The Eurovision bubble is certainly in full swing, I’ve no idea of what day of the week it is. After the rehearsals on Monday I went to Ukraine for two days, as you do. So this particular blog post today is less about Eurovision and more about my expedition. I’m going to be working on a research project on Ukraine’s nation branding campaign later in the year. I was last there in 2007 and so much has changed. They’ve built a new terminal which is impressive, signs in both Cyrillic and English, air condition and specific smoking areas. Euro 2012 appears to have left a lasting legacy. Old Soviet habits die hard though; the hotel was, well, interesting. I was staying in the Hotel Ukraine, right in the centre of Kyiv. 4 stars, allegedly. It’s in need of renovation but was perfectly situated. To get the room key you need to take a piece of paper to the “hostess”, there’s one for each floor, she then grudgingly gives you the key to the room. It provides jobs but is so inefficient although I suppose it stops people bringing undesirables into the hotel. Or does it? In the lobby there were adverts for an “erotic show”, which basically meant a pole dancing club where the women were completely starkers. In the evenings there also appeared to be a lot of ladies, sitting by themselves in reception… Kyiv is a really beautiful city, it was scorching hot and it was nice to be back.
On Tuesday evening I decided to check out the local gay bar, Pomada. It’s funny, we take basic freedoms for granted, people in the UK question the need for gay pride events these days. It’s worth keeping in mind that there are countries on the doorstep where being gay is particularly difficult. Arguably Kyiv is more cosmopolitan than the rest of Ukraine, however the tight security and underground nature of the bar suggests that gay life in Ukraine is discreet to say the least. It’s also worth remembering the important role that straight girls play in the lives of gay men; certainly in Pomada it appeared that they were real champions for their gay friends. The drag queen was particularly interesting given that she was dressed as a Soviet veteran, the day before the national parade commemorating the Soviet army’s victory, Europe day. Commemorations and memorials are essentially a form of nation building, affirming a national identity and reminding citizens of that constructed identity. On May 9th people also visit the graves of their relatives, laying flowers and having a bit of a party. It was really interesting to see people having a picnic by the graveside with shots of vodka. I must have been Ukrainian in a previous life…
I returned to Sweden last night (Thursday) with Estonian Air via Tallinn, it was so nice to be back, even for 45 minutes. You know you’re in Eesti when the wifi works perfectly. I had to laugh though, the safety demonstration on the flight was in Estonian and English, they then played a Russian version at which point the flight attendants stopped demonstrating! Read into that what you will! When I arrived I went straight (only straight) to the San Marino party. A lovely evening was had by all although hearing a jazz version of their entry from 2012, “The Social Network Song” was a tad bizarre. Alcohol was free, well the first three drinks were. Lovely food, good company, followed by the usual dance floor fodder later, fantastisk, as they say in Sverige! Dancing the night away in the Euroclub was Farid from Azerbaijan, a sweet bloke and a very friendly delegation. There was a slightly awkward moment when the DJ played Armenia’s 2008 entry, at which point they looked really uncomfortable and stopped dancing. Fair play to them though, they could have stormed off in a huff and yet they stayed and continued to party with everyone else.
Today the press centre opened, it’s a little camp and very stylish - would we expect anything else from the Swedes? They’re handing out bottles for water, boasting that Sweden has some of the best tap water in the world. We all know its Scotland which has THE best of course! There’s free tea and coffee, lots of space available and it’s all incredibly well organised. The EBU press conference took place earlier and questions were asked about human rights in Eurovision. Should countries which don’t uphold basic freedoms be allowed in the contest? The EBU replied, rather diplomatically, that they work with national broadcasters and not the state and therefore they should be allowed. What happens though if the national broadcasters are tightly controlled by the state? A good point was made; change comes from within and by working with countries which have difficult political situations then positive change can be achieved. However this change also has to come from within the specific countries too. Similarly to the complexities surrounding gay pride in Moscow, these things can’t be imposed from outside.
More people are arriving and it’s all getting a little hectic. More tomorrow!