After 2020’s cancellation, the Eurovision Song Contest returned to our screens last week from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. It provided us all with a form of escapism from the pandemic we are still fighting. The Dutch government decided to use the contest as a trial event to allow people return to live events in the country after Covid, this meant that there were 3500 people permitted to attend each live show without having to wear masks; providing they tested negative before entering the stadium. As always, the voting in this year’s contest was intriguing and bizarre in some cases, but the voting system in Eurovision allows us to piece together a picture of the current gro-political environment in Europe.(as mentioned in this article- ). In this article I will explore some questionable jury voting and how external political factors may be influencing how certain countries are voting.
Before I delve deeper into the results, I must explain how the points system works in Eurovision. The results for the contest are split 50/50 between a televote from the general public and a professional jury vote from each nation, but you cannot vote for your own country. The top 10 acts in the televote and jury vote are awarded points, ranging from 1-12. The televote and jury vote is combined to provide an act with a total number of points. For example, in the first semi-final Ireland received 16 points from the jury and 4 in the televote. This resulted in Ireland finishing with 20 points overall, subsequently coming last in the semi-final and failing to qualify for the grand final. Each national jury typically consists of five jurors who are seen as ‘music professionals’ or those who have experience in the music industry. The jurors are hand selected by the national broadcaster of each nation and they are asked to mark entries based on vocal ability; the stage performance; the song’s composition; and the overall impression of the act. It is in the jury vote of each nation that we often see political bias coming through.
As mentioned, the national broadcaster of each country selects the jurors and the results of each juror is made public after the contest, to ensure transparency. As each juror’s ranking is released publicly, this may influence the voting of jurors. One example of this can be seen in how the Ukranian jurors ranked Russia’s entry in both the semi-final and then in the grand final. The majority of jurors ranked Russia dead last. In the semi-final 4/5 ranked Russia last, but in the final Russia fared somewhat better with only 3/5 jurors ranking the song last, however the other jurors did not rank Russia in a much higher position. This is quite the oddity as Russia did quite well in this year’s competition, finishing in the top 10. However, Ukrainian jurors ranking Russia last has been a common occurrence since Russia illegally annexed Crimeia in 2014. Prior to the annexation, Russia always ranked highly with the Ukranian jury. However, with the name of each juror and their ranking being public, perhaps Ukranian jurors wanted to be seen as being loyal and anti-Russian, which is the stance taken by the Ukrainian National Broadcaster; who banned Russia from competing in the 2017 contest that was held in Kyiv.
Interestingly, the Ukranian televote awarded Russia points in the semi-final and then in the final. However, it must be pointed out that much of Eastern Ukraine is largely pro-Russian and this is where a lot of the televotes for Russia may come from. Curiously, the Russian televote gave Ukraine 12 points, with the Russian jury awarding them 5 points in the semi-final. In the final, the Russian televoters awarded Ukraine 7 points, but they received nothing from the Russian jury in the final. This indicates that both the Russian Jury members and general public do not hold much animosity toward Ukraine, but this was not reciprocated by the Ukranian jury. Could this act of Russia rewarding the Ukranian entry, who finished 5th overall, be seen as Russia trying to alleviate some tension with Ukraine?
Questionable jury voting for Moldova.
One of the biggest oddities in this year’s jury voting was the surprisingly high result for the Moldovan act, Natalia Gordienko. One of the composers of the song is Russian pop sensation Philipp Kirkorov who has a long history of composing pop songs for former Soviet states at the contest. Kirkorov has had an illustrious career in Eastern Europe and is a well-known name across Europe now due to his continuous involvement with the contest. This usually results in juries across the eastern-bloc, but mainly the Russian jury, awarding their 12 points to whatever act Kirkorov is behind and this year was no different. The Russian jury awarded their 12 points to Moldova, with three jurors ranking Moldova first and two jurors ranking it second which resulted in Moldova’s average ranking with the jury being 1st. This is bizarre as Moldova was considered one of the weakest vocal performances of the year, which is one of the main criteria that juries are asked to consider.
