Was Russia’s Sergey Lazarev fairly treated in Eurovision this year?
The question is going viral, but remains to be answered. To be honest, I landed at ‘no’ a few times during my stay in Stockholm. Like when Sergey had just done a fabulous performance in Globen and the one question he got in the press conference was from a Ukrainian (!) journalist asking him whether the Eurovision fans could feel safe at a possible final in Russia, given Russia’s anti gay legislation. Sergey answered patiently, like all of the other hundred times he was faced with that question, that Russia welcomes all fans and that there are tons of gay bars in Moscow and St. Petersburg, in which he has performed himself.
Sergey was as classy as possible, also welcoming gay flags during his entry. But was it fair that he had to answer to Russia’s politics continuously throughout his stay? Did he deserve to hear that people didn’t want him to win because gay people don’t feel safe in Russia? And would the same people really feel all that much safer in Ukraine, Azerbaijan or Belarus?
Music is personal for musicians, yet when they are on that Eurovision stage they are representing their country. It creates a few dilemmas, both for fans and artists.
In Stockholm I went to the Israelian party, like I went to other country parties, and I stayed in front of the stage because I wanted to hear both the greatly talented Hovi Star and the fabulous Amir perform. I appreciated both. But in the middle of the show the Israelian ambassador entered the stage for a speech. He was joined by the host, the great song writer Doron Medalie, saying Israel has a lot of friends around the world. And then Medalie asked everyone who loves Israel to raise their hands.
That was not a great moment. Quite a few people remained still. For me, it was personal. There was no way I would have raised my hand. But now I had to throw that in the face of the ambassador instead of just being happy about their fabulous musicians, who I have no problem supporting. As an audience we were held hostage in front of a stage that was supposed to celebrate music and we were forced to take a stand. It was a moment that didn’t belong in Eurovison.
But I do not blame the artists. I am a writer of both fiction and newspaper columns myself. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to defend your country’s actions every time you do something you are proud of. I respect everyone who want to make statements through their performances instead of repeating that never ending story of endless love with sugar on top. In the sunlight. But as press, audiences and fans we should let the artists choose their own messages. Just like country representatives should respect that we are all there to support music, not countries.
As a fan I loved Sergey Lazarev. I am as happy to have seen him perform as I am to have experienced his professional, sincere attitude at the press conferences. He seemed like one of the most sympathetic artists this year and I would have had no problem with him winning But if someone had asked me to raise my hand in love for Russia, I wouldn’t have. Neither would I have done it for Poland, Hungary, Belarus or Azerbaijan, to mention a few.
One does not love or hate countries. One loves and hates their actions, the experiences they provide or the people who originates from there. And regarding musical performances they speak so well for themselves it shouldn’t be necessary for professional juries to look outside them. I don’t know if the juries actually did vote politically, but I sincerely hope they won’t in the future. That would decrease their own value as professional experts at best.
Maybe there were things that weren’t fair in this contest, which also includes the Ukrainian winner getting 300.000 protests thrown in her face. Maybe we need to talk more about that and ask ourselves if there were things we could have done differently. But does that mean we should choose a different winner? Not at all.
We all have different taste, but I think the right song won Eurovision. Jamala was the best performer by far and her song was so powerful it came as no surprise that she touched hearts all around a Europe in distress. Russia had lyrics saying “thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting”, Jamala had lyrics saying “we could build a future where people are free”. Maybe people wanted a real message for once, regardless of country belonging and political views.
I am happy they got that. And I heartily welcome Russia to give us the same. Maybe next year in Kyiv?
Guri Idsø Viken
(I also discussed this on national TV in Norway. Watch it here if you can understand Norwegian)