Azeri songs and Ukrainian football – Arnold Cassola

The European Song Contest has become a yearly event, much awaited by hundreds of millions of Europeans every May. This year, a record 46 European nations took part, which meant that the event had to be divided into two semi-finals on May 22 and May 24, with the final, comprising the 26 most-voted songs, taking place on May 26.

More than a song contest, this competition has become a spectacle of light, colour, sound and anything eccentric that could come to mind.

In fact, this year’s competition, which was held in the Azerbaijan capital Baku, was characterised by myriad displays of water and fire, singers who were masked and blindfolded as if in some carnivalesque or erotic game, octogenarian Russian grandmothers who took the stage by storm with their catchy (and a bit ridiculous) babushka song and dancers and acrobats all dressed up for the occasion.

The amount of votes going from one friendly neighbour to the other seem to be on the increase.

Luckily, however, this year the Swedish entry was so good that it managed to strike a chord across borders and frontiers and, thus, the song Euphoria, sung by Laureen, managed to win the contest hands down.

With so much interest (including monetary interests) revolving around this event, the organising nation, Azerbaijan, did not spare any effort to make itself the European and world showcase for one week.

Basically, the Azeri government spent about €48 million to organise this one-off event.

The venue in Baku was the amazingly beautiful Crystal Hall, constructed in the record time of less than a year. An internet description of the venue states: “Baku Crystal Hall is a multi-functional indoor venue in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was built by German construction company Alpine Bau Deutschland AG just in nine months especially for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.

“Currently it is the largest arena in Azerbaijan, with capacity for 25,000 people”.

But at what price has this venue been built? The answer is simple.

In order to stage this show, all respect of basic human rights has been thrown to the dogs.

The Azeri government is renowned for its repression of minorities and of political opponents. In order to make way for the building of this Crystal Hall, hordes of people have been swept away from their homes and living quarters and hundreds of stray animals have been massacred.

The ruling party in Azerbaijan has nearly all the 125 seats in Parliament; none of the opposition parties made it to Parliament in the last election and things seem to be getting worse for the mostly impoverished population.

The local Mafia basically runs the whole show in the country.

And yet, not to rock the boat and ruin the party, the civilised world has hardly uttered a word about the undemocratic behaviour of the Azeri regime.

The same is happening in the case of the European football championships that opened yesterday in Ukraine.

The money interests revolving around these events are so great that many governments find it more comfortable to put the defence of human rights on the back burner.

Luckily, the European Parliament is still there to remind national governments of their responsibilities towards the oppressed and repressed peoples.

In two resolutions of May 24, it sent a strong message against the political repression in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.

The glitz and pomp of the Eurovision Song Contest and the European football championships should in no way mask the serious problems in the two countries.

Politically imprisoned activists and journalists in Azerbaijan should be immediately released and freedom of assembly and expression guaranteed.

In Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovich should stop repressing his opponents and stop leading his country away from freedom and democracy.

Will national governments take the cue from the European Parliament? One really hopes so, because the basic freedoms of many in countries like Azerbaijan and Ukraine are really at stake.

Prof. Cassola is spokesperson on EU and international affairs of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party