Why Eurovision gives me hope

 Happy Eurovision!

Today is the highest and holiest days of the camp calendar – the grand final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest from Malmo, Sweden.

Growing up in Thatcher’s dismal 1980s in West Lothian (immediately to the west of Edinburgh but with none of the cosmopolitan colour of Scotland’s capital and getting all of the bust and none of the boom of those Tory years), I never travelled abroad until I left school. Eurovision was a glimpse into another exotic world. Eurovision wasn’t cool in the 1980s (and ABBA were yet to be reborn in Gold) and I often thought I was the only person I knew who was drawn into the spectacle. It never occurred to me that I was one of many queer people for whom Eurovision gave life.

Camp theory teaches that we can often find the most profound truth in the silly and irreverent. Eurovision has been that to my liberal, European heart. Our shared European home has been a place of war and division – and remains so today, with war in Gaza and Ukraine and the spectre of the far right stalking virtually every country (not least this ugly Tory Brexiteer government in the UK). The fact that something as camp and outrageous as my beloved Eurovision Song Contest unites us speaks to me and gives me hope in the way that a speech from Macron never could.

For example, in the 1993 contest in Millstreet in rural Ireland, at the height of the Bosnian war, the Bosnian act had to be flown out, under fire, in a UN helicopter. We had a jury in Sarajevo under siege calmly give their votes over a crackly UN line. The Irish compère thanked Sarajevo and simply told them to take care. Not a dry eye in the house!

Eurovision has often blown our minds with the interval acts and Riverdance (the interval act from the 1994 contest in Dublin) continues to tour the world. My favourite is Norway’s offering from the contest in Oslo in 2010. We had a European flash mob with a song from an African-Norwegian duo (yay to that being a thing in today’s diverse Europe) with us cutting away to Europeans across our continent dancing to it….in European streets and in European living rooms. I still watch it online and when the compère asks “Europe, are you ready to dance?”, the tears come. Profound camp truth pointing to the European ideal.

This year is hard. As I type on Saturday morning we still don’t know if the Dutch entry will take part. His wonderful song “ EuroPapa” I feel could have won that pesky referendum for us!

Many good people, though, who love Eurovision will not be watching as they have made the choice to boycott the show in protest at the participation of Israel at the same time as innocent civilians suffer in Gaza. It was certainly galling to go from the semi-final on Tuesday night to the BBC news where the lead story was of IDF actions which demonstrated the urgent need for the ceasefire our own Layla Moran calls for. I am not boycotting (Russia remained in the contest for many years after its original invasion of Crimea and only left when widespread international sanctions were implemented) but I respect those who take a different view.

What will we see tonight? There are a number of strong songs – Israel being one of them – that could potentially win. Despite the politics of Eurovision, every year a few specific songs could win and every year one of those songs does win. Everyone will have their own views on the strongest – I think Spain, Estonia, the Netherlands (if they aren’t disqualified), Israel and Croatia are all in either a shout. But what do I know? This is definitely a case of enjoying the spectacle is more important than who wins and the songs I continue to listen to in years to come are often not the winning songs.

My advice is to watch with friends….and for me that means watching with friends online. I usually watch with Lib Dem friends from across the UK and beyond on Facebook and Twitter. Come join in!

If you’re watching tonight, have a happy Eurovision and as Bobbysocks told us in their 1985 winning song “ La det swinge” (let it swing)!

Photo credit: Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett live from Malmo

* Stephen Harte is a lawyer and a member in Edinburgh West.

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  • David Symonds 12th May '24 - 11:42am

    I grew up with Eurovision when it was top quality and the show was required viewing. Sorry to be a damp squib but in recent years i feel that Eurovision has deteriorated and the show has become sadly political. The UK is unlikely to win it ever again as we are unpopular with our neighbours and countries tend to vote it seems on geography rather than the song. Also i wonder what Israel and Australia are doing in Eurovision as they are not in Europe. Sorry just my humble opinions.

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