Why the Eurovision Song Contest will never be apolitical

 

It’s that time of year again where Europe comes together for the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual singing competition which pits the majority of Europe (and Australia) against each other for the title.

Eurovision is supposed to be a non-political event. Under European Broadcasting Union (EBU) broadcasting rules, the Eurovision Song Contest ‘shall in no case be politicized and/or instrumentalized’. European broadcasters have to ensure that ‘No messages promoting any organization, institution, political cause’ can occur throughout the entire competition. Otherwise, the country faces disqualification.

But how realistic is this? Can Eurovision remain apolitical (or, perhaps, has it ever actually been apolitical?).

As you may or may not know, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has come under close scrutiny. After Israeli artist Netta won the competition in 2018, many have used the event to voice their outrage against the Israeli government and its treatment of Palestinians.

In January, a number of British figures signed a letter which called for the BBC to cancel the coverage of this year’s contest. Signatories included Vivienne Westwood, Maxine Peake and the band Wolf Alice. In response, Stephen Fry and Sharon Osbourne were two figures to respond, signing a letter which reminded that Eurovision was about the “spirit of togetherness” and stressed that a cultural boycott was “not the answer”.

From this, one must question why there is such a fuss over the coverage of a singing competition.

To begin with, the song contest is a staple European event which has run for over 60 years. Whilst its importance in the UK has deteriorated over the years, its popularity with other European countries has continued to grow, and on average, at least one-quarter of Sweden’s population watch the final each year. With great popularity comes great attention – this is an event which has the eyes of millions across not only Europe, but the world.

But most importantly, whilst the show attempts to avoid any mention of party politics, the show itself is a political statement.

Firstly, this is a show which aims to bring countries together. The competition was established to bring together war-torn Europe in the 1950s – this message of ‘togetherness’ features heavily in each annual theme. That, in itself, contradicts EBU rulings because it is a political statement.

The message of ‘togetherness’ has also engulfed not only nationality, but gender, sexuality and race, which is here we see why Israel has come under criticism. Whilst some argue that Israel is the only country in the Middle East to accept homosexuality, others question how it can be an active member of the EBU when it disregards the recognition of Palestinians.

Acceptance of gender and sexuality has also been at the pinnacle of the show’s history. In 1998, Dana International became the first transgender winner, whilst in 2014, Conchita Wurst became the first drag queen to win the competition. Winning the competition usually comprises of a substantial amount of positive press coverage, a song with an inspiring message, and millions of voters – both emulated the political acceptance of the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

But this does not mean that everyone’s at the same stage of the political spectrum. This year, the semi-finals have already seen controversy for the Belarusian broadcasters. During the vote counting of first semi-final, Dana International performed a cover of Bruno Mars’ ‘Just The Way You Are’, which was accompanied by a kiss-cam that featured members of the crowd. There were a number of gay couples featured kissing in the number, to which the Belarusian presenter went on to hope that the number would “finally find some cool couples”.

Of course, to love is something that we should all have a right to across the world. Yet there are many out there who still politically declare that they are against such values.

Secondly, performances do not mention party politics, but they do make political statements. Armenia entered a song in 2015 named “Face the Shadow”. It featured the lyrics “Don’t deny/Ever don’t deny/Listen don’t deny” in reference to the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians to mark its centenary.

This was followed by Ukraine’s winning entry by Jamala in 2016. Named 1944, it was based on the deportation of the Crimean Tartars by Stalin in the 1940s. In fact, Jamala even told The Guardian that the song reminded her of present day Crimea (which was annexed by Russia in 2014). However, the EBU ruled that the song contained no “political speech”.

And last year, winner Netta described her song as “the awakening of female power and social justice”, whilst the French entry emoted the story of a Nigerian refugee as she went into labour on board a rescue ship.

It seems that entries are starting to become more and more explicit with their messaging. It isn’t known if this will mean the EBU will imply stricter rules based on how influential and how impactful Eurovision entries will get, and as populism increases in many parts of Europe, the urge for entries to send counter-protest songs seems ever more likely.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a fantastic spectacle, bringing people of all walks of life together. But, it will never be possible to ensure that the contest is apolitical. With the show’s openly pro-European stance, alongside the increasing number of discrete, subliminal protest entries, it’s hard to see a future edition of Eurovision which doesn’t feature a political controversy.

