'New Europe' flexes its muscle at Eurovision song contest
Serbia, 2007 winner thanks to Balkan bloc, hosts Saturday's final.
It's an annual celebration of glitz and kitsch. This year's entries in the Eurovision Song Contest include a singing puppet named Dustin the Turkey and a band of crooning pirates – though past winners include bona fide stars such as ABBA and Celine Dion.Skip to next paragraph
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But the 53-year-old pop contest, hosted this year by 2007 winner Serbia, is also sometimes a surprising stage for more serious geopolitical battles. As the top contestants from the 43 competing nations gear up for Saturday's final in Belgrade, Western nations are up in arms about New Europe's tendency to vote for neighbors.
For many fans of Eurovision, the simmering political controversies and nationalistic wrangling that accompany the contest are as much fun to watch as the over-the-top acts themselves. The voting bloc allegations have also provided excellent fodder for academics, who have devoted substantial energy to analyzing Eurovision results and what voting patterns say about culture, alliances, and the expanding idea of Europe. Viewers vote by phone or text message, but points are allocated on a national basis – similar to the US electoral system in presidential races.
Derek Gatherer, a data analyst who number-crunches Eurovision results as a hobby and has published papers on his results, says there are three main voting blocs in Eurovision: the Balkan Bloc, the Viking Empire, and the Warsaw Pact, as well as a number of smaller voting partnerships, such as an enduring friendship between Greece and Cyprus.
He refutes other academics' claim that cultural factors explain the Eurovision voting trends.
"The argument against that is that the voting exchange is getting stronger," he says. "If it is the fact that people, for example, just happen to like Balkan sounding music, then the voting patterns wouldn't show they like those sounds more now than they did 10 years ago."