Europe
4:49 am
Sat May 26, 2012

At Eurovision 2012, Politics Take The Stage

Originally published on Sat May 26, 2012 7:52 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The annual kitsch contest known as the Eurovision Song Contest takes place later today. It's always held in the home country of the previous year's winner. This time, it's authoritarian Azerbaijan in central Asia. So it's been hard to avoid politics at what's supposed to be a nonpolitical event. Vicki Barker reports on both the contest and the context.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERLINE")

JEDWARD: (Singing) Oh, I am close to the waterline.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: They're back. John and Edward, a.k.a. Jedward, Irish twins with scary upswept hairdos, have made it to the Eurovision finals a second time. Lucky Eurovision, they say.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Before, Eurovision was something that was, like, in the distance, that some people might like watch but...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We brought Eurovision back to the glory days.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY FOR EVERYBODY)

BURANOVSKIYE BABUSHKI: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

BARKER: But they'll have stiff competition from the apple-cheeked Buranovo grannies of rural Russia, in their colorful peasant skirts...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY FOR EVERYBODY")

BABUSHKI: (Singing) Come on and dance. Come on and dance. Come on and dance.Com on and boom, boom.

BARKER: And zippy bilingual dance number.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST FOR ONE NIGHT")

EMIN AGALAROV: (Singing) 'Cause we're worlds apart in the crowded place and I can...

BARKER: This is not an official Eurovision entry: this is Emin Agalarov. The aspiring pop star is also the son-in-law of Azerbaijan's president. He'll serenade the crowd during the voting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST FOR ONE NIGHT")

AGALAROV: (Singing) Just for one night...

BARKER: The president's wife chairs the Eurovision organizing committee. And the president's hand has been detected in the recent arrests and beatings handed out to pro-democracy marchers, and to locals protesting the homes they say were bulldozed to build Eurovision facilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen...

BARKER: The 56-nation European Broadcasting Union, which runs the Eurovision song contest, must have seen this coming when Azerbaijan won last year. Ingrid Deltenre is EBU director general.

INGRID DELTENRE: Why are we going with the song contest to Azerbaijan? Because it's according to the rules.

BARKER: She says Eurovision has no control over individual countries' hiring decisions or their human rights policies. Amnesty International's Nicola Duckworth wants Eurovision and participating countries to publicly condemn the human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

NICOLA DUCKWORTH: European governments and the European Broadcasting Union have maintained really a deafening silence about these abuses.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE WILL SET YOU FREE")

ENGELBERT HUMPERDINK: (Singing) If you love someone, follow your heart.

BARKER: There's been a no comment from the British entrant - 76-year-old crooner Engelbert Humperdink. He'll be serenading the Azerbaijani people with a ballad called "Love Will Set You Free."

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE WILL SET YOU FREE")

HUMPERDINK: (Singing) Trust in your dreams, run with no fear, and if you should stumble remember...

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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