Eurovision's Greatest Hits is the second big anniversary celebration of the contest after a similar affair back in 2005. Back then ‘Congratulations’, produced to mark the 50th anniversary, was also due to be a BBC venture, although it ended up in the hands of DR, the Danish broadcaster, who had proven itself a friend of the EBU but albeit a slightly dysfunctional Eurovision host in 2001. DR was also instrumental in supporting the EBU to launch Junior Eurovision. But despite the different host nations, both anniversary shows were produced in exactly the same way – and both recognised the same songs, the same era - arguably, the same contest. But surely there’s more to wheeling out Fly On The Wings Of Love, Brotherhood of Man and Johnny Logan every ten years?
It couldn’t be a more important time to recognise the successes of Eurovision beyond the traditional European border. But both in 2005 and in 2015, the contribution of those nations has been whitewashed from Eurovision history. It’s no surprise to me that the contest winners of both 2001 and 2002 didn’t feature in either anniversary contest on the basis of music alone. Both were absolutely horrific stains on songwriting as an art, but they were historic. Being the first time Eurovision ventured to the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia respectively. But no, they weren’t even marked in a medley and in fact, Eurovision powerhouse Russia featured only featured once.
For those of us who aren’t just fans of the music, but followers of the contest itself, it is a disappointment that the EBU failed to oversee a fitting anniversary show that recognised the true values and history of a contest. Particularly at a time when it has seen difficult and challenging times.
Today, Europe is not in the midst of the excitement and expansion that gripped the continent from the early 2000s until the financial recession took hold in 2008. Russia has forced itself upon Crimea after democracy rose up in Ukraine. The terrorist attacks across France and Denmark just months ago. The killing of nearly a hundred young activists in Norway. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the midst of financial crisis. Catalonia and Scotland trying to break away, whilst Kosovo tries to ascend to the international stage. Eurovision is a coming together each year that does not hide our differences – the booing of Russia, the nil points of the United Kingdom – politics has always been alive and kicking in the Eurovision Song Contest – but it has always been recognised.
A changing contest in the midst of a reforming Executive Producer
But it is clear that the contest has taken a different path since it returned from the controversial shores of Azerbaijan in 2012. Coming back to a Western comfort blanket in the Eurovision paradise of Sweden, the show, undoubtedly scaled down on the instruction of the EBU, truly began the contests rebranding. Under the watchful eye of Jon Ola Sand, his vision for a contest back at the heart of entertainment, rather than music and politics, has begun to take shape.
Ola Sand couldn’t do it in Germany - he was too new. He couldn’t do it in Azerbaijan - he was too weak. But with the liberal, and friendly, SVT he could begin. It continued in 2014 in Denmark and Sand must have been weak at the knees when he watched Austria and the headline friendly Conchita Wurst pip the Netherlands to victory. Instead of having to deal with the professional and experienced AVROTROS in Holland, the EBU’s vision will instead be happily executed by Austria’s ORF. And what better way to start than to invite along Australia.
And that’s the biggest hit of all. The inclusion of Australia whilst Ukraine, one of the most successful nations at the contest in the past decade, and on the anniversary of its own historic hosting, will be absent. The EBU should be ashamed that it is aggressively pursuing an agenda so far away from the historic roots of the contest, born out of a war torn Europe.
Back in 1993, in the midst of war and fear in the Balkans – Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia all made their debut at the contest despite the tragedy back home. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s journey to Ireland was nothing short of an inspiration. But they made it because they wanted to be seen and heard - and their reception was an applause that rivalled the home winners. In fact, the Bosnian entry ‘Sva bol svijeta’ composed by Edin Dervišhalidović had to be recorded using power from a generator bought on the black market from UN soldiers because of the war. They came through a war to share music with a continent they desperately wanted to be a part of.
In 2004, Ukraine’s winning entry, just a year after entering the contest, was a political statement - a coming of age for a country that craved being part of a modern Europe and aspired to join the European Union. It is a disgrace that in 2015 the EBU has chosen to prioritise the accession of Australia to mark the contest's 60th anniversary and not ensuring that the true friends of the contest – Ukraine, Bosnia, hell even Morocco, could overcome their challenges and be stood in Vienna as a true testament to the contest to overcome war, financial crisis and adversity across the continent.
Instead, Ukraine won’t be there.
Bosnia and Herzegovina tried, but ultimately couldn’t stump up the cash.
But don’t worry because we can all cheer for the Australian victory that might be just around the corner and forget all about them.
And the response is always the same; "lighten up, it’s just an entertainment show." It’s always the same, but for those of us who follow the contest it’s not ‘just’ an entertainment show and it is no testament to those who have literally fought to be at Eurovision over the years to belittle their achievement. That’s the legacy we should be celebrating, that’s the contest that has survived and for a long time it was the nations of the Balkans and the Baltics and the former Commonwealth of Independent States that kept Eurovision alive when nobody else cared.
We can only hope that in Vienna this year, music wins the day.
But last night the Balkans, the Baltics and the East were written out of Eurovision history for a second time – but then everything past Germany is just Russia right?