are those that argue that suspicious voting patterns are not evidence of collusion, but simply the similar music tastes shared between countries with strong cultural and linguistic relationships. However this argument looses credibility when one actually listens to the songs in question and determines that: a) A large proportion of songs are actually sung in English – b) An even larger proportion are, to the ears of any human being, indisputably awful. 

But perhaps I am being too harsh, especially considering the origins of the contest, which was set up in the 1950s with the intention of bringing the nations of a war-torn Europe together. Broadcast live to a worldwide audience of over 160 million people Eurovision remains a much loved tradition throughout the continent, watched by people of all ages, who for one night a year put aside their nationalistic, ethnic and political differences to come together and say joyfully, in any number of languages, “this is rubbish!”. And given that Europe hasn’t been engulfed in a major war since, Eurovision has proved itself to be a success, presuming of course you consider nonsensical lyrics set to infuriating tunes designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator to be the lesser of the two evils?

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