Eurovision: How the Greatest Song Contest Has Failed Cyprus
As Eurovision’s 2021 slogan was ‘Open Up’, it’s about time we do open up about one of the most loved events in music’s calendar. A camp, technicolour extravaganza that shows the true eclectic, and sometimes downright weird, pillars of European culture. As a self-confessed Eurovision superfan, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. The glitter and glamour of it all resonates so strongly with me!
I have very vivid memories of watching Eurovision at my grandparent’s house growing up – it basically became an annual tradition. Growing up in the UK with a Cypriot family, it was always one thing that made me feel ‘different’ to my white British friends who never cared or even knew what Eurovision was. Instead, it was always that thing that my ‘ethnic’ friends, whose home countries also competed in Eurovision, enjoyed and celebrated with me. I guess that speaks to the wider significance of a competition like Eurovision, and music in general, and what it can do to affirm someone’s sense of identity as a foreigner growing up in the UK.
There’s no doubt Eurovision is more than just sequins and catchy europop. The political arc of the contest is also significant. From the voting practices to the underlying political statements made in songs, it’s a game of geopolitical popularity. And despite the official European Broadcasting Union rule that politics ‘in lyrics, speeches or gestures’ are all banned, there have been political undercurrents since its conception. After all, the aim of Eurovision was to unite Western Europe as a unified bloc during the Cold War. All you have to do is look at the UK; twice has it received a grand total of ‘nil poi’: once in 2003, which coincided with Blair’s invasion of Iraq, and this year, which happened to be the first contest since the UK’s formal exit from the EU. I guess Brexit really does mean Brexit!
Away from the ‘hard’ geopolitics, the beauty of Eurovision and artistic expression is that it can also be used as a means of resistance and solidarity. Like Dana International, for example, who stood in the face of adversity representing Israel as the first openly trans contestant in 1998, and not without some severe backlash and threats from members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Or Conchita Wurst, who in 2014, became a Eurovision icon for the queer and gender nonconforming community.
But what does Eurovision mean for Cypriots? Cyprus has been competing in Eurovision since 1981, first represented by the group Island, who finished sixth. For the past 40 years since Cyprus began competing in the contest, it has only been represented by Greek-speaking Cypriots, most likely because Cyprus is represented by the Cyprus Broadcasting Station (CyBC), which is owned by the Republic of Cyprus. Songs have consistently been performed in either modern Standard Greek or English (apart from that rogue time in 2007 when Evridiki performed the song “comme ci, comme ça” in French).
Eurovision is supposed to be a symbol of national pride, and the power of representation through music. However, what Cyprus has presented for the past 40 years isn’t the full picture of Cypriot representation. It has sent a clear message not only to Europe, but to the whole world, that Cyprus is only for those that speak Greek. Cyprus has two official languages: Greek and Turkish. To erase one of the languages is to erase part of the population, not forgetting the minority languages of Cyprus that also deserve recognition: Armenian, Cypriot Arabic and Kurbetcha.
This dominance of Greek is strengthened when artists from Greece represent the island, which has been consistent throughout Cyprus’ Eurovision career, further reinforcing the idea that Cypriots alone are not good enough or worthy of representation. Ultimately, this mainland Greek representation and domination feeds the false narrative that a union with Greece is the only way Cyprus will be seen or recognised.
The voting practices are a testament to this. Let’s be honest, it would be weird if Cyprus didn’t award Greece 12 point every year, and vice versa, and it is perhaps not surprising that Cyprus and Turkey never exchanged votes until 2003, which is largely attributed to tensions with the ongoing ‘Cyprus problem’. Whilst the predictable voting practices between Cyprus and Greece may seem like a sweet alliance on the surface to help each other win a song contest, it is reflective of the wider geopolitical discourse.
In a time where the historical and present realities of Cyprus are so dominated by division, abusing the power of Eurovision only reinstates this. Whilst ‘soft power’ politics like Eurovision may not seem to have an impact, its reach is huge and can greatly influence how nations want to be perceived and how the rest of the world comes to define them. Instead of taking advantage of a major platform like Eurovision to promote unification and harmony, presenting only one side of the Cyprus story further perpetuates and encourages partition. If you ask me, this completely goes against Eurovision’s so-called ethos of unity, solidarity and cooperation.
I can’t wait until the day we see representation of all Cypriots at Eurovision. Our island is filled with such wonderful talent that deserves to be put centre stage and celebrated. Cyprus is nothing but Cypriot, so we should be representing this through the musical acts. I hope to see the day where songs are sung in Cypriot dialects, showcasing the beauty of traditional Cypriot music. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to stan a bit of classic Europop, but I thought the whole point of Eurovision was to showcase a country’s culture and the rich diversity of the continent? The pressures of globalisation mean that more and more countries are shying away from traditional musical practices in their entries and conforming to more westernised music genres, often sung in English. Just because we are in 2021, it doesn’t mean that there’s no more room for traditionalism. After all, a bit of folklore never hurt anybody! So, here’s to pozoukis, laoutos and tampoustias on the Eurovision stage in 2022 and beyond!