Where are you now?

Last night’s ‘Eurovision’s Greatest Hits’ celebration of 60 years of the Eurovision Song Contest portrayed the contest in the only way the BBC knows how to. The camp, the glitz and the glam were all out to mark this special anniversary.

This was the second big anniversary celebration of the contest after a similar affair back in 2005. Back then ‘Congratulations’, produced to mark the 50th anniversary, was also due to be a BBC venture, although it ended up in the hands of DR, the Danish broadcaster, who had proven itself a friend of the EBU, albeit a slightly dysfunctional Eurovision host with both the contest in 2001 and supporting the EBU to launch Junior Eurovision. But despite the different hosts, both anniversary shows were produced in exactly the same way – and both recognised the same songs, the same eras, the same contest. But surely there’s more to wheeling out Fly On The Wings Of Love, Brotherhood of Man and Johnny Logan every ten years?

It couldn’t be a more important time to recognise the successes of nations beyond the traditional Eurovision border. But both in 2005 and in 2015, the contribution of those nations from an expanding Europe have been whitewashed from Eurovision history. It’s no surprise to me that the contests’ winners in both 2001 and 2002 didn’t feature in either anniversary contest – but they were historic, being the first time Eurovision ventured to the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia respectively. But no, they weren’t even marked in a medley and in fact only Russia featured and only featured once.

How convenient.

For those of us who aren’t just fans of the music, but followers of the contest itself should only be disappointed by the EBU’s failure to oversee a fitting anniversary show that recognises the true values and history of a contest that has seen difficult and challenging times but is a story in overcoming adversity. Today, Europe is not in the midst of the excitement and expansion that gripped the continent from the early 2000s until the financial recession took hold in 2008.

Russia’s expansion of its own into Crimea after democracy rose up in Ukraine. The terrorist attacks across France and Denmark just months ago, the killing of nearly a hundred young activists in Norway. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the midst of financial crisis. Catalonia and Scotland trying to break away, whilst Kosovo tries to ascend to the international stage. Eurovision is a coming together each year that does not hide our differences – the booing of Russia, the nil points of the United Kingdom – politics has always been alive and kicking in the Eurovision Song Contest – but it has always been recognised.

The adversity of nations.

“Eurovision’s greatest hits who kept the contest alive when nobody else cared have been written out of history for a second time – but then everything past Poland is just Russia right?”

Yet the contest has taken a different path since we returned from the controversial shores of Azerbaijan in 2012 and came back to our Western comfort zone in the Eurovision paradise of Sweden in 2013. The show, undoubtedly scaled down on the instruction of the EBU, truly began the contests rebranding. Under the watchful eye of Jon Ola Sand, his vision for a contest back at the heart of entertainment, rather than music and politics, began to take shape.

He couldn’t do it in Germany, he was too new. He couldn’t do it in Azerbaijan, he was too weak. But with the liberal, and friendly, SVT he could begin. It continued in 2014 in Denmark and Sand must have been weak at the knees when he watched Austria and the headline friendly Conchita Wurst pip the Netherlands to victory. Instead of having to deal with the professional and experienced AVROTROS in Holland, the EBU’s vision will instead be happily executed by Austria’s ORF. And what better way to start than to invite along Australia.

And that’s the biggest hit of all. The inclusion of Australia whilst Ukraine, one of the most successful nations at the contest in the past decade, and on the anniversary of its historic hosting, will be absent. The EBU should be ashamed that it is aggressively pursuing an agenda so far away from the historic roots of the contest, born out of a war torn Europe. Back in 1993, in the midst of war and fear in the Balkan’s – Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia all made their debut at the contest despite the tragedy back home.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s journey to Ireland was nothing short of an inspiration and they made it because they wanted to be seen and heard and their reception was an applause that rivalled the home winners. In fact, the Bosnian entry ‘Sva bol svijeta’ composed by Edin Dervišhalidović had to be recorded using power from a generator bought on the black market from UN soldiers because of the war. They came through a war to share music with a continent they desperately wanted to be a part of.

Željko Joksimović - one of the most successful artists of the decade and host of the contest in 2008 in Belgrade
Željko Joksimović – one of the most successful artists of the decade and host of the contest in 2008 in Belgrade

In 2004, Ukraine’s winning entry just a year after entering the contest was a political statement – a coming of age. It is a disgrace that in 2015 the EBU has chosen to prioritise the accession of Australia to mark the contests 60th anniversary and not ensuring that the true friends of the contest – Ukraine, Bosnia, hell even Morocco could overcome their challenges and be stood in Vienna as a true testament to the contest to overcome war, financial crisis and adversity across the continent.

Instead, Ukraine won’t be there.

Verka Serduchka - undoubtedly one of Eurovision's greatest hits
Verka Serduchka – undoubtedly one of Eurovision’s greatest hits

Bosnia and Herzegovina tried, but ultimately couldn’t stump up the cash.

But don’t worry because we can all cheer for the Australian victory that might be just around the corner and forget all about them.

“The response is always the same; Lighten up, it’s just an entertainment show”

And the response is always the same; Lighten up, it’s just an entertainment show. It’s always the same, but for those of us who follow the contest it’s not ‘just’ an entertainment show and it is no testament to those who have literally fought to be at Eurovision over the years to belittle their achievement. That’s the legacy we should be celebrating, that’s the contest that has survived and for a long time it was the nations of the Balkans and the Baltic’s and the Commonwealth of Independent States that kept Eurovision alive when nobody else cared.

We can only hope that in Vienna this year, music wins the day – and it’s looking likely that the EBU’s plan might be about to hit a giant Russian blockade.

But last night the Balkan’s, the Baltic’s and the East were written out of Eurovision history for a second time – but then everything past Poland is just Russia right?