Eurovision Song Contest: Mission Statement to Make Peace Not War Through Music
What is the Eurovision Song Contest
Eurovision, first aired in 1956 (in the aftermath of the 2nd world war) is the longest running annual international TV song contest that is broadcasted live to an audience of to up to 600 million viewers.
Its Prime Objective
The prime objective of Eurovision (following the 2nd world war) is to strive to build and strengthen peace and harmony within Europe (to reduce the risk of further wars) through a program of light entertainment.
What is Eurovision Explained in a Song
We Are Enthusiastic Fans
For as long as can remember I’ve always watched Eurovision; as children both my wife and I watched it with our parents, and we’ve continued watching it every year since. It’s an annual event we look forward to and we’ve carried on the tradition with our son.
My son, who’s more into music than I am will watch both semi-finals, whereas I wait for the finals when we all sit down as a family for an evening of relaxation and entertainment. Therefore, come the finals, because my son has already watched the semi-finals he has a shrewd idea of which are the best acts and who the favourites are for winning; which these days is unlikely to be the UK.
Unlike past decades, when we did occasionally win, Britain just doesn't seem to be able to put forward the talent that can compete with the style and flair of other countries; the last time Britain won was way back in 1997.
So, content in not expecting to win, we settle down for the evening to watch the Eurovision, which is still a great evening of entertainment for the whole family.
My all-time favourite has to be ‘Heroes’ by Sweden; the 2015 winner.
Heroes by Sweden: Winner 2015
Historic Background That Led to its Creation
Historically Europe is one of the most hostile places on earth; there have been wars and conflicts in Europe dating back at least 7,000 years; with the earliest archaeological evidence of tribal warfare being the discover of the Talheim Death Pit, Germany, which has been dated at about c5000 BC.
From then until 500 BC there are another 13 recorded European conflicts, from the Dorian invasion (c1104 BC to 900 BC) to the Polycrates wars (538 BC to 522 BC) in Greece.
For the next 500 years from 500 BC there were a further 43 recorded wars and invasions across Europe; and in the last 2,000 years since the Romans (Italy) invaded Britain and occupied most of Europe there’s been over 600 conflicts, invasions and wars. These included the ‘hundred year’s war’ (1337-1453) between France and Britain, and the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1715) when in May 1702 England, Holland and Austria declared war on Spain, dragging other European countries in the dispute including France who aligned themselves with Spain. It was in 1704, during this war when Holland and British military forces captured that part of Spain known today as Gibraltar; and which is still a bone of contention between the two nations.
However, it was the two world wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 that really shook Europe; especially the 2nd world war, where for the first time neighbouring nations could blitz bomb each other cities and flatten them.
On a Personal Note
Bristol was devastated by the bombing, of which both my mother and grandmother (who lived through the blitz) remember vividly. Even today the scares of war are still apparent in certain parts of the city: -
- Parks where houses once stood
- A pub next to a park, standing on its own with fireplaces on the outside wall; which is all that remains of the adjoining house.
- A Church on Castle Green where the roof was destroyed; which has never been replaced, as a reminder.
- A post war shopping centre with the occasional historic buildings that survived dotted around, including the Merchant's Alms House of 1701, the Wesleyan Chapel, the old Mormons church and the remaining half of the Victorian shopping Arcade.
- And a distinct divide between new and old buildings on side streets leading off of one of the main roads from the city centre; marking a line where the bombs dropped.
The Aftermath of War
Experiments to Bring Peace and Harmony to Europe
For ten years following the 2nd world war leaders across Europe regularly met to discuss various options of how to bind Europe peacefully together to reduce the risk of further wars.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was the first leader to indicate which direction Europe should go; with his famous speech in 1945 where he advocated the idea of a ‘United States of Europe’.
The first practical step towards a united Europe was the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. Although by the mid-1950s a number of peace keeping initiatives were launched as experiments, including EFTA (European Free Trade Association), EEC (European Economic Community) later to become the European Union, and Eurovision.
