Is Eurovision A Dead Dog?

Although Greece’s Helena Paparizou’s chirpy “My Number One” took the prize by the sort of distance that’s expected of a red-hot favourite, the most remarkable things about the 50th Eurovision Song Contest were the political wrangles that went on behind it and the view it gave of host nation Ukraine.

The entry from Ukraine, which has gone from revolution to Eurovision in the space of six months, was washed of most of its overt political content, while Kiev city officials and the local contest organisers all came in for some heavy media flak.

Ukraine, last year’s winner, hosted the contest in what was widely seen as a means to showcase the country after last year’s “Orange Revolution.” The shock winner of the poll to find the Ukrainian entrant was a trio called GreenJolly, with the orange anthem “Razom Nas Bahato (Together We Are Many)”.

One verse ran, “No falsifications! No lies! No machinations! Yes Yushchenko! Yes Yushchenko! This is our president!” in what sounded like a cross between a Euro pop entry and a chant from a soccer ground terrace.

Eurovision executive supervisor Svante Stockselius ruled it was political propaganda and against the rules, while the U.K.’s The Independent suggested that trying to hold back the tides of politics six months after a revolution “is the kind of challenge only King Canute would propose.”

The lyrics were cleaned up but on the final night (May 21) it could only finish in the pack. Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Metro had been reporting that a cleanup operation of a different kind had drawn a furious reaction from animal rights activists.

Many had hoped the contest would help change Ukraine’s image after years of association with political scandals, corruption and the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but the cleaning of Kiev is alleged to have included the culling of 10,000 of the city’s stray dogs.

The Metro piece quoted Tamara Tarnavskaya, head of the city’s society that protects animal rights, as saying the Ukrainian capital’s leaders have sanctioned the cleanup squads to “shoot dogs with special dart guns and also throw poison around Kiev.”

The practice is a throwback to the Soviet era, when a dog-catching car – known locally as a “budka” (or kennel) – would roam around the city, catching loose dogs and taking them to a pound. If nobody turned up to claim them, they were shot.

The city says it doesn’t do that now and that the dogs are only taken in to be sterilised, but eyewitness Iryna Stashevskaya told Metro she saw two men jump out of a red car and kill Daisy, the dog adopted by her apartment block, by shooting her several times with a high-powered air gun.

This year’s contest had already suffered bad press. Amid rumours of ticket fraud, vote-rigging and spiraling costs, it was reported that the European Broadcasting Union was ready to move the whole contest to Malmo, Sweden.

Meanwhile, back at the front of the stage, hundreds of thousands ended up watching the contest on screens erected in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), the focal point of last year’s rallies.

Eurovision attracts far more attention in the post-communist eastern European countries than it does in western Europe, where the competition, the performers and their songs are all treated with a large degree of disdain – even though it has a Euro-wide TV audience of about 150 million.

Paparizou, who finished third in Eurovision in 2001, scored 230 points in telephone voting from viewers in 39 countries for a performance relying heavily on Greek folk music. Behind her in second place was Chiara from Malta, who sang “Angel.”

Romania’s Luminita Anghel and her group Sistem, singing “Let me Try,” came third.

The German entry, which had caused a scandal of its own when it was discovered its producer had bought hundreds of copies to improve its chart position, trailed last of the 24 entrants.

— John Gammon