Disguised in glitter and festive colors we find the true agenda of the world of today. The art has been used to proclaim the biggest sentiments of human life: Love, sadness, and loss… and maybe politics? But where do we draw the line? What is a political forum and how do we get a clear message across? Does something like a “non-political” forum exist at all, and how do we as young people navigate the intricate network of indirect messages, political spins, and showstopping activists?

Let us deep dive into one of the mastodonts of international pop culture: The Eurovision Song Contest! … “But what is so important about a simple song contest?”, some might ask. The Eurovision is so much more than just a song contest. The history is long, complicated, and filled with political plots between former enemies and neighboring states and the recent question about “to ban or not to ban” or “to boycott or not to boycott”. To understand the importance of the Eurovision we must not forget about the history that formed the continent and the competition that we watch on television today.

Lector in European Studies at the School of Culture and Society at Aarhus University, dr.phil Lisanne Wilken, has researched the competition and the division in the debate, which will be discussed later in the article. But firstly, it is important to know the context because context matters.

To start with the beginning… “It (the competition) was started in 1956 in a Europe still marred by the Second World War (ended 11 years before) and it managed to create a cultural arena where representatives of different European countries came together to sing and to vote for each other. As the contest has a rule that says that you cannot vote for your own song, you need to find others to like and vote for, which is a powerful gesture in a context that brought together recent enemies.” Lisanne Wilken points out that these gestures matter much more than first assumed because Europe and the rest of the world are watching. Currently, 100-200 million turns their television on to “watch Europe sing” – and that describes the context of how we must understand the importance of every small move in and out of the show. Besides the contestants and the viewers of the show the music and the bands performing have a real chance of becoming international icons, the music is spread all over the world, which might be why we still dance to “Waterloo” by Abba and sing along to Italian rock music by Måneskin. Eurovision is not just a simple song contest – it is a part of history and creates history.

The question of values

This emphasizes the important discussion regarding values; does a big platform like the Eurovision have values? The question is not simple to answer. On one hand, the competition is solely a competition with entertainment as its purpose. On the other hand, “values have been associated with and embedded in the contest and manifested in different ways”, Wilken elaborates, “The most basic values that are reflected in the contest is democracy and rule of law: The contest is decided by a vote and all countries – big and small – have an equal say in who the winner will be. Especially during the 1950s and 1960s where democracy was not given as the natural political form of ruling in Europe the very long display of voting overseen by an authority from the European Broadcasting Union could be seen as a display of both democracy and rule of law.”

Wilken continues to point out that later on, the show has been known for showing respect and support for sexual minorities and recognizing Europe as a multicultural continent with the inclusion of post-colonial heritage, drag performers, and so on, on the stage – the recognition itself can be interpreted as a value, especially because these ‘values’ aren’t broadly recognized throughout Europe: LGBT-free zones in Poland would be a great example. In many ways, this sets the tone for later controversies regarding the show and brings us to today’s debate and back to the question: Can a non-political platform exist?

Back to the history

There have been a ton of former incidents in the history of Eurovision, Wilken mentions. “In 1976, when Greece sent a song protesting the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 referencing napalm bombing and internally dispersed refugees. Turkey debuted in Eurovision in 1975 and was thus a participant in the competition. (…) In 2000 the Israeli group Ping Pong – against the will of the Israeli Broadcasting Agency – waved Syrian and Israeli flags from the Eurovision Stage in Stockholm in support of peace between the two countries (…)” and now, in 2024, the debate about boycotting Israel because of the conflict in Gaza.

There have been drawn parallels to the situation a couple of years back with the exclusion of Russia based on the invasion of Ukraine, which is why some believe that Israel must be excluded this year. The situation is not that simple – not back in 2022, not today. Back in 2022 the EBU initially stated that Russia could participate but later had to exclude them because of pressure from multiple TV stations all over Europe threatening to boycott the show which ultimately would end up with it falling apart. Also, to add to the pressure, other competitions and organizations partaking in sports and entertainment had openly discussed expelling Russia.

That is not the case with Israel, Wilken points out. “Only one TV station, the Icelandic, have declared that they were considering boycotting the contest. (…) all winners have declared that they want to go (to Malmö). At the same time, Israel has not been expelled from other international events. (…) According to the EBU, then, it does not make sense to require that Israel should be expelled from Eurovision but allowed to participate in everything else. Besides, there is no support from EBU’s member organization to expel Israel. Another thing is of course, that the Hamas-Israel conflict is not the only conflict involving ESC participants this year.” The Eurovision in general does not have a policy of excluding countries from the competition even though it has been discussed, but there have been some examples of songs not getting approved for the competition for political messages.

The question about boycott

That leads to the final question, which Wilken formulates herself: “Should countries – or in this case TV stations – boycott international events if they do not approve of the host or of some of the other participants? This is an old question and an old discussion concerning international sporting and cultural events because they are supposed to be non-political but are not,” which leads us back to the question about the boycott of Russia. “(where) Many of the member organizations of the EBU probably would argue that they “took responsibility” with regards to Russia in 2022 and Belarus in 2021. However, most of the time they fall back on the position that they are in fact not a political organization but a union of public service TV stations. And it is probably not likely that a public service TV station that may even be publicly funded would deviate too much from the official politics of their country’s government.”

In many ways one could argue that the Eurovision and EBU work just like many other international organizations that aim to bring the world closer together, they listen to the members that constitute them, just like the UN, the European Union, etc. Every human, every government, and every state cannot agree on everything and if the pressure is high enough the institution will break or must change, the same goes with Eurovision. That could be why some people deem it necessary to demand a broad boycott because that is the only way to make a clear political stand within the framework of the competition. Claiming to be non-political will always be a normative claim and it will always be a forum for discussions. Regardless, the debate is set free, and the show must go on.

UN numbers regarding the conflict

The UN estimates that since the 7th of October 34,560 Gazans
have been killed and 1 million are displaced due to the Israeli
bombardments while more than 10,000 people are believed to be buried under
the rubble. At the same time, 262 Israeli soldiers have been killed and
1,602 injured in Gaza since the war broke out.

Antonio Guterres calls for lastning peace and affirm the ultimate goal
to be a two-state solution where parties live peacefully side by side
and with Jerusalem as the Capital for both states. He calls for the
international community to support this moral obligation.