Beneath the annual extravaganza of sequins and lights, the Eurovision Song Contest is an undeniably political event, from the strategic voting to using the competition as a way to boost a country's image on the continent. But this year, turmoil in Ukraine and Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws both look set to further politicize an event already known for its combination of bombastic enthusiasm and subtle lessons in international relations.
Watched by an estimated 125 million viewers across the world, the nearly 60-year-old contest remains an obscure event to many Americans. The Eurovision song contest began in 1956 as a way to unite European countries after the continent-wide trauma of the Second World War, and has expanded to include more countries joining the ever-changing Europe landscape. Waves of turmoil and change have swept over Europe since then, but a few alliances have formed.
The most established voting blocs, formulated by Derek Gatherer, a lecturer at Lancaster University, include “The Viking Empire” of Scandinavian countries; “The Balkan Bloc,” which includes Romania, Serbia, and Albania; and “The Pyrenean Axis,” which includes Andorra and Spain.
Eurovision's political voting initially appears to follows geography. Greece and Cyprus have historically voted for each other and not for Turkey, although points are increasingly shared between all three countries, says the aptly-named expert Dr. Eurovision (real name Paul Jordan). Members of the Balkan voting bloc, usually one of the largest and most influential, also favor each other, but it’s more for cultural reasons than political affinity. “Bosnia and Serbia don’t really get on, and Albania and Serbia don’t really get on, but they tend to vote for each other in Eurovision,” Jordan said.