Thursday 12 December 2013

Together they are many

In Kyiv the protests known as Euromaidan are continuing against the Ukrainian government's decision to postpone the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU. This is the third week that the capital has seen widespread unrest; the biggest wave of protests since the Orange Revolution in 2004.

The past weeks have been fraught in Kyiv, with allegations of heavy-handed police tactics, pressure from Russia to turn away from European integration and serious divisions emerging in Ukrainian society. The toppling of Lenin's statue at the weekend by Ukrainian nationalists was a hugely symbolic moment and whilst it was lauded as a triumph by some it was labelled a betrayal by others. 

These are interesting times for Ukraine, a country that has been pushed and pulled in all directions since independence in 1991. There are some contradictions though; whilst the involvement of the party Svoboda has served to strengthen the pro-EU campaign in the country, the party itself might be at odds with some of the values promoted by the EU. Svoboda are essentially a nationalist, right-wing party in Ukraine, and some of the members are some seriously unsavoury characters. This has more to do with moving away from the Kremlin's shadow rather than moving towards liberal cosmopolitanism.  Somehow I can't see Svoboda backing EU legislation supporting minority rights...

Those on the streets in Kyiv are brave people though, not only having to face police brutality, but also the harsh Ukrainian winter. Of course it wouldn't be a Ukrainian protest without Ruslana, the Ukrainian winner of Eurovision 2004 who kept the crowds entertained at the weekend.

The anthem from the Orange Revolution and Ukrainian entry into Eurovision 2005, "Together we are many, we cannot be defeated" is perhaps now more pertinent than ever. Watch the performance which begins with the dancers in handcuffs, symbolising Ukraine's subjugation. By the end of the performance the handcuffs are broken, the subtext; Ukraine is free. Except nearly a decade on, Ukraine still isn't free. Torn between Russia and the EU and divided internally, Ukraine remains a battleground, of which the eyes of the world are on once again.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

A Song for Scotland?

Today the Scottish Government launched its blueprint for independence. The document, titled "Scotland's Future: Your guide to an independent Scotland" outlines the justification for independence and sets out a series of policy pledges which the Scottish National Party would pursue in the event of a yes vote. The white paper is substantial and covers diverse topics including defence, environmental issues, economics and indeed culture. On page 532 of the report, under the section titled “Culture, Communications and Digital” the document categorically states that Scotland would seek to enter the Eurovision Song Contest.  
“The Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS) would seek membership of the EBU. We would envisage the SBS engaging with some of the EBU competitions, including Scottish entries in the Eurovision Song Contest” – Scottish Government 2013.
To critics of the independence movement this might seem unimportant, even stupid. However there’s a serious point here, regardless of one’s views on whether or not Scotland should be independent. Countries use Eurovision as platform for promoting their very existence which is exemplified in the rush of post-communist states which joined the ESC in the 1990s and it seems in the Scottish case, the same is true. Whilst the context is very different, Bosnia Herzegovina’s participation in the contest during the war demonstrated the significance that popular culture events have for newly sovereign nations. In 1992 Estonia participated in the Barcelona Olympics as an independent country, something which was hugely important for the state as it sought global recognition and increasing visibility on the world stage. The Eurovision Song Contest is and remains an important discursive tool in defining nation states and indeed notions of “Europeanness”.
Both my parents are Scottish and most of my family still live there and it’ll be interesting to see how the developments in the country unfold. Regardless of the outcome, the fact that the Scottish Government has listed the Eurovision Song Contest in their white paper demonstrates the symbolic value that the contest continues to have nearly 60 years from its inception.

Monday 25 November 2013

Ukraine: Borderland or battleground?

The name Ukraine has been interpreted as "borderland" over the centuries. Today Ukraine effectively represents a border between the EU and Russia. Since independence in 1991 the country has experienced a turbulent transition from Soviet rule and has effectively been caught between East and West ever since.
Last week Ukrainian politicians voted to suspend preparations for the signing of an association agreement paving the way for closer ties with the EU. The deal also stipulated that former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko should be released from prison for medical treatment. Ukraine came under intense pressure from the Kremlin not to sign the agreement. It seems that in this case, they've bowed to Moscow. For now.
Protestors have gathered in the capital Kyiv in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Orange Revolution. However, this situation, as with the Orange Revolution, is not straightforward. This isn't a case of East V West, nor is it a case of Russian speakers identifying solely with Russia, indeed many ethnic Russians in the country are pro-EU, further complicating the issue. Ukraine is a fascinating, complex and contradictory country; the return of Viktor Yanukovych from the ashes of the Orange Revolution exemplifies this.
It'll be interesting to watch the developments in the country in the coming days and weeks. At the weekend Kyiv will host the 11th Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Will this impact upon the show? Probably not. Unlike in 2005, where the adult version of the Eurovision Song Contest was used as a political platform by President Yushchenko's government, the junior version has tended to be a more benign affair. That said, Azerbaijan and Armenia are both entering again this year so there's plenty of opportunity for the politics of pop to rear its ugly head during the voting!
Instead of borderland, I'd describe Ukraine today as a battleground, caught up in a geopolitical tug of war. It's difficult to envisage how developments will unfold in the country in the future. Ukraine is anything but a united country. The Ukrainian entry for Junior Eurovision this year is called "We Are One", the irony of which is plain to see.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

The kids are all right?

Last weekend I was in London and got chatting to the waitress who was serving my table. Always wanting to strike up a chat (which usually leads to a discussion concerning Eurovision!) I asked her where she was from. "Estonia". Given my love of all things Estonian, this was music to my ears. The girl in question was from Narva, a majority Russian speaking city in the north east of the country, a city which has faced some serious challenges over the years. Estonia, like so many post-communist countries, has undergone rapid economic and social change in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Estonia is now a full and equal EU member and doing pretty well. On the surface, everything looks plain sailing, right? Wrong.

