Image courtesy of Sander Hesterman (EBU)
An editorial from Zack. This content does not reflect the views of ESC United or its readers. We encourage readers to share their comments below.
As a fan of many Eurovision websites (not just ESC United!), I’m quite surprised that no one has brought up the recent events occurring in Russia that revolve around the passage of laws that have been criticized and accused of being anti-LGBT. I say this because since its 1994 debut, Russia has been an integral part of the Eurovision Song Contest, which houses a gigantic fanbase of gay men. So while many are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, far less are calling for a Eurovision boycott of Russia in Copenhagen. The little murmurings I have heard have suggested that when Russia is on stage, we simply turn our backs to them, as many college graduates do during commencement speeches by individuals with whom they don’t agree. However, as clear-cut as this issue may appear, I believe there are many different factors at play.
First, we are uncertain how supportive Channel One Russia, the Russian Eurovision delegation, and the artists are regarding these laws (although I do remember a YouTube that circulated that showed a higher-up from Channel One commending the law). During my time in Malmo, I found all members of all the delegations to be tremendously friendly, approachable, and excited to be there. The Russian delegation was no exception, and I am certain that this year in Malmo was no different from any previous year. Although the cynic in me says that the Russian delegation was just putting on a good show in order to pander to the media, I am putting faith that these Russians had no qualms being surrounded by a group of mostly gay press members. Furthermore, as many artists state that representing their country at Eurovision is a dream come true, artists and delegations would probably not want to go so far to openly protest the actions of their country’s politicians, due to a fear of retaliation. So if we were to boycott Russia in Copenhagen, would we really be punishing the right people? Would we be more attacking Putin himself, or more the artists like Dina Garipova and the Russian grannies?
For Eurovision fans, a Russian boycott may not be necessary because Eurovision may not be the place to do it. Eurovision was created to unite a war-torn Europe post World War II. And for the most part, it has, providing Europeans and many international fans a window to the musical cultures of a diverse part of the world. So would the boycott would be against the mission of Eurovision? At the same time, I can’t help but think that a boycott would take us down a notch to the level of those Russian politicians who sulked because they didn’t get the points they deserved from Azerbaijan (although obviously, the mission of this boycott is far more important than the mission of the politicians trying to gain 10 more points, which wouldn’t have changed their final placement anyways).
Speaking of retribution, one thing I learned at Eurovision as a member of press is that you never want to step on too many toes, that is be too forward, too pushy, and too negative in your coverage of artists. That’s because the same people come back year after year to work for the delegations. So your actions from the previous years determine how much access you will have to artists from that country in the following years. Perhaps, the press is not willing to write about the anti-LGBT laws because they are hedging the bet that any negative coverage will affect their chances at interviewing a future Eurovision favorite and frontrunner from Russia. This is further exemplified when you think about how the press immediately covered Esma and Lozano’s anti-gay tirades, which ended up being completely false. Macedonia has qualified only once to the finals since 2008 and has never finished in the top 10. Russia is always a sure-shot in the finals, with 5 Top 10 finishes in the past decade.
I wouldn’t be surprised either if members of the press would also come back at me and say, “blah blah blah a journalist should be objective blah blah blah.” But let’s face it. Eurovision press members are not objective. We try to be, but we always throw in a bit of our opinions in there. We do that in turn to allow our readers to offer their opinions as well. We welcome debate, and that’s what makes Eurovision so great, because a song hated by one person is loved by another! If we really wanted an objective news source, we can go to www.eurovision.tv.
Finally, allow me to break out the cynic in me one more time. Sometimes, I find the word “boycott” is just thrown around way too liberally nowadays. It’s just another code word for “slacktivism,” that is when people think they are activists because they click a “like” button or sign a petition, but in reality, are being passive watchers of the events happening. For example, I am certain that those who say they will not watch the Sochi Winter Olympics will have no problem reading the news about the results of the events. I don’t see any Eurovision fan actually turning off their TV for 3 minutes when Russia performs, because they will have probably used their bathroom break for another song that already occurred that was far worse.
So despite all my complaining and criticizing, I do have a point with all this. When I began to write this, I was ready to mock Russia through using lines from Dina Garipova’s “What If” to point out the discrepancy with what Russia is practicing and what it is preaching through its recent Eurovision entry. I admit, when I’m around the house singing it, I have added a line here and there saying, “What if we always reached out to those that matter the most (unless you’re gay and in that case we hate you!!!!!).” But jokes aside, I believe a Russian boycott may not be the right direction, simply because I doubt it will get the support from the press, nor will it be sending a message to the Russians responsible for these laws and actions against LGBT individuals.
Instead, I focus on Dina’s lyrics: “What if we all opened our arms? What if we came together as one?” As fans and press fortunate enough to attend the live shows, we can use such time as opportunities to engage in a global dialogue and really find ways to advocate actively for positive change. Those not in attendance can do the same online, but not just limit themselves to clicking a “like” button on Facebook. They can encourage people to share messages, write to international LGBT activists asking them to help those in Russia, and also write to those LGBT activists in Russia to offer them support. We can find ways to replace the negative images of the certain Russian people that have bullied LGBT individuals in the present (and in Moscow 2009!) with positive images that reinforce that not everyone in Russia are anti-LGBT, particularly those that love Eurovision. We don’t have to be like Dina and her back-up singers, literally holding hands, and singing together (while throwing our balls around!). But we can unite and make a change, indeed. “Join us” may end up being an appropriate slogan for Eurovision 2014, as we actively push for people to join in the fight against injustice and for human rights.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Do you believe there should be a Russian boycott? Should Eurovision stay out of it? Does Zack need to get off his pedestal and take a seat? Share your thoughts below.