I first started watching Eurovision when I lived on a Kibbutz in the 1980’s. It was one of the fun events of the year. Not the only one, but on a Kibbutz few nights were as much fun. I have continued to watch it yearly, or at least tried to, wherever I was. It is not that Europop is the kind of music I normally listen to, it is just that it is such a cultural window onto Europe, it is just that the Euro-wannabe in me cannot resist its lure. And some of the music is actually ok. Actually I like Eurovision.
This year, for me, it was the first time a political aspect flavored this innocent bit of fun. While I enjoyed the semi-finals and finals, knowing about what was going in Azerbaijan regarding freedom of expression on a daily basis gave it a different flavor. I was grateful for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for putting in on web, but I was upset at them for their lack of acknowledgement of what was going on around them. I was upset when the EUB host, kept the Swedish performer, during a pre-final interview, from repeating remarks she had made in support of freedom of expression in the days before.
The political flavor was enhanced by the awareness that in a few months the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will be holding its yearly meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan. I expect visitors and speakers like me will speak freely on Freedom of Expression on the Internet and Freedom of Association on the Internet in Baku as we will be under the protection of the United Nations flag. But will local residents be able to speak as freely? And if they come to the meeting and speak with us, what will happen to them when we leave?
It is important that Eurovision and the IGF go to places like Azerbaijan for our events. But it is also important that no one forget what is actually happening in these places while we have our song fests and conferences. And it is important we don’t ignore what happens after we leave our song fests and conferences.
I am happy the Swedish singer Loreen won. Her song was good and she is a lovely singer. But more important to me, she did not forget about what was going on around her and spoke of it. In the winner’s press conference, Radio Liberty said that civil society of Azerbaijan had met with her and supported her and asked how she would support them in return; Loreen said she would support them “in any way you want.”
I am happy that next year’s Eurovision will be in Sweden, a country that cares about global human rights and a country where freedom of speech is the norm.
Some of the news items during the Eurovision, in no particular order