The tensions between Russian speakers and ethnic Estonians have been well-documented, and something that I discussed in my own research. However, the conversation with the waitress was actually rather alarming and highlighted a fundamental incongruence between building a nation with common national identity and coming to terms with recent history. The girl who would have barely remembered Soviet times claimed "everyone was happy in Estonia, there were no problems". Deportations anyone? Forced Russification? She also claimed that Estonians would rather the Nazis had won WWII since "that's what they believe". I tried to point out that the end of the war also marked a period of Soviet occupation in Estonia which is perhaps why Estonians don't mark May 9th like the Russians do. She was having none of it.

In fairness, on the flip side, ethnic Estonians have made some pretty alarming claims too. It wasn't necessarily what was said though, but what it represents. Estonia is effectively a divided country. Narva, is an almost forgotten city, alien to most ethnic Estonians. Tallinn is of course vibrant, multicultural and a rather lovely place to be. However, under the surface old tensions, mistrust and suspicion are still there. Despite massive advances towards building a more inclusive sense of national identity in Estonia, the truth is that many Russian speakers and Estonians live very separate lives. Many younger Russian speakers do speak Estonian, which is obviously a good thing, however tensions still remain. The 2007 riots which took place following the removal of a Soviet era statue exemplify the fundamentally different understandings that the two sides have to their past. The elements were there for an all-out civil war in Estonia. Thankfully this hasn't happened. 

Estonia is now free from occupation, Russian speakers living in Estonia are free too and have many opportunities today. Arguably life is easier in Estonia than in neighbouring Russia and other parts of the former USSR. I could almost understand a person who was from the older generation having such dogmatic views, however, given that this was a young, educated person, I found it surprising. The reality is that it's not been all that long since the Soviet Union collapsed, and I dare say it'll be a while before old attitudes die along with it. 

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Who says it always has to be serious?

Well two days after the event finished, I'm just about recovered! I'm talking about the UK Eurovision fan club's annual Eurobash. It's a weekend of music, mayhem and judging from the photographs, madness! Always great fun and more importantly, a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. This year was of course no exception. Eurovision fans really have an amazing capacity to turn a television show which is broadcast once a year into a year-long social event. A huge congratulations and thank you to the organisers of the event, which was held in Manchester, without their hard work and dedication we wouldn't have had the wonderful time that we all did! 

Of course a Eurovision event wouldn't be a Eurovision event without some star guests! This year we were joined by Maja Keuc who represented Slovenia in the ESC in 2011 as well as Josh James who represented the UK in 2010. The head of the Latvian delegation was also in attendance, Zita, who provided a unique, behind-the-scenes insight into the whacky world of Eurovision! In particular I'd like to pay tribute to Josh who was, and still is, a fantastic ambassador for the UK. He's not only talented, he's an all-round good guy. His parents Kim and Richard accompanied him and it was fantastic to see them again - they are rightly proud of their son and it was a pleasure to be in the company of the Dubovies again! 

Before the disco starts it's the annual Eurostars show where we strut our stuff on the main stage. The talent this year was quite astounding really, considering that none of us are professional singers. It was also truly hilarious in some parts and of course downright scary! Speaking of scary, check out the photo of me with my friends, before we went on to perform as Bucks Fizz. My parents would be so proud...

A very special mention goes to a student of my friend who I hear is a bit of a Eurovision fan. Hello Adam Dickson! Thanks for reading and I hope you continue to enjoy the show! 

Monday 23 September 2013

Openness and accountability?

After the rumours of alleged vote-rigging which emerged after the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest, the EBU launched an investigation. Today it was reported that changes to the voting procedure would take place in 2014. In a bid to make the contest more transparent, the names of each juror will be revealed as well as specific details of which countries they voted for. It appears that the EBU are taking the allegations concerning fraudulent voting seriously. Does this mean that they've uncovered something in their investigations?

Maybe, maybe not.

This isn't the first time that rumours have circulated that Eurovision has been rigged. It was alleged that the contest was fixed for Spain to win in 1968 and in the 1990s Malta faced accusations of corruption after a member of the delegation was said to have been overheard apparently offering votes in 1993. It's certainly interesting to look back at the Maltese votes in that year and indeed in 1994 and 1995; they appeared to award countries that were at the bottom of the scoreboard. Hoping that those countries might return the favour the following year, perhaps?

I welcome these changes to the voting procedure for 2014 and hope that it leads to a fairer contest in the spirit which it was intended. I do however, think that much of the hype concerning Eurovision voting is pedaled by people with an axe to grind. Take the lovely Bonnie Tyler for example, who claimed after the show that she heard Russians talking about buying votes (does she even understand Russian??) and that corruption means that artists like her have no chance. Such rumours suited Bonnie though, it's much easier to blame others than to admit that you simply weren't good enough.

One thing worth thinking about it the fact that the voting has become dull and monotonous, to the point where the semi final results are more exciting. We've not had a close contest since 2003. With nearly 40 countries voting, I think it's unlikely that we'll see a tense voting procedure in the near future.

As Stalin was rumoured to have said, it's not the voting that counts, it's who counts the votes...

Friday 13 September 2013

From Russia with love?

Where has the summer gone?!

I've been busy finishing my book amongst other things, more on that next week. In the meantime here's an article which I wrote for ESC Insight

The situation in Russia is dire and it's not an attempt to excuse it, more of an opportunity to try and provoke a wider debate. Comments welcome, as always!

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Nothing comes from Pride but Pride?

It's summer and the sun is shining! Happy days indeed. Every summer a plethora of Gay Pride events take place across the UK, some are good, some are bad and some are very ugly! These are interesting times for gay people in the UK and indeed Europe. Never have us Brits had it so good; marriage equality has passed in the House of Lords and the future looks bright. Do we still need gay pride then? Surely all the big battles have been won? 

Not quite.

