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Geopolitics of Eurovision: Chile Edition

5 May 2015 12:51 pm
 
 

By Frances Robinson

It's that time of the year again: the start of our Eurovision Song Contest coverage on Real Time Brussels.

This year, the travelling circus goes to Vienna after Conchita Wurst rose like a phoenix in Copenhagen, and we'll have details of the songs to watch out for soon. But as ever, true aficionados know that while glittery frocks and cheeky key changes are nice enough, geopolitical intrigue is what's really interesting about Eurovision.

That's why we have a special treat for our readers. We've previously covered songs about the debt crisis and how last year's event was overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine. But back in 1975 Eurovision part of Europe-wide activism against the military dictatorship ... in Chile.

Dr. Chris Moores, from the Modern British Studies Centre at the University of Birmingham has been researching human-rights campaigning in the U.K., and is currently trawling through the archives of the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or FCO. During this, he came across a diplomatic telegram, the usual method of communication at the FCO, sent during Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship in Chile. This dark period featured book burnings, the suppression of unions, and the widespread imprisonment, torture and killing of political opponents.

In this missive, which is mainly about opposition to the military dictatorship from the British left, CD Crabbie, of the FCO's Latin America department, wrote to M. Webb of the British Embassy in Santiago about the various anti-Junta campaigns across Europe.

"Among the less publicized triumphs of worker solidarity have been the refusal by television technicians to broadcast the Eurovision Song Contest to Chile, the decision of a printers shop in London not to print labels for bottles of Chilean wine and the blacking* of a cargo of Chilean apples by Dutch dockers: all of which should give the Generals food for thought," the telegram said.

The 1975 contest was hosted in Stockholm after ABBA won in Brighton the previous year and was won by Dutch band Teach-In and its song "Ding-a-dong."

While the technicians' refusal to broadcast the contest may seem trivial, broadcasting Eurovision outside of participating countries actually has a long history that remains relevant to this day. This year, Australia is taking part for the first time -- after watching the competition for decades. Indeed, Aussie fans are some of the most intense Eurovision-lovers.

The European Broadcasting Union, or EBU, which oversees the contest, has always been an organization based on technical criteria, not political ones, which is why countries outside the standard territorial definition of Europe, including Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel, have long been members.

Even during the Cold War, broadcasting Eurovision outside of Western Europe wasn't actually that unusual. At a conference to reflect on 60 years of Eurovision in London last week, Dr. Paul Jordan, a British academic nicknamed "Dr. Eurovision," pointed out that Estonians could watch the competition on Finnish television during the Soviet era -- which in turn helped the process of embracing Eurovison as a nation-building exercise when they hosted in 2002, the first former Eastern bloc country to do so.

According to another speaker at the conference, Dr. Dean Vuletic of the University of Vienna, "Cold War political divisions did not prevent significant cooperation between the European Broadcasting and the [Soviet equivalent] the International Organisation for Radio and Television ... There were program exchanges between the Eurovision and Intervision networks that allowed Eastern European audiences to watch the Eurovision Song Contest."

Still, quite what the Chilean junta made of the lack of Eurovision in 1975 is lost to the mists of history. The Foreign Office didn't comment when asked about the telegram. Because the issue didn't involve an actual member of the European Broadcasting Union, its archives are unlikely to hold any further clues, said Dave Goodman, an EBU spokesman. "I think it's unlikely any stand was taken about Pinochet but I really don't know," he said.

But Dr. Moores's research does go to show that while it's easy to mock an evening of saccharine lyrics and wind machines, boycotting Eurovision was, at one point, a tool of solidarity used by European workers to show their opposition to a military dictatorship on the other side of the world.

*A widely-used 1970s and 1980s word to describe boycotts by trade unions.
 
 
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 05, 2015 08:51 ET (12:51 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2015 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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