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Eurovision Song Contest- Cultural Diplomacy?

by on May 12, 2014

American Scholar J. William once stated that “in the long course of history, having people understand your thoughts is a much greater security than another submarine”[1]. Such a quote describes the motives of countries in developing cultural diplomacy strategies in order for other states to understand different aspects of their own identity, “helping create a better climate of international trust and understanding in which official relations can operate”[2].

eur It could be argued that the European song contest is a form of cultural diplomacy with countries being able to attract other states through image. The following post will argue that countries have been able to use the European song contest as a form of soft power, with the hosting country being able to ‘brand their nation’ in the process. Milton C. Cummings describes cultural diplomacy as “the exchange of ideas, information, values, systems, traditions, beliefs and other aspects of culture with the intention of fostering mutual understanding”[3]. It could be stated that the Eurovision song contest allows the other European nations to view aspects of their culture and gain a mutual understanding through music, with the winning country getting to host the contest the following year. This allows the incumbent country to show off the best bits of their nation, to visitors and viewers alike. With the Eurovision coming up to its 60th year, it is estimated popularity stands at 200 million or higher[4].

It is not surprising that with such high popularity with the show being aired in Japan and Australia, that countries use such event as a form of diplomacy in which they can portray an attractive image to those around the world, attracting tourism and state to state interaction. The song contest is not only a contest that can not only enhance diplomatic relations, but break them as shown in the last song contest dated the 11th May 2014. The act representing Russia where ‘booed’ throughout the show, showing the audiences dismay with current affairs throughout Russia. Russia has been the “centre of criticism over its handling of the crisis in Ukraine and its controversial anti-gay propaganda law”, however they still managed to grab 7th place, finishing 10 places ahead of the United Kingdom[5]. The winning act from Austria was in fact a drag act, commonly known for their performances throughout gay clubs across Europe. This could suggest that across Europe, gay culture is becoming more widely accepted.

The argument surrounding nation branding is not a new phenomenon when it comes to Eurovision, especially post-cold war. One theorist states that “Estonian Television used the show for nation branding, placing Estonia among the Scandinavian countries with impressions of pine forests, saunas ad Nordic clichés. This way they could free themselves, from belonging to the post-soviet sphere”[6]. This view is shared with Dr Paul Jordan, who gained his PHD in writing about the politics of Eurovision, and the nation branding efforts of states such as Estonia and the Ukraine. He states Estonia participated in nation branding, where by the “government engaged in self-conscious activities aimed at producing a certain image of the modern state”[7]

Another example that contributes to the argument that states can enhance their image through such contest is as follows. Before 1999, countries had to sing in their native language. “Today each national entry can be performed in any language, including imaginary languages as evidenced by Belgium in both 2003 and 2008; which in itself can be seen as a reflection of the contested nature of Belgian linguistic identity”[8].

The contest helps create a cultural identity for countries such as Belgium, across Europe. It cannot be disputed that the Eurovision song contest is a highly political mechanism. With countries competing year after year to be crowned winner in front of millions, it’s hardly surprising countries use such mechanism to build relationships, or break relationships with other countries.

 

[1]Caspian Information Centre, Image-Making, Cultural Diplomacy and the Eurovision Song Contest, Occasional Paper 18 [Online] Available at: http://www.caspianinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/OP-No.-18-Image-making-Cultural-Diplomacy-and-the-Eurovision-Song-Contest.pdf[Accessed March 2014]

[2] Donfried, M, & Gienow, J (2013) Searching for a Cultural Diplomacy, Berghahn Books, Pg. 3

[3] Caspian Information Centre, Image-Making, Cultural Diplomacy and the Eurovision Song Contest, Occasional Paper 18 [Online] Available at: http://www.caspianinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/OP-No.-18-Image-making-Cultural-Diplomacy-and-the-Eurovision-Song-Contest.pdf[Accessed March 2014]

[4] Jordan, P (2014) The Modern Fairy-tale: Nation Branding, National Identity & the Eurovision song contest in Estonia, University of Tartu Press, Pg. 37

[5]Wyatt, D (2014) Eurovison 2014: Russia Act: the identical Tolmachery twins, jeered by crowd during final [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/eurovision-2014-russia-booed-by-crowd-during-final-9350249.html[Accessed May 2014]

[6] Caspian Information Centre, Image-Making, Cultural Diplomacy and the Eurovision Song Contest, Occasional Paper 18 [Online] Available at: http://www.caspianinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/OP-No.-18-Image-making-Cultural-Diplomacy-and-the-Eurovision-Song-Contest.pdf[Accessed March 2014]

[7] Jordan, P (2013) Nation Branding: A tool for nationalism, 7-12, Routledge: Taylor Frances group

[8]Jordan, P (2014) The Modern Fairy-tale: Nation Branding, National Identity & the Eurovision song contest in Estonia, University of Tartu Press, Pg. 25

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4 Comments
  1. Nice post diplomatic barbie. I like the picture of Russell Brand! Where did you find that

  2. I would really say that Eurovision does kind of play a cultural forum, where European states use cultural diplomacy to show themselves, however, what makes it interesting is the fact that it is more politicised than it should be. If you look at the voting system, its the states that vote mainly for other states that are closely related to them, for example post-Soviet states vote for each other, Turkey and Azerbaijan, Balkan states etc.

  3. jonssonigul permalink

    I totally agree with zone93 about Eurovision being politicised and that the states mainly vote for their neighbours and allies. One obvious example is when Azerbaijan did not give any votes for Russia in 2013. It became a full blown scandal and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, called it an outrageous action that would not stand without response.

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