It's very easy for us to be complacent, these hard-won rights can so easily be taken away as history in Europe has shown. Across the continent in Russia, Ukraine and Georgia serious battles are going on. Both Russia and Ukraine passed a series of ridiculous anti-gay laws last month which basically means that even mentioning the word gay might be seen as an offence by promoting it. Developments in Russia in particular make Tebbit and Thatcher's gay-bashing in the 1980s seem like a walk down the yellow brick road in comparison! These laws are serious though and could impact upon tourists too. Reports have emerged that openly gay visitors to Russia can be arrested under these laws. What will happen to gay athletes and their supporters next year at the Winter Olympics in Sochi? What will happen should Russia win Eurovision again? These are serious issues which in the likely event they do win the right to stage the contest again in the near future, will have a direct impact on the majority of Eurovision fans attending. 

To play devil's advocate for a minute, it could be argued that Eurovision is first and foremost a television show, not a gay event. Of course the reality is somewhat different. Eurovision has routinely been used as a platform for protest and like Azerbaijan in 2012, it offers a spotlight for those wishing to make themselves heard. If Eurovision goes to Russia then I think it could possibly be a good thing in the long-term. Such issues are a reminder that things aren't so easy for people in other countries, just like things weren't so great here in the UK not too long ago. 

Gay Pride in the UK is no longer the protest it once was, it's a celebration of diversity and as was the case of Bristol Pride last weekend, it is increasingly becoming a family event. It's worth remembering though that homophobic attacks are on the increase and people still die in the UK from such attacks. For those who want to go, get drunk and watch a series of live acts take to the stage, fine, they're lucky to be able to do that. The opportunity didn't just appear from thin air. I saw a sign at the weekend which reminded me of the true meaning of pride, which is often forgotten. Where there is pride there is also prejudice. I know who I'll be raising a toast to in Manchester next month.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

A Greek tragedy

The economic situation in Greece appears to go from bad to worse these days. Yesterday the BBC reported that the Greek government are to close the national broadcaster, ERT. Protests ensued and again the image of Greece as a bankrupt state is re-inscribed. This move has serious repercussions, not only for Greece's future participation in Eurovision of course, which until now, ERT have done very well to remain a part of (through private sponsorship) but also for civil society. Earlier today the European Broadcasting Union issued a statement urging the government to reconsider their decision. 

The existence of public service media and their independence from government lie at the heart of democratic societies, and therefore any far-reaching changes to the public media system should only be decided after an open and inclusive democratic debate in Parliament – and not through a simple agreement between two government ministers.

This move comes as more austerity cuts hit the country. Arguably there is a need to reform ERT however to simply cut the line, quite literally, as the government have done, is worrying. There was no debate, no platform for consultation, it's almost as if Greece are heading for authoritarianism. ERT is the equivalent of the BBC in Greece, it's almost unthinkable that one day two ministers could decide to pull the plug. Public broadcasting is important for civil society and in a country where the swing to far-right groups has been massive, it's arguably more pertinent than ever that Greece's public broadcasting services remain in operation. ERT is also incredibly important for the Greek community abroad. It seems when it comes to balancing the budget, culture and identity don't feature in the final shake-up. Worrying times ahead and I fear it'll only get worse for the ordinary people in Greece. 

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Only The Women Know

Yesterday I gave a talk to members of the Women's Institute in Cardiff. I was slightly nervous to be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect or how they would respond to a presentation about Eurovision. It turns out that my concerns were misplaced, what a hoot! 

The WI is an interesting organisation and judging from the activities they have planned for the coming weeks, it's clear that there's a lot more to these ladies than just "Jam and Jerusalem". These women hold some serious political clout too and are regularly asked for their comments on the issues of the day. Whilst it might be argued that they represent a narrow, middle class view of the world, I think we underestimate people, in particular the older generation. I posted a photo of the group on my Facebook page and one of my friends (jokingly) commented that they would have been against the equal marriage bill which was being voted on that evening in the House of Lords. I'm sure many would have been. I'm also sure that may would not have. One thing is for sure, we are quick to judge. 

A friend of mine has a grandmother who is 91, she's quite religious and traditional. You might think she might be borderline homophobic in her views. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. Without sounding patronising, some of the women in the audience last night had a wealth of life experiences, we'd do well to learn from some of them. I thought I'd be going into a room full of jam-making, tweed-wearing housewives. Instead I met a group of empowered, political and engaging women of varying ages.

I took the ladies for a trip down memory lane through songs from yesteryear interspersed with some of the more political anecdotes from Eurovision. If they weren't interested, they didn't show it. For years I have argued that Eurovision goes hand in hand with nation building. My experiences last night shows that Eurovision has also been a part of so many peoples formative years; "I remember Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson". When it comes to Eurovision some people love it, some hate it. Some love to hate it. It's the one event that practically everyone has an opinion on, which, nearly 60 years since the inaugural contest, is really powerful. 


Monday 3 June 2013

Bother in the Bosphorus

Thoroughly depressing scenes have emerged from Turkey over the weekend. Anti-government protests were forcibly broken up in both Istanbul and the capital Ankara. Many are concerned that the Erdogan government is increasingly authoritarian and have made their voices heard. Interestingly there is also a fear amongst secular Turks that their country is heading in the same direction as Iran. Turkey has always been a rather unique country, between East and West. It seems that this division is much more than a geograhical one. 

In 2013 Turkey withdrew from the Eurovision Song Contest. TRT, the national broadcaster, cited that they were unhappy with the changes to the voting proceedure amongst other things. This is curious given that under the current voting system Turkey have fared very well, including finishing 4th in 2009 and second in 2010. Turkish friends of mine suggested that there were deeper issues at play here and that Turkey is moving away from Europe. Could it be that the withdrawal from the ESC was a reflection of developments on the domestic political scene? Certainly the furore concerning the Finnish same-sex kiss and the  last-minute decision by TRT not to broadcast the final suggests that the political elite in the country appear to have fallen out of love with Eurovision. And Europe. 

