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.