Eurovision’s Iron Curtain Call

Serbia’s Eurovision Song Contest victory means it’s likely next year’s final will be held in Belgrade, leaving western Europe to wonder if it will ever win or stage the event again.

Marija Serifovic’s rendering of "Molitova," which means "Prayer," a downbeat ballad about love, loyalty (and prayer), scored 268 points and led a league table dominated by central and eastern European countries.

BBC radio received a deluge of calls during a May 13 phone-in program, after the previous night’s final had Serbia being followed home by Ukraine (235 points), Russia (207), Turkey (163), Bulgaria (157), Belarus (145), Greece (139), Armenia (138) and Hungary (128).

Moldova (109) completed the Top 10, with the next six places going to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Romania, Macedonia, Slovenia and Latvia.

Best of the western European and Nordic countries was Finland, which won in 2006 and staged this year’s show at Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena. It trailed in at 17th with 53 points.

Sweden was 18th, with the rest of the western European countries nestled below them at the foot of the table.

Lithuania, which came in 21st, was the only non-western country in a bottom six that read Germany (19th), Spain (20th), the U.K. and France (tied at 22nd) and Ireland – which has won the competition more than any country – finishing 24th and last.

The result indicates the former war-torn region may be trying to bury the ethnic and regional tensions of the past. Among the countries that gave Serbia its highest scores were the nearby former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Prince Alexander all congratulated their winner. European Union enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said it was a "European vote for a European Serbia."

Over the past 15 years, Serbia has been one of Europe’s most troublesome states, starting wars and having its leader (Slobodan Milosevic) put on trial for genocide.

"I’m so glad it was not some war song," Serbian TV chief Aleksandar Tijanic told the U.K.’s Guardian.

Within an hour of the result, the streets of Belgrade were blocked with revelers flying flags, honking car horns, setting off fireworks and singing the torch ballad as the impromptu all-night party spread through the Serbian capital.

Two days after the event, the U.K.’s the Daily Telegraph was among the papers carrying stories suggesting the competition be split in two – a new east-west divide – in an attempt to foil tactical voting.

This might be embarrassing for the BBC, which originated the 50 plus-year-old contest, and saw the U.K. entry get "Nil Points" from all except two of the 42 voting countries, which included the 18 eliminated at the semifinal stage.

Of the U.K.’s 19 points, a maximum 12 points came from Malta and the other seven from Ireland.

It was also the first time in nine years that the winning song wasn’t sung in English.

Giving a Serbian view on the U.K.’s reaction to the result, Dragan Ambrozic, a program manager for Exit Festival, which was started to celebrate and accelerate Milosevic’s fall from power, told Pollstar, "The trouble is that in big markets nobody seems to take Eurovision seriously until you lose miserably."