Even a glimpse into the history of the Eurovision Song Contest reveals that it has become an important symbolic event for many participant countries. Some may even consider its founding, in the post-war years, as inherently political. Even though it remains first and foremost a television show, politics does come into it. With specific focus on several former Soviet republics, this talk will discuss the role of the Eurovision Song Contest in terms of nation building and the implications that this has in terms of wider discussions concerning minority rights, freedom of expression and national identity.
What are some of the key 'political' moments in the contest's history? How do nations sing their way into Europe? From controversies in Baku to celebrating diversity in Kyiv, Dr. Paul Jordan will explore in detail trends and concepts surrounding the contest.
Paul Jordan is a familiar face on TV around the time of Eurovision and has appeared on BBC Breakfast, Sky News, BBC World, Five News as well as the 2011 documentary The Secret History of Eurovision which was broadcast across Europe. Since 2012 Paul has been the pundit for the BBC’s live coverage of the semi-finals. He has also appeared on Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 2 and various network stations in the UK and abroad.
Whilst the Eurovision Song Contest is an event which is often dismissed as musically and culturally inferior, Paul’s research shows that different countries attribute different meanings to the event. In 2011 Paul was awarded his PhD, The Eurovision Song Contest: Nation Building and Nation Branding in Estonia and Ukraine, from the University of Glasgow and in 2014 he published his book, The Modern Fairy Tale: Nation Branding, national identity and the Eurovision Song Contest in Estonia. Paul has watched Eurovision since he was a child and has attended the event since 2000. His other research interests include nation and state building, post-Soviet identity politics and nationalism.
Russia has gone on to become one of the most successful countries in the Eurovision Song Contest with a string of top five performances. When the contest was held in Moscow in 2009 several LGBT groups used it as an opportunity to draw attention to gay rights in the country but it wasn’t until 2014 that the issue really became inflamed and the Eurovision Song Contest became a symbolic battleground between traditional values and freedom of expression – something which came to the foreground in the wake of Conchita Wurst’s victory.
In addition to this Paul will explore aspects of Estonia's self-branding in 2002, opening a can of worms for politicians in the post-Soviet, pre-EU accession period. Similarly, a closer examination of Ukrainian performances through the contest reflect an ethnic Ukrainian narrative of the nation which like in Estonia, opens the question of which Ukraine and for who? The 2017 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Ukraine following Jamala’s controversial win the previous year. Russia, already embittered after losing narrowly to Ukraine, decided to send a singer who had previously performed in the occupied territory of Crimea. Yulia, the singer, who was a wheelchair user, was barred from entering the country and suddenly Ukraine’s message of celebrating diversity, seemed to be called into question. What can we learn from the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest and what do the debates tell us about Europe today?