In Sweden this year, just days before the contest took place, the Greek group,  Koza Mostra, performed at the Euro Cafe for the fans. They opened their set by performing Turkey's entry from 2004, "Up". Given the history between the two countries this in itself was pretty symbolic, however, the accompanying statement went further. "Turkey we love you, Turkey should be in Eurovision". Given the developments going on in the country at the minute, as well as the continuing debates concerning Turkey's place in Europe more generally, I wouldn't be surprised if Turkey don't return to the contest in the near future. Yet another example of Eurovision reflecting the wider political discourses of the day.  

Friday 24 May 2013

Eurovision 2013: We are one?

So that's another Eurovision Song Contest over. Congratulations to Denmark on scoring their third Eurovision win. I didn't have "Only Teardrops" down as a winner but hey, what do I know? That's the trouble when you hear the songs on a loop for weeks on end; you lose all sense of perspective.

2013 was an interesting year for Eurovision. SVT scaled down the contest considerably, in terms of budget, size and spectacle. It was no Moscow or Baku. Malmo was simple yet effective and the Swedes proved that you don't need to splash the cash in order to produce a slick television show. The venue for the 2013 contest, the Malmo Arena, was particularly cosy, so much so that the press centre next door appeared to be larger! Before the recession hit, it seemed that almost every country hosted a party, in 2013 there were fewer and they were certainly more stringent. I was fortunate to be invited to a reception by the Georgian Ambassador. It was a lovely afternoon of fine music, cuisine, culture and yes, wine. My experience of Georgians at Eurovision has always been a positive one, they are by far the friendliest delegation and it is always a pleasure being in their company. I would dearly love Georgia to win Eurovision, it would be truly fascinating to see them stage the contest and of course to visit the country.

Georgia is an emerging democracy and as such, at times, there are difficulties, as with any other country undergoing radical social, economic and political change. On May 17 it was reported that there was violent protests in the captial Tblisi against gay rights activists. Given that the country is keen to join the EU, this is a worrying turn of events. As the BBC report highlights, this wasn't a far-right mob, these were ordinary people who fear the unknown. This is when events like Eurovision are all the more powerful, and all the more important. My friend Monty wrote an excellent piece on the LGBT relationship with Eurovision last week.

Last year there were calls for Eurovision to be boycotted, that Azerbaijan is a regime country and that by attending the event journalists and fans were merely feeding into government propaganda. I went to the country and experienced life there, first-hand. Yes argubably it was the side of Azerbaijan that the authorities wanted us to see, but still, I asked those important questions. I met with activists from the group Sing For Democracy and learned a lot about life in the country. I didn't live in a bubble as some fans have stated. It is interesting to note that those acitivists and critics of the government in Azerbaijan did not want people to stay away; they wanted us to come to the country, to ask questions and to shine a spotlight on Azerbaijan's political situation. Eurovision was the only opportunity for this to happen which it why it was so important that the event went ahead.

I spoke to some fans of the contest in Sweden who were appalled at the events unfolding in Georgia and one even appeared to be outraged that I could consider going there. Change takes time and yet it can also happen rapidly, as recent developments in the UK have shown. In ten years we've gone from gays being banned from the military and Section 28 to full equality even in terms of marriage. Much of my research has focussed on Estonia and this is a place of truly inspiring change. In Estonia, little over ten years ago, there were serious safety concerns over the decision to hold a gay rights march in Tallinn. Activists were threatened and attacked, the same is true of Riga too. Fast forward to 2013, Estonia is a full and equal member of the EU, it's basically a smaller version of Finland. The other week, in the tabloid newspaper, Őhtuleht, there was a debate about sending an openly gay athlete to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sotchi. As the newspaper article stated in the opening paragraph "Russia is a homophobic state". As contentious as this statement might be, the fact is that a tabloid has spoken out against homophobia. This change wasn't due to Eurovision of course but events such as Eurovision shine a spotlight onto countries and allow them to be scrutinised like never before. Estonia has changed, but it changed with dialogue. Dismissal does not work. This is why I am supportive of Georgia hosting Eurovision one day. It's far too simplistic to just write a place off and too often smacks of western double standards. Many British people are all too quick to point the finger at countries which are apparently homophobic and yet they'll go on holiday to Dubai and to Egypt, where it's actually illegal to be gay.

As my good friend Zuly pointed out in a recent discussion, why when we are talking about human rights abuses do we only talk about a select few countries? Europe is a big place. Ok on BBC Three I discussed the situation in Belarus, because it was relevant at that point in time. However what about the rise of fascism across the EU, which at times, has appeared to go relatively unchallenged? The poor human rights records in some countries actively benefits the business interests of others; namely the west. Look at oil-rich Azerbaijan and the Arab states and the amount of British investers and holidaymakers. Look at the sweatshops used by high street retailers; we are shocked when factories collapse and people are killed and yet turn a blind eye if it means we get cheap socks. I am just as guilty. Let's not forget that there are allegations of human rights abuses in the UK too. We need to look a little bit closer to home.

So what does all this mean for Eurovision? Well the 2013 slogan, We Are One", fashioned the continent as united. In fact, we aren't one. We aren't one economically, politically or as the case of Georgia shows, socially. However neither is the EU, despite all member states signing up to the same basic values. Whilst for that moment in time, we were one, watching Eurovision together, we were all sitting in very different living rooms. The developments in Georgia show how much gay people in particular take for granted their basic freedoms which were hard won. It also highlights a need for the Georgian authorities to prove that they can protect all sectors of society, particularly if they are serious about joining the EU.

The voting in the contest this year also appears to be particularly controversial which allegations of vote-rigging by several countries. The EBU need to take these allegations seriously. There can be no whitewash as there was in 2009 after the voting scandal in Azerbaijan. It's interesting that Azeri President Aliyev has ordered an investigation into why his country did not vote for Russia in the final, Belarus' President Lukashenko has also waded in complaining that he believes the results to be falsified. This, coming from a man alleged to have rigged elections for years... Meanwhile in Baku three people have been jailed for an alleged terror plot on Eurovision last year. The EBU keep insisting that Eurovision is not political, however, politics clearly does come into it, whether they like it or not.

