A Eurovision expert has suggested the world’s most famous – and perhaps most kitsch – song contest could help unite the people of warring countries despite controversy over the choice of host nations.
Dr Paul Jordan, known as Dr Eurovision, speaking to the award-winning BFBS military analysis and debate programme Sitrep with Kate Gerbeau and Christopher Lee, gave his view of the political turmoil surrounding this year’s event in Israel.
Political controversy has embroiled Eurovision 2019 amid calls for a boycott from campaigners over the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
It comes amid heightened tensions after militants in the Gaza Strip bombarded Israel with hundreds of rockets, prompting retaliatory air strikes and tank fire on the Palestinian territory, despite an earlier truce.
* Cover image, top of article: Ester Peony of Romania performs on stage at Eurovision 2019 in Israel. Picture: Press Association.
Dr Jordan, a Eurovision specialist speaking from Tel Aviv, discussed if politics could ever be avoided in the annual flamboyant extravaganza of multicultural light entertainment and culture.
He said: “Like any large scale international event, politics comes into it.
“That’s the same for the Olympic Games in China. It’s the same for the World Cup in Qatar.
“We’re here for Eurovision in Israel and of course politics comes into it but the event itself is a TV show, so it’s not a political event.
“As I say, it does creep in but on the night, I think the music speaks for itself.”
Dr Jordan went on to describe the atmosphere in Tel Aviv at the moment, saying: “It’s electric, it’s great.
“Tel Aviv is an amazing host city for Eurovision, we’ve not had a host city quite like it – by the seaside, by the beach, it’s great.
“Israel is really proud to host this event. Yes, it is controversial that it’s here, there’s been lots of discussions around Israel’s political situation, but that’s been highlighted by the fact that Eurovision is here, so I think it’s a good thing that we’re discussing it, and I think tonight we’re going to see a semi-final that’s full of really good acts.
“That’s the second semi-final, we’ve already had the first one on Tuesday, and on the grand final on Saturday, we’re going to see the UK performance as well, so it’s going to be a good night.”
Discussing the atmosphere and how many people had travelled to Tel Aviv, he said: “I get the feeling it’s a little bit quieter than normal, because it’s quite far away, people are probably concerned about travelling to Israel as well.
“Tickets were very expensive for a lot of the fans, so it is a little bit quieter than normal but still, people are here from all over the world, and people are also visiting Israel for the first time as well and that’s because of Eurovision.
“So, yes, it’s great and it’s like a party atmosphere. It’s like going on holiday with about a hundred of your best mates. It’s really hard to describe, I love it.”
Questioned on the subject of the protests, however, Dr Jordan said: “I don’t think it’s had any effect on the event. People are talking about it, and there’s been calls for, particularly Ireland and Iceland to boycott and I know in the UK there’s been discussions as well but ultimately it’s a very complicated issue.”
He also pointed to other issues that hosting the contest highlights, such as issues around a country’s stance on sexuality for instance.
He said: “Eurovision attracts a lot of gay fans as well and Israel is the only country in the Middle East where it is legal and safe to be gay – in Gaza it’s not.
“There’s all sorts of difficulties around this political situation in Israel so it’s a tricky one.
“But it is very much on the agenda and it’s one that I am very conscious of but it’s not in the spirit of Eurovision to be boycotting this event.
“It’s about bringing countries together, and putting politics aside for one night of the year when we all get together and have a bit of a party.
“I think it’s really important that Europe does that because we’ve got a lot going on at the minute and, particularly for the UK as well, it’s nice for us to be part of something which is bigger than the EU, than politics, than whatever.
“It’s part of European culture, history and it’s something unique in the television year.”
Dr Jordan went on to explore if the event could even have a positive effect on Palestinian-Israeli relations, despite the tensions.
He said: “I would hope so.
“I think certainly there’s been a lot of goodwill shown towards Israelis and Palestinians.
“There’s been lots of discussions around the current situation.
“It’s shone a light on what’s going on in this country and if Israel wants to stand on the world stage, it’s put up for scrutiny, like any other country and that can only be a good thing.
“I would hope that it does bring people together, and I think Eurovision does in many ways.
“You’ve got lots of countries that are arch enemies in certain circumstances – Azerbaijan and Armenia – they are neighbouring countries, they are technically in a state of war, over an area called Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a disputed territory.
“You’ve also got Cyprus and Turkey and Greece – Turkey is not in it any more – but you’ve got these countries that come together for one night and they put away their politics and they join together so I think this is what the event is about.”
As for rivalries, there has to be a winner, so who does Dr Jordan think it will be?
“Well, you know what, I’m really bad at predicting a winner so I’m going to name a couple.
“I’m going to put my money on Sweden, I think they’ve got a good chance and he also wrote the UK entry as well so the Swedish guy is also a songwriter and he wrote our song.
“Azerbaijan is a good outsider as well. Netherlands is a big favourite, and people are talking about Australia as well, so that looks good and why is Australia in Eurovision? Well, why not, it’s about building bridges and getting rid of the borders and being part of a world culture for one night only.”
The Eurovision debate was just one of the subjects in the latest Sitrep programme and podcast, which features defence and foreign policy analysis and discussion.
Other topics and guests included the former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Dannatt, who welcomed the Defence Secretary's plans to examine the way historical allegations are handled, Professor Joshua Landis, of the University of Oklahoma, who examined the rising tensions between Iran and the United States, and former US General Michael Garrett who give his view on how his forces could go to battle in future.