By Timoleon Palaiologos,
Soon after the end of WW2 most countries were struggling to overcome the obstacles created by the destructiveness of the war. Europe was split in half, divided by the iron curtain that separated the west/liberal-capitalist and the east/communist countries respectively. Early on, political alliances began to appear in the form of military alliances and political communities. One such political community was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that was established in 1952 by its founding members, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg.
Coincidentally, the first ever Eurovision Song Contest (officially Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Europeéne) was held on the 24th of May 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. The only participants, at the time, were the hostess country and the members of the ECSC. As the years went by, more and more countries were invited to participate in the Eurovision song contest. By chronological order the countries’ debut, which does not necessarily mean consecutive appearance in the Eurovision contest, is as follows; Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom (1957), Sweden (1958), Monaco (1959), Norway (1960), Finland, Spain and Yugoslavia (1961), Portugal (1964), Ireland (1965), Malta (1971), Israel (1973), Greece (1974), Turkey (1975), Morocco (1980), Cyprus (1981), Iceland (1986), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia (1993), Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland Romania, Russia, Slovakia (1994), North Macedonia (1998) etc.
The abovementioned participants and year of participation highlights some important features regarding the contest.
Participation of Socialist-Communist Countries
It’s no lie that the west and the east did not get along after 1945. Subsequently, the Cold War affected the participation of the Warsaw Pact countries in the Eurovision Contest. Only Yugoslavia, following its independent path promoted by its leader Josip Broz Tito regarding foreign affairs, was able to participate in the contest, debuting in 1961 and managed to win the contest in 1989 and therefore, hosted the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb. The dissolution of the Soviet Union promoted new political relations that enabled the former Soviet Socialist Republics to debut in 1994.
The Case of Israel
Apart from European countries being left out of the contest there are some other, non-european countries- that were early on included in the completion of the contest. Israel is probably the most important of these countries as it has won the competition 4 times and has participated 43 times in total. The inclusion of Israel in the 1973 Eurovision is not a coincidence but a natural development, following the situation in the Middle East at the time. Israel had withstood an attack of the Arab Coalition against its territory in 1967 during the Six-day War. Completely isolated, thousands of kilometers away from its allies in Europe and the US, Israel did not and still does not take its integrity as an entity for granted. Still, in my opinion, the spark that ignited Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is the terrorist attack against the Israeli Olympic Team during the Munich Summer Olympics of 1972.
On September 5th 1972, Palestinian terrorists of the Black September Organization killed 2 Israeli athletes, took 9 more as hostages and demanded the immediate release of over 230 Arab prisoners that were imprisoned by Israel. In the end, 5 militants died during a shootout with the West German Police, first having killed all Israeli hostages and 1 West German policeman. In my opinion this terrorist attack was a turning point in the Israeli approach towards European matters. Israel slowly but steadily, promoted itself as a western developed, and most importantly, European country standing as an oasis in the underdeveloped Middle East. Its participation and disproportionate -compared to its size-, success in the competition that for quite some time reached a huge audience (especially during the 70s-80s and early 90s in Europe) subconsciously promoted the image of Israel as a First World country, just as France and Germany.
Israel remains up to this date the center of attention in the Eurovision Song Contest. Its 2018 win in Portugal quickly turned out to be controversial after a Facebook post of Israeli Prime Minister which stated “Next year in Jerusalem”, interpreted (as it should) as an open announcement that Israel would hold next year’s contest in Jerusalem, Israel’s internationally unrecognized de facto capital. Eventually, after the backlash, the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Tel Aviv, Israel’s de jure capital.
Viewer Voting System
Politics play a major role in the voting process as well. Since 2009 a mixed voting system exists comprised of the combination of the jury’s vote and the public’s vote to decide the winner of the competition. However, this does not stop the audience from voting on emotion rather than quality-wise. For example, the Scandinavian countries always seem to exchange the highest votes between them, such is the case with Greece and Cyprus, maybe Belarus and Russia etc.
Taking into account all of the above, the point I’m trying to make is, the sole structure of the Eurovision is meant to be political, even if some try to prove otherwise. It is in fact a contest, a competition. It is supposed to be competitive and so rivalries and bad blood between countries and nations will always be present. And not only countries’ controversies are promoted through the competition but social issues such as war and poverty. Be sure that the rapid decline of Eurovision’s publicity is caused by this attempt to “correct” the operation of the contest.
- European Coal and Steel Community | European organization, Encyclopedia Britannica, Available here
- Eurovision Song Contest, Encyclopedia Britannica, Available here
- History by events, Eurovision.tv, Available here
- Massacre begins at Munich Olympics, HISTORY, Available here
- ‘Next Year in Jerusalem!’ In Israel, Eurovision Win Is Seen as a Diplomatic Victory, Too The New York Times, Available here
- 13 times Eurovision got super political, Politico, Available here