As for the results. It was an interesting year given that not a single Former Yugoslav country qualified to the final for the first time since 1993. Belgium and the Netherlands, who haven't fared so well over the past decade or so, returned to form. Norway returned to the top five for the first time since their 2009 victory and Italy continued their strong run in the contest since returning in 2011. Hard luck on the UK's Bonnie Tyler, she was a great ambassador for the UK. Ultimately though, as with last year, what works on paper doesn't translate into votes. The BBC need to have a long think about what it is they want from Eurovision.

Thanks to everyone who made Eurovision in Sweden a terrific experience, thank you especially to the BBC team who despite popular opinion, do work extremely hard when it comes to Eurovision. Better luck next year to the UK and of course, Georgia!

Whilst it might be a quiet season for Eurovision over the summer, it's going to be a busy one for me as I try and finish my book, based on my PhD. Will keep you posted!

Thursday 16 May 2013

Nation building through Eurovision

The second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest takes place today. For some countries the results tonight are incredibly important. One example is Georgia, a country keen to promote itself on the world stage. Part of the process of constructing “the nation” involves establishing the state within the wider geopolitical context. For a small country participation in events like the Eurovision Song Contest offer an opportunity to do exactly this.

Earlier this week I attended a reception with the Georgian Ambassador here in Sweden who spoke about the importance of events such as Eurovision for promoting the country. This wasn’t the usual affair with free wine, food and banal chat. This was a Georgian cultural afternoon where the Ambassador presented for 20 minutes about Georgia and the importance to them of European integration. For years the Estonian government have been advising the Georgians on reform and it is clear from speaking to them that this is a country which is hungry for recognition as a full and equal European partner.

What’s this got to do with Eurovision though? Well smaller, lesser known countries have few opportunities to punch above their weight. As the Irish showed in the 1990s, Eurovision gives host countries the chance to say something to the world and on their own terms. The publicity gained from winning and staging the contest could not be bought. What’s interesting is that with Georgia, it is mere participation in this event which is important to them. It’s not just smaller, lesser known countries which use Eurovision as a promotional opportunity. Some use it as an exercise in public diplomacy. Greece, on its knees financially and yet still continues to participate in Eurovision. Failure to take part would effectively present an image of the country as a poor relative of the EBU. Last night the Greeks performed their song at the Euro Café here in Malmö. Before doing so they performed the Turkish entry from 2004 before announcing “Turkey should be here in Eurovision”. This is hugely significant and a reflection of the progress the Greeks and Turks have made in terms of their relationship. Eurovision offers an opportunity to further international relations and I think this is what makes it just that little bit more than a TV show.

Good luck to all the participants tonight!

Saturday 11 May 2013

It's all political!

Rehearsals are continuing here in Malmo; some good, some bad and some very ugly! I'm not going to provide a critique as there are so many others blogging about the performances. I will say though, it's amazing how opinions change, as they always do. Songs which I hadn't even considered qualifying are now coming across very strongly. I have a sneaky suspicion about Malta now! Time will tell...
The Swedes are injecting a little bit of politics into the event this year, even though the EBU continuously insist that Eurovision is "not a political event". The slogan for this year, "We Are One", is said to reflect the diversity of Europe and the importance of universal human rights. Given that the contest is taking place in Malmö, one of the most diverse cities in Sweden, this is fitting.
The Swedes aren't afraid to tackle the difficult questions that were dodged so many times in Azerbaijan. At the press conference for Belarus our host, Alexandra Pascalidou, asked the delegation about the situation in their country with regards to freedom of expression. Awkward. The team, unsurprisingly, didn't answer the question and just said how much they love Eurovision. Their Dear Leader would have been proud I'm sure. Some journos here questioned the appropriateness of such an angle given that "it's only Eurovision". I think it's completely appropriate. These are press conferences and yet they're used as an opportunity to fawn over random acts. There are very serious and real questions concerning freedom of speech and human rights amongst so many of the participating countries. I spoke to Alexandra after the press conference, she's a feisty woman and was completely unrepentant about asking those delicate issues.
"I have fought hard for equality for all throughout my life. I'm a Greek Swede born in Romania. We have countries in this contest which don't uphold basic freedoms which most of us live by. I will not be told not avoid certain subjects by anyone".
I think it's important to speak for people who have no voice, to raise these issues. Yes, the singers can't do anything to change things but it would be wrong to simply sweep it under the carpet. I'm not meaning to have a go at Belarus, it's one of my favourite songs this year, however it is essentially a regime country. The EBU are in a very awkward position and will be should the contest ever go to Minsk.
Tonight it's the Belarusian party, I'll be there. I will try and speak to some of the delegation about life in Belarus. Is it really as bad as is reported? I doubt I'll get a true picture of the situation. It's important not to let ourselves become pawns in a propaganda exercise, no matter how much free booze they ply us with. We aren't one. That's the point that the Swedes are trying to make and fair play to them, they're certainly not "running scared".  

Friday 10 May 2013

Eurovision days 2/3/4

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!

Monday 6 May 2013

Eurovision 2013 - Day One

Eurovision 2013 has officially started! It’s scary how quickly time flies. I’m here in Malmo where it’s all kicking off. Armenia is back after withdrawing last year so no doubt it’ll be business as usual for them and Azerbaijan (i.e. ignoring each other!) Whilst it’ll be interesting to see the interaction between the Swedes and the Belarusians following the teddy bear incident last year, after the controversy of 2012, it’s looking like a tame year in comparison, politically speaking.

So far so good here in Malmo, the city is small but friendly, expensive but clean and it’s shaping up to being the perfect city for Eurovision. Often when the event is in larger cities it gets lost somehow, Moscow and Istanbul were classic examples of this. Small cities like Tallinn, Helsinki and Malmo allow for an intimate atmosphere. I’m in a hotel with my friend Elaine for the first week before moving to an apartment in week two. It’s a rather small hotel, with a transparent shower screen. Good job we know each other pretty well! (We certainly will do after this trip!)


