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'New Europe' flexes its muscle at Eurovision song contest

Serbia, 2007 winner thanks to Balkan bloc, hosts Saturday's final.

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But Laura Spierdijk, an assistant professor of econometrics at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands and a Eurovision fan, disagrees. She and a colleague, Michel Vellekoop from the University of Twente's applied math department, also analyzed the data and say that regional preferences can be attributed to cultural similarities. In certain cases, they even found religious biases – Cyprus, for example, tends to award higher points to other Orthodox countries.

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"What we see is that people assign people points to their neighbors, but you can explain that by the fact that people prefer songs coming from a related culture and in a similar language," she says. "That's very natural human behavior."

The biggest surprise, she said, was that in some cases, such as in the Balkans, "apparently cultural similarities even outweigh old feelings of being enemies."

The former Yugo-slavia is a case in point. Serbia won last year in part because six of its neighbors – including several ravaged by war in the 1990s – gave it the maximum number of points: Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro (which had just seceded from Serbia), Slovenia, and Hungary.

The current controversy over voting blocs isn't the first time allegations of foul play have been made in relation to Eurovision. A new documentary alleges that in 1968 Spanish dictator Francisco Franco bribed judges to ensure that Spain won.

This year, the Eurovision contest is caught in the middle of a fierce Serbian and European divide over Kosovo's newly declared independence. Serbia's entry evokes a historic battle in Kosovo in 1389.

Come Saturday, Dr. Gatherer and Dr. Spierdijk will be watching not only the acts themselves, but how countries will cast their votes. "A lot of people feel indignant about this, about the gamesmanship in this international contest." says Gatherer. "I think it's hilarious."

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