The Eurovision Song Contest in the Musical Diplomacy of Authoritarian States
Originally established in 1956 for Western European states, the Eurovision Song Contest has been the world’s largest popular music event and one of the most popular television programs in Europe. It is organized annually by the European Broadcasting Union, whose members now include public broadcasters from almost every European state. As it is based on national entries, Eurovision provides an interesting case study of how states have imagined and branded themselves for a pan-European audience, while its voting results have been used as a measure of how different national publics perceive each other.
This chapter focuses on why authoritarian states have used Eurovision in their public diplomacy to assert national distinctiveness, express geopolitical alliances and whitewash their international image. The chapter includes examples from Portugal and Spain in the 1960s and 1970s, Yugoslavia during the Cold War and Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia after 1989. The chapter will consider the economic and political factors that have motivated these states to invest significant resources into their participation in Eurovision, as well as why some of these states have been more successful in appropriating popular music in their cultural diplomacy. The political debates that have taken place across Europe over the participation of these states to the Eurovision contest are also addressed.
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