Eurovision of course has a massive gay following and the Swedes, unlike our Azeri hosts last year, are not afraid to reach out to the contest’s core fans. In the hotel reception there are gay magazines, Eurovision guides and maps of the city’s gay scene. We certainly won’t have any exciting experiences this year like we did in Baku; underground gay bars and local pubs for local people. However, it’s quite refreshing really to feel welcomed in a city where people are safe to live their lives.

The theme for the show this year is “We are one” which is an interesting one, fashioning Europe as a united entity when in reality it’s a fractured construct, economically, politically and socially. Much has been made here in Malmo of the multicultural vibrancy in the city, so perhaps it’s fitting that such an international event is here, in the city where over 150 languages are spoken.

The Swedes are doing things differently this year, they’ve arranged Eurovision on a much smaller scale. The venue is small, the press centre is restricted until Friday and currently the assembled press are crammed into the Slaghuset (the slag house, and venue for the Euro Club). SVT are undoubtedly aiming to present a slick, professional television show. For them, this is just that, a television event. Unlike previous hosts where Eurovision has become almost like a circus, the Swedes don’t appear to be engaging in a quasi-propaganda offensive. To be blunt, they don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

Rehearsals began in earnest this morning. I will try and update the blog daily, although I am going to Ukraine for two days tomorrow, back Thursday. Euro Club opens tonight so no doubt there will be a few sore heads and lighter wallets tomorrow! More later!

Thursday 2 May 2013

The Big Prediction

I admit it, when it comes to predicting the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, I'm pretty useless. I did pretty well from 2004-2006 and yet didn't see Germany coming in 2010. In 2012 I had about ten possible winners down. I tend to get around 8 out 10 the ten qualifiers correct and I dare say it'll be the same this year. I've listened to the songs too many times to form any sort of objective opinion. Let's face it, the vast majority of viewers (and voters) will hear the songs once on the Saturday night final (perhaps in the semis if they're particularly keen). The performance for the juries on the Friday is crucial, as is the Saturday night final. Take the UK's Blue in 2011; they murdered their song on the Friday and the juries marked them down, yet in the final they pulled it out of the bag and the public rewarded them with fifth place. The draw is also pretty important, a song in stark contrast to the entries performed before can really stand out. 2013 is generally seen as an open year with no runaway winner. It'll all come down to how the song is staged and how well it's performed.

I just can't see Denmark doing the business, despite it being the favourite. I can however, see something coming from slightly left-field. Malta is a catchy little ditty, could it be a dark horse? Perhaps not. Belarus? Minsk would be interesting but can't see it happening. I think if the voters and jurors go up-tempo then the winner will be either Norway, Germany or Ukraine. If they go for a ballad it's going to be Georgia, Italy, Azerbaijan (remember the Turkish vote will be stronger this year since Turkey are out) or even Russia. For what it's worth, I have each way bets on Norway, Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. I shouldn't really place any more, although I probably will. I'll wait and see what the rehearsals are like. Songs which come across strongly in the preview videos don't always come across well on the night - look at Ukraine last year. Similarly, songs which don't appear to go anywhere in the videos are transformed when performed on the stage. It's going to be an exciting and interesting contest!

I travel to Sweden on 4th May and will be blogging daily. Happy Eurovision!

The Big Review (39) United Kingdom

Last but certainly not least, it's my own country, the United Kingdom. Last time Eurovision was in Malmo, the UK team were greeted with a banner which read "Welcome Untied Kingdom". With a referendum on Scottish independence looming, that statement could still stand! After taking a gamble last year with Engelbert Humperdinck, the BBC have chosen another seasoned performer to represent them in Eurovision, Bonnie Tyler. Bonnie is of course a well-known act with massive hits under her belt. Those hits were nearly thirty years ago though. "Believe In Me" is a nice song, I like it a lot and it will certainly do better then "Love Will Set You Free" (it can't do much worse!) I just don't know if this is instant or impactful enough to capture those important votes. In a funny twist of fate, by entering Eurovision, Bonnie follows in the footsteps of Nicki French, who had a big hit with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and represented the UK in 2000. I'd like to see the UK on the left-hand side of the scoreboard. If "Believe in Me" makes the top ten I'll be surprised (and of course delighted!) If Bonnie flops then I think it's time the BBC had a re-think about what they're going to do in 2014 and also ask themselves what it is that they actually want from the contest. Loreen proved last year that the Eurovision tag is not a barrier to having an international hit (#3 in the UK!) and perhaps we should try and send something a little more relevant to the UK music scene in future. Still, "Believe in Me" is a nice song and I wish Bonnie well. She comes across as a nice lady in interviews and given that I live in Cardiff, it's nice to have a Welsh act representing the UK. Go Bonnie!

The Big Review (38) Spain

Spain, like France seem to have lost their way when it comes to Eurovision. I dearly wish Spain had won last year with Pastora Soler's "Quedate Conmigo". Alas it wasn't to be. This year they've opted for an established band, ESDM and a song which sounds very Celtic. It's nice enough but a bit, well, odd. Bottom five for sure!

The Big Review (37) Italy

Since their return in 2011, Italy have injected class into Eurovision and that tread continues in 2013. This year they've sent the actual winner of San Remo, Marco Mengoni with the gentle ballad "L'essenziale". This is a good song, Marco has a great voice and oozes charisma. Like Georgia, if the voters go for a ballad, this could do it. If they win, I just hope that the Italians will be a little more organised in 2014 than they were in 1991!

The Big Review (36) Germany

Germany serves as an example to any jaded western broadcaster of how to turn around fortunes in Eurovision. Where as previously they would be seen as total no-hopers (in fact, they were, finishing near the bottom on several occasions over the past decade), they have made Eurovision a credible event again. Their national final was revamped, they won and have been in the top ten every year since. This year they've chosen Cascada with the song "Glorious". Cascada are no strangers to the UK and had a number one with "Evacuate The Dancefloor". Some have commented that "Glorious" is similar to the winning song of 2012, "Euphoria", accusations of plagiarism ensued which essentially amounted to nothing more than a storm in a teacup. If anything, Loreen plagiarised Cascada! I like this a lot and would love Germany to do well. I'd be happy if it won, I just hope it's not in Dusseldorf in 2014!

