Despite the growth of the Eurovision Song Contest behind the Iron Curtain, the 60th anniversary 'celebration' wrote the Balkans, the Baltics and the East out of its history. At a time when the EBU has prioritised the inclusion of Australia in the contest for entertainment, and some might add comedy, value, some of the country's that have literally struggled and fought to make it onto the stage as independent nations are withdrawing because of the cost and politics of the contest - and not for the first time.
Eurovision's 'greatest hits' was anything but
Eurovision's Greatest Hits, produced by the BBC, was the second large-scale anniversary celebration after a similar affair back in 2005.
‘Congratulations’, produced to mark Eurovision's 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 worthy friend of the EBU. Whilst a slightly dysfunctional Eurovision host in 2001, DR was instrumental in supporting the EBU launch Junior Eurovision.
But despite the different host broadcasters, both anniversary shows were produced in exactly the same way – recognising the same songs, the same era - and arguably, the same contest. But there should be more to wheeling out Fly On The Wings Of Love, Brotherhood of Man and Johnny Logan every ten years.
At a time when it couldn’t be a more important to recognise what brings us together in Europe, last nights 'celebration' saw the contribution of those nations beyond the continent's traditional political borders were whitewashed from Eurovision history.
It’s no surprise to me that the 2001 and 2002 contest winners didn’t feature if the worthiness of entries was on the basis of music alone. Both were absolute stains on songwriting as an art, but regardless of how they sounded, they were historic. The first time Eurovision ventured to the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia respectively and yet, they weren’t even marked in a medley.
It's a disappointment that the EBU failed to oversee a fitting anniversary show that recognised the true values and history of the contest.
Today, Europe is not in the midst of the excitement and expansion that gripped the continent from the early 2000s.
Russia has forced itself upon Crimea after democracy rose up in Ukraine.
France and Denmark saw devastating terrorist attacks 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, not hidden away.
A changing contest in the midst of a reforming Executive Producer
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 a rebranding.
Under the watchful eye of Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand, a contest defined by 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 up against a state broadcaster on instructions of a powerful president.
But with the liberal, and friendly, SVT he could begin - and 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 for 2015. 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.
Eurovision is more than just an entertainment show
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.
Not only that, but was smuggled out of the peninsula so that the fledging nation could share its 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 also 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 own challenges, political and financial, and be stood in Vienna as a true testament to the contest.
Instead, Ukraine won’t be there in Vienna.
Bosnia and Herzegovina tried, but ultimately can'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.
The response is always the same; "lighten up, it’s just an entertainment show."
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 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 or saw it as a joke.
Last night the Balkans, the Baltics and the East were written out of Eurovision history for a second time –
We can only hope that in Vienna this year, music wins the day.