COMMENT: Nul points for Eurovision 2008

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

While relieved that the feared homophobic violence on the streets of Belgrade did not materialise, the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest failed to impress.

And not just because our entry came last.

The fact that Russia won means that for the second year running a government which is exceedingly hostile to gay rights will be hosting the campest show on earth.

Many are openly questioning the UK’s future in the contest, which is more than 50 years old.

Veteran Eurovision presenter and national treasure Sir Terry Wogan was unusually forthright when he said during the event:

“Russia were going to be the political winners from the beginning.”

It is clear that Russia was keen to win, and the fact that nearly every one of their neighbours awarded them the maximum 12 points has raised doubts.

Russia wanted to win to show off their “European” credentials, another feather in the cap of a viciously nationalistic governing clique.

It marks another chapter in the fraught relationships between old Europe, but which we mean the established democracies, and the newer members of the club, many of whom have trouble understanding that human rights does not just mean the rights of the majority.

Sir Terry said it was “no longer a music contest” and many agree with him.

Now there is even talk of the UK losing its special status as one of the “Big Four.”

As a major contributor to the European Broadcasting Union, the UK automatically gets a place in the final.

A Western European nation has not won the contest since 2000.

In the last decade the UK has finished in the top 10 once and outside the top 20 four times. The nation that has by far the most successful music scene on the Continent cannot get a look in.

Russia finally won last night, after years of trying, and while no-one doubts the song was worthy, gay rights activists are worried that the increasingly undemocratic administration in Moscow will use the event for nationalistic purposes.

Gay Pride events are regularly banned in Russia, gay people are vilified by the Church and politicians alike.

Pride London was one of the first to express concern:

“I don’t want to detract from Dima Bilan’s victory; it’s a great song,” said Colm Howard-Lloyd, a director of Pride London.

“But how can you let a city that denies some of the most basic human rights to LGBT people host the contest next year?

“I know thousands of people, and many bars and clubs, hosted Eurovision parties to celebrate the event.

“I’m not sure how comfortable it will be, next year, to get as excited about Eurovision when we know the host city beats up and detains people because of their sexuality.

“Even Sir Terry Wogan has now talked about quitting the show.”

While the idea of Eurovision without Sir Terry’s caustic commentary seems unthinkable, we may well see a UK-free Eurovision sooner than we think.

The contest is supposed to be about shared values, among them a belief in human rights and democracy.

If that ideal is lost, then it really is nothing more than a nationalistic bunfight.

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