The Big Review (35) France

Out of all the Big Five countries, France is probably the most apathetic when it comes to Eurovision. The public pay little attention to it, despite some real efforts from the state broadcasters to get some big names. This year they've opted for quite a contemporary sound. Essentially it's like the French version of Amy Winehouse. I like this at the start but after a minute or so, I lose interest. I imagine the same thing will happen with the televoting public too. I think this is a candidate for the bottom five which is a shame, it's not that bad, it's just not that good either.

The Big Review (34) Sweden

With Sweden hosting the contest in 2013 there was a lot of interest surrounding Melodifestivalen this year. There was also a great deal of diasppointment amongst fans in the voting results and the standard of songs. It was almost as if the Swedes were trying not to win again! For the first time ever, the winning song, "You", came from the Andra Chansen (second chance) round! This entry is fairly standard Swedish schlager fodder. It's good but no cigar. I doubt Sweden will do the double but with a big hometown roar and strong performance, this could be in the final shake-up on the night.

The Big Review (33) Romania

Last year I was convinced that Romania had a fighting chance of winning Eurovision with "Zaleilah". This year I am convinced that Romania are not only going to fail to qualify, they will fail badly. Cazar's vocals, whilst impressive, are also downright freaky. The song "It's My Life" doesn't do much for me either. I full expect people at my preview party tomorrow night to be falling around laughing when this comes on. Still, it's memorable, for all the wrong reasons. If Europe is having a bit of a laugh then this might just sneak through but I'm sticking to my guns. For now.

Qualifying: No

The Big Review (32) Switzerland

It's the Sally Army Band for Switzerland! Or Takasa as they are now calling themselves. Still, it's the Sally Army Band for Switzerland! When this was chosen it even made it to the BBC news website. It's certainly a quirky story. Some have mentioned that the Salvation Army have homophobic members, however, which religious organisation doesn't? As for the song, "You and Me", it's a catchy one and performed well. It's not my favourite but it comes at the right time in the contest and I think this will qualify relatively easily. Certainly no winner but an interesting backstory for the commentators to tell.

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (31) Georgia

Georgia knows how to put on a good Eurovision party. Indeed their 2010 effort was more impressive than the official Welcome Reception! Georgia is an EU-aspirant country, pro-actively tackling corruption and keen to make a mark on the world stage. Participation in Eurovision is very much part of this process of projecting a positive international image. The chance to win and stage Eurovision are serious opportunities for some countries and that's very true when it comes to Georgia. Last year the delegation spoke candidly about Eurovision and the platform it affords them. To put it crudely, they're out to win. This is perhaps their best ever chance. "Waterfall", written by the winning Swedish team behind Loreen's "Euphoria", is a dramatic and moody ballad which of course, features the obligatory key change. It's old-fashioned but it's performed incredibly well and I can see this going far. I'd be absolutely delighted for Georgia to win, not only do I stand to win a lot of money with the bookies, it will also provide the perfect opportunity to visit an interesting country with a rich cultural history. If they go for a ballad, this could well be it.

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (30) Albania

Albania were traditionally the first country to announce their Eurovision entry, using the long-standing Festivali i Këngës as a national final. I sat through the event in December 2009 - never again! Just when you think it's about to end, it continues and continues - to the point when even the contestants look bored! Albania have come up with some pretty decent entries in the past. Whilst their song this year is well-performed, it doesn't really do anything for me. I can't see this qualifying although saying that, many couldn't fathom how they did so well last year with "Suus".

Qualifying: No

The Big Review (29) Norway

After their landslide victory in 2009, Norway have had a tough few years in Eurovision. Their entry "My Heart Is Yours" flopped badly on home turf in 2010, they failed to qualify in 2011 and in 2012 they came last in the final. This year they have come out fighting. "I Feed Me Your Love" (that's an offer a boy can't refuse!) is a very modern piece of electro-pop which builds nicely. It's contemporary and fresh. Intially I wasn't sure of this and whilst I would prefer to venture out of Scandinavia next year, I think this is a possible winner. It has massive hit potential and would be good for the contest. Staged simply yet effectively, no gimmicks, just pure class. If the voters of Europe opt for an uptempo song then this could be it.

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (28) Hungary

Hungary are a strange country when it comes to Eurovision. At the start of the voting in 1994, the year of their debut, they looked like they were going to walk the contest. Since that time success has evaded them. They were the big fan favourite in 2011 with "What About My Dreams?" yet in the final it flopped. Still, they've qualified for the last two contests. Their entry this year is a rather strange yet melodic, plodding song. It'll be interesting to see how this one is staged. I don't hate it, I don't particularly love it either. It's a Marmite song if ever there was one. Fair play to them for trying something different. I can't see this qualifying although I said that last year...

Qualifying: No

Tuesday 30 April 2013

The Big Review (27) Armenia

After Armenia's somewhat controversial, albeit unsurprising withdrawal from Eurovision last year, they're back. I thought after their nemesis Azerbaijan won and hosted Eurovision that they would pull out all the stops and try to win the contest. Judging from the national final it appears that this is not the case. He has an impressive monobrow but that's about it. Looks like another year without Armenia in the Eurovision final.

Qualifying: No

The Big Review (26) Israel

I love hearing songs in Hebrew and on paper I should love this big belting ballad from Israel. However I simply don't. This is pure dirge. The plunging neckline doesn't help this either, nor does the wetsuit she appears to be wearing. I really want to like this however I can't find any redeeming features. Sorry to my Israeli friends but it looks like another year in the semis for you and deservedly so.

