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.