EFTA was a European voluntary trade agreement in competition with the EEC which was a legally binding trade agreement between European nations. The former never gained any great strength because voluntary agreements are easy to break when the going gets tough; whereas the latter has gone from strength to strength and now binds over half a billion people into a single community.
It was in this context that the Eurovision Song Contest was first launched in 1956 as a concept of building bridges between European nations through entertainment.
Jeux Sans Frontières
Another experiment in entertainment to bind European nations together through a shared interest in entertainment was ‘Jeux Sans Frontières’ (Games Without Borders) which was a popular live pan-European game show that ran successfully from 1965 until 1999. Although entertaining for a generation, it eventually petered out because it got monotonous.
As a taste of what the games were all about, and the format they took, below is the last three games of the grand finale of Jeux San Frontieres in Italy 1978.
Jeux San Frontieres Grand Finale 1978
Building Bridges With Europe’s Neighbours
Although the majority of participants are European countries, neighbouring countries including Turkey, Israel and Russia are regular participants. The underlying principle being to extend the hand of friendship to all neighbours irrespective of politics and religion; albeit Arab countries entitled to participate tend not to, because of Israel’s membership.
Politics is a big taboo, the song contests is about bringing nations together, and not encouraging conflicts; albeit that’s been a little difficult in recent years following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
2016 was particular difficult when Russia, who were the odds on for winning as they had the best entry (as confirmed by the popular vote from the public); not only lost because of protest votes from the panellists, but to rub salt in the injury they lost to Ukraine.
To make matters worse, Ukraine’s entry song was a direct political attack on Russia’s invasion; the opening words being:
- "When strangers are coming, they come to your house; they kill you all and say “we’re not guilty”.
Eurovision 2016 Review: Ukraine vs. Russia
At other times it’s difficult to keep the song contest completely apolitical simply because neighbouring countries have a natural tendency to show each other more favouritism during the voting. However, these biases don’t detract from the spirit of the competition and (apart from the issue of Russians invasion of Ukraine) they don’t prevent the best entries from winning.
Controversial Winer 2016: Ukraine’s Attack on Russia
Russia’s Song 2016: Was Odds On To Win
The 'Panels' cast their votes, voting Russia down; and robbing them of their victory.
However when the 'popular' votes from the public are cast, it tells a different story; as this nail biting final votes video shows.
Popular Vote From Public for 2016 Supports Russian Song
Themes and Format
The general principle is that each year, whichever country wins the Eurovision is the country who hosts it the following year; which means that as Ukraine won it in 2016 they’ll host it in 2017.
The ‘Themes’, which should be reflected in the songs are chosen each year by the host country. Previously they were niceties like Estonia’s choice in 2002 of ‘A Modern Fairy-tale’ and Finland’s in 2007 of ‘True Fantasy’.
However, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 the themes have taken on a more political overtone. Austria’s choice the following year (2015) was ‘Building Bridges’, and Sweden chose ‘Come Together’ as their theme in 2016. Ukraine’s theme for 2017 is ‘Celebrate Diversity’.
The semi-finals and finals are always broadcast live every other day during the second week of May. The two semi-finals lasting about two hours each and the final being four hours long; with the voting being broadcast live during the last hour.
The Evolution of Eurovision
Most competitors who win the Eurovision only get European fame; although occasionally a winner (such as ABBA) will go on to get world fame.
Nevertheless, wining is still an honour, and still gives a career boost to any budding performer. Austria’s winner in 2014, Conchita Wurst (the bearded lady) was a smash hit and gained European wide recognition. My son (a professional photographer) had the honour of personally meeting her the following year when as part of European-wide tour she came to Bristol.
Conchita Wurst (The Bearded Lady): Winner 2014 (Austria)
Even the Interval Act can achieve world fame, as Ireland proved when as hosts to the contest they took the stage by storm with their outstanding performance of ‘River Dance’ during the intermission in 1994.
River Dance: World Famous Interval Act From Ireland
Wars Without Weapons
They say the pen is mightier than the sword.
From the perspective of Western Europe, music is mightier than the military in breaking down international barriers and cementing peace among nations.