Qualifying: No

The Big Review (25) Greece

Despite the desperate economic situation in Greece, they continue to enter Eurovision. The Greek model for participating in Eurovision is an interesting one, they've managed to secure private funds and sponsorship so that the Greek flag flies proudly on the Eurovision stage. Absence from the contest would arguably consolidate the image of Greece as a poor relative in the EU family. Greece, like Azerbaijan, know how to "do" Eurovision and have never missed a final since the current semi-final format was introduced. Their fate has arguably been boosted by a strong diaspora vote as well. However, credit to the Greeks, they've put their big stars in with catchy songs and been rewarded. "Alcohol Is Free" is their song for 2013. Interesting title at a time when Greece continue to face austerity and the rest of Europe is considering introducing a minimum price for alcohol. This is a fun, catchy song and I'm sure that after paying the Swedish prices for booze, many will be wishing that alcohol was indeed free! I think this will do very well, certainly a top ten placing in the final and perhaps even better... The question is, will Aunty Angela allow them to host Eurovision should they win? Oh and the boys in the kilts get my vote!

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (24) Iceland

Iceland, a country that usually always hosts a good party during Eurovision week, and has entered some pretty decent tunes over the past decade. I really like this song, it's a nice ballad which builds and builds. The video is, quite frankly, a little gross - gutting fish? Why? I know fishing is a big deal over there and all that... I think this would have more chance if they had opted to perform in English however I respect them for sticking with their national language. It did Estonia no harm last year. I would love to experience a Eurovision in Iceland one year, as with Malta though, I don't think it will be there in 2014...

Qualifiying: Yes

The Bigf Review (23) Bulgaria

Bulgaria only started entering Eurovision in 2005 and haven't had the best of luck, qualifying only once, in 2007, with the same duo who are representing them this year. Elitsa and Stoyan's song this year is in a similar vein to their previous entry, "Water", although I have to say, I don't think it's anywhere near as good. I actually find this slightly irritating. They're singing about champions apparently, I can't help thinking of mushrooms, funny ones at that. I can't see this reaching the final, although they came 11th last year so who knows?

Qualifying: No

The Big Review (22) Malta

Let's hear it for plucky little Malta, a country so enthusiastic about Eurovision despite some very mixed fortunes. I loved the quirkiness of this when I first heard. Whilst it's not my favourite song this year, it has charm and Gianluca, like Kurt last year, has charisma and I think it'll come across well on the night. Gianluca also has a good back story - he's just qualified as a doctor (a real one, unlike me!) I would dearly love Malta to win one year. I'm not sure 2013 will be their year however some are tipping this as a possible dark horse. I don't think it will disgrace the Maltese and should easily provide them with a place in the final again.

Qualifying: Yes

Monday 29 April 2013

The Big Review (21) Finland

Eurovision is a funny old world. When I heard this for the first time I really didn't like it. Far too Katy Perry and I found it all a little bit irritating. Having seen it live at the London Eurovision Preview Party, I now love it! It's catchy, well-performed and the ode to equal marriage is inspired. I think this could be a potential dark horse. If it gets a good draw, after the many ballads...

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (20) Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan know how to do Eurovision. They know what works, they have a loyal voting base and will probably always qualify. Farid is a good singer and he's pretty easy on the eye too which always helps. "Hold Me" is a fairly standard ballad but it's well-performed and catchy. With no Turkey this year, I expect Azerbaijan to mop up some of their votes and can see the juries going for this too. Baku 2012 was a year to remember and despite the serious questions it raised, I would have no problem returning there. I think a top 5 for this is not out of the question.

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (19) FYR Macedonia

After the class act that was Kaliopi last year, FYR Macedonia have opted for something a little different. This is bonkers and I love it! The female vocalist, Esma, makes this for me. The song itself is a tad dull but the memorable performance from Esma gives this a much-needed boost and for that reason I can see this getting a slot in the final. Stranger things have happened.

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (18) San Marino

She's back! When it was announced that Valentina Monetta was representing San Marino again there was speculation as to which social network she would pay homage to. My money was on Grindr! The rumours that Lys Assia was flying the flag for the small country proved to be wrong. This song couldn't be further from "The Social Network Song" from 2012. "Crisalide" is a belting ballad which builds for two minutes and then goes all up-tempo towards the end. Initially I thought it took away from the power of the song but having seen it live, it seems to work well. Valentina can really sing, and perform. This surely San Marino's best chance to qualify to the final. Of course Mr Siegel is still involved but this time, he's forgiven.

Qualifying: Yes

The Big Review (17) Latvia

After the Beautiful Song from Latvia last year they enter something which, well, isn't. I like the energy of this song and think it's a good opener for the second semi-final. However it doesn't really go anywhere after the first chorus. Still, it's not bad, it's just not great either. I think it will be another year without Latvia in the final, particularly since this semi is seen as the stronger one by many.

Qualifying: No

Thursday 18 April 2013

The Big Review (16) Serbia

Since their debut and victory in 2007 (well sort of in 2004) Serbia have proved that they know how to "do" Eurovision. Last year they sent the very classy Zelkjo Joksimovic. This year they've opted for something a little, well, less classy. Moje 3 look like girls who know how to have a good time. Their song translates as "love is everywhere". I'm sure it is! When I first saw this I was aghast at how trashy it was, however, I have now grown to love this. I'm not sure if the juries will though and with only a few neighbours to count on, it looks like Serbia might just miss out on a place in the final this year.

Qualifying: No

The Big Review (15) Belgium

When I first heard this song I thought it was absolutely dire. The singer's vocals were ropey to say the least and I was convinced that Belgium would remain in the semis for the third consecutive year. It turns out that their singer, Roberto, actually has a decent voice. Perhaps forcing him to sing in the national final at 10am wasn't the best idea that the Belgians had. The studio version of this song is much improved, it builds nicely, he's easy on the eye - something for the girls and gays and I can see this qualifying! I doubt it'll trouble the top 15 in the final but coming straight after Cyprus it stands out.

Qualifying: Yes!