So Serbia has won the Eurovision song contest and crowds take to the streets of Belgrade – and, yes I did watch it, although not all, you understand just least the half an hour or so, when the button on the remote control got stuck, soI just couldn’t quite switch over to watch that documentary on the Edwardian middle classes.
As Britain’s aserbic (Irish) TV host Terry Wogan was quick to point out even before the final votes were in, neighbours with close cultural and historical ties usually tend to back each other’s songs and – in an interesting hint of post-conflict reconcilation – viewers in the former Yugoslav republics did exactly that, propelling a rather saccarine love ballad to victory.
The role of the Eurovision song contest as an agent of Europeanization has been understudied academically, but as examples of earlier winners Estonia and Ukraine suggests, countries which are small and lacking in international profile or medium sized and lacking in reform, tend to take winning rather seriously. President Yukashenko even made a stage appearance post-Orange Revolution when Kiev hosted it, but mercifully wasn’t tempted to sing – outgoing Slovak PM Vladimír Mečiar’s rendition of folk song as part of his televised farewell broadcast is perhaps the closest East European politics can come to this.
Somehow West Europeans don’t take Eurovision quite so seriously. Post-Iraq, of course, we Brits never win – and, sad to say, the context has become a focus for euroscepticism (today’s edition of London’s free commuter newspaper Metro has several letters demanding that we ‘withdraw’ from Eurovisiob and spend the ‘wasted millions’ on schools and hospitals at home etc etc) – but I don’t think the streets of Hesinki were exactly heaving last year when the Finns briefly got a look in.
Democratic consolidation is when you can win the Eurovision song contest and just don’t care…