Friday, 1 February 2013

What's in a name?

Earlier this month the official slogan for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest was unveiled. We Are One. Prior to the introduction of a generic logo for Eurovision in 2004, the logos for Eurovision were different each year which excited and exasperated fans in equal measure. Since 2002 a further slogan or theme was adopted every year (with the exception of 2009). These slogans and themes have become part of the branding of the event, a way for the host country to make their mark in addition to using the generic Eurovision logo. Whilst at first glance the slogans Modern Fairy Tale, Awakening and We Are One might seem somewhat innocuous, however, on closer inspection they can reveal much more about the country promoting the message and the wider political context.

Estonia's theme from 2002, Modern Fairy Tale, was used as a way of not only showcasing the country but also as an avenue for telling a story about the country itself. It is no accident that Sleeping Beauty was the choice fairy tale in the postcard leading up to the Estonian performance. The modern fairy tale can actually be seen as a metaphor for how Estonians see their own history:

If Estonia were a fairy tale, it could perhaps be likened to Sleeping Beauty. Having awoken from the ice cold slumbers of Soviet Rule, Estonia today is a bold, young country, vibrant with creative energy and eager to take its place in Europe (Rene Vilbre cited in The official programme of the 47th Eurovision Song Contest 2002)

Turkey's theme from 2004, Under the Same Sky, might at first sound like a fluffy slogan but given the wider political context it can be read as Turkey opting to promote itself as an equal, European country, under the same sky as the rest of Europe, namely the European Union, which Turkey first applied for membership in 1987. Turkey's victory in the 2003 contest and the opportunity to stage the event in 2004 were seen as important breakthroughs by the political elite in the country. 2004 also marked the first time that Turkey has voted for Cyprus in Eurovision. 

Kyiv in 2005 remains one of the more politically charged contests over the past decade (2012 aside) and their theme of Awakening was a very obvious point in hand. Given that the Eurovision Song Contest was taking place in a country which only months before had been the focal point of the world's attention as a result of political protests, it is perhaps unsurprising that the contest that year was tinged with political rhetoric. Whilst the theme was not overtly political per se, the developments going on behind the scenes in Ukraine in 2005 definitely were. The then President, Viktor Yushchenko planned to make a lengthy speech on the Eurovision stage. The EBU did not allow this to go ahead although Yushchenko did still appear to present Greece's Elena Paparizou with her winning trophy.

The EBU continuously reinforce the point that Eurovision is not a political event. This is strictly true but it has and does become politicised whether the organisers like it or not. These slogans can serve as a platform for articulating political message in a subtle manner. It's soft politics, however, it is still politics.

The theme for 2013, We Are One, is an interesting concept. It presents Europe and Eurovision nations as united entities. This is at a time when Portugal, Turkey, Bosnia Herzegovina and Slovakia have all withdrawn from the contest in the last year. It is also a time when Europe as a social, economic and political construct is fractured. Recent debates concerning the Euro, bailouts and the UK referendum on the EU highlight that Europe is anything but at one. This is where Eurovision is powerful. For one night only, Europe sits down and watches a television programme in unison. It is unique in the television year and an opportunity for escapism. Despite some pretty naff slogans along the way, Eurovision has continued as a format for nearly 60 years and given the wider developments going on in Europe today, it appears that is it an event which is stilled needed just as much as it ever was.

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