UK is now one of the most pro-immigrant countries in the world, new study finds.

A recent study by research company Ipsos MORI, commissioned by the BBC series Crossing Divides, has found that public opinion on immigration has steadily been increasing since 2011.

It was found that British residents were now among the most accepting of immigration in the world, and around 48% of UK residents surveyed believed that immigration had a positive impact on the country, compared to a global average of 24%.

English respondents were also found to be the most welcoming of immigration, with 48% of English respondents viewing immigration positively, following by 47% for Scotland and Wales, and 42% for Northern Ireland.

The study was ran in 27 countries and surveyed adults under 65, with a total of 19,782 adults completing questionnaires online. 15 of the 27 countries surveyed online generate nationally representative samples in their countries, and at least 500 respondents were surveyed in each country. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Peru and Mexico, produced a national sample that was more urban and educated then nationally represented averages, however the samples for both England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland was nationally representative based on a number of social demographics.

The survey found that the United Kingdom had the joint highest percentage of respondents who mentioned that immigration positively impacted their country, tied with Saudi Arabia.

The study has shown a consistent increase in the percentage of respondents who regard immigration as positive in the UK. In 2011, only 19% of UK respondents believed that immigration had a positive impact on UK society and by the 2016 EU referendum, that percentage had increased to 35%.

The country with the lowest percentage of positive responses to immigration was Japan, with only 3% of Japanese respondents reporting that Immigration was positive for Japan, and Turkey and Colombia reported the highest percentage of respondents who viewed immigration negatively, with both reporting 71% of respondents who believed that immigration had a negative impact on their respective countries.

The study has also shown that the past few years have seen a nationalist trend for more respondents to view immigration in a negative light globally.

The study’s results sheds new light onto the true state of public views on immigration, beyond the views driven by Political leaders.

The Research Director at Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute has said in response to the study that “it is notable that one of the key issues leading to Brexit was immigration, yet, Brits are twice as more positive about the impact of immigration than globally.”

REVEALED: EU Parliament demands €535,609 in repayment from Conservative MEP group

 

Daniel Hannan, MEP for South East England, is at the centre of a spending scandal concerning the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) having served three consecutive terms as ACRE secretary-general up until December 2017. ACRE’s website states their agenda as one which seeks a new reformed Europe, however, the group stand accused of misspending funding supplied by the European Union on events for Hannan’s other projects – the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) think-tank, as well as Conservatives International, both with little relevance to such an agenda. Therefore, misleading the public in regards to the ownership and authorship of the conferences.

Hannan has been accused of having a conflict of interest for his part, with the European Parliament stating in a letter addressed to the ACRE current secretary general, the Czech MEP, Jan Zahradil that “the overlap of the functions of Mr Daniel Hannan MEP and the advantage taken by the IFT from the financial activities of ACRE could be considered as a conflict of interest”.

The European Parliament has demanded that ACRE repay the €535,609 (£484,360) of EU funds and will issue a formal demand for the payment of the full sum next week. Some examples of misspending by which the European Parliament paid particular attention to were outgoings such as the €250,000 spent on a three-day event at a luxury beach resort in Miami which listed former Spanish prime minister, José María Aznar as a key speaker at the conference, despite the event having an “almost exclusively American audience” thus bearing little relevance to the ACRE group’s agenda of promoting a new and reformed EU.

In addition to this, the European Parliament has suspicions over another trip made by the group. ACRE spent a further €90,000 on a trade “summit” at a five-star hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala. The summit audience is said to have consisted of mostly African attendees who met 20 British politicians and participants, with only three attendees from continental Europe. Thus once again, drawing into question the relevance of such a trip to the group’s agenda.

The two events appear on the IFT website yet fail to mention the EU as the source of funding for either.

Both Hannan and ACRE have responded to the allegations. With the latter insisting that both events “contributed to EU awareness and focused on topics clearly pertinent to EU integration and EU policies”. Whilst Hannan personally, defensively described the European Parliament’s findings as “absurd and outrageous”. 

Nevertheless, even fellow conservative sources have been quick to distance themselves from ACRE, despite helping to create the group, with some brandishing the group as merely “Daniel Hannan’s travel agency”.