It seems that simply having a certain person’s name behind an act can result in it achieving a good result, regardless of the quality of the act. However, Russia was not alone in awarding Moldova top marks. The other composer/producer of Moldova’s song was Dimitris Kontopoulos who is one of Greece’s most famous composers who is known for his dance-pop music. Greece and Moldova competed in the same semi-final which meant Greece could vote for Moldova. All of the Greek jurors ranked Moldova first, bar one who ranked it second. Subsequently, Moldova was awarded 12 points from the Greek jury and even went on to receive 12 points from the Greek televote. In summary, countries who had their citizens involved in the Moldovan act awarded them top marks in both the semi-final and the final. Surely this cannot be a coincidence.
Any regular viewer of Eurovision will notice that there is a pattern of former Yugoslavian countries either voting for each or completely ignoring each other (mainly in the case of Serbia and Albania.) In the first semi-final North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Croatia all competed. In the televote, all of these countries exchanged points but none of the countries ended up qualifying for the grand final. Slovenia received a mere 8 points in the televote with all of these points coming from North Macedonia and Croatia. North Macedonia didn’t fare much better than Slovenia; only getting 11 points in the televote with all their points coming from their former Yugoslav neighbours, and Romania which is another balkan country. Croatia achieved the best result of former yugoslav nations in this semi-final, but still failed to qualify. Both Slovenia and North Macedonia gave their 12 points to Croatia in the televote and these were the only set of 12 points Croatia managed to get.
While the exchanging of points between former Yugoslav countries remains strong, they don’t always manage to captivate the wider European vote. The only two former Yugoslavian countries to qualify to the final were Serbia and Albania, and Serbia managed to sweep the televote of their neighbours in the grand final. Serbia fared quite poorly in the jury vote only receiving 20 points, with all their points coming from their neighbours- 12 points from North Macedonia, 7 from Croatia and 1 from Albania. On the other hand, Serbia came top ten in the televote. Serbia got 12 points from the public in North Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Austria. All of these nations are either former Yugoslav nations or countries with a large Serbian diaspora.
This year the United Kingdom had their worst ever result in the contest, receiving 0 points from both the public and jury vote. This was the first time a country managed this since the introduction of the 2016 voting system(50/50 televote-jury split.) When we look at the detailed televoting results of each country we see that the UK didn’t come close to getting a single televote, with Malta being the only country to rank the UK above 20th place. Ireland ranked the UK 21st in the public vote and 23rd in the jury vote; this marks the UK’s worst result with Ireland in quite a while. Many people in the British media have blamed Brexit for their recent string of poor results and this year’s result is fuelling this claim even more. While I believe Brexit has left a sour taste in many Europeans’ mouths, the truth of the matter is that this year’s entry from the UK was remarkably plain and unexciting which explains why they didn’t receive a single point.
Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and Greece and Cyprus giving each other 12 points in the Eurovision Song Contest. Once again the two nations gave each other 12 points in the jury vote, which was met with booing from the crowd. Adding to this, Cyprus and Greece gave each other 12 points in the televote too which means that they actually gave each other 24 points this year. Nearly year without fail the two countries exchange 12 points in the televote and jury vote. This is largely due to the long complex history between Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey. The island of Cyprus is divided between Northern Turkish Island and the majority of the island is controlled by a Greek Cypriot government. Northern Cyprus is not represented at the contest and it is essentially the Greek part of the island that is represented. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Greece and Cyprus award each other 12 points every year.
In summary, traditional neighbourly voting still takes place in Eurovision, but it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. The reason neighbours often vote for each other is because these countries are often familiar with the artist their neighbour is sending and will enjoy their music, which then results in votes. However, this year we did see some very questionable voting which brings the current system of voting into question. Are juries reliable if they don’t intend on voting for a quality act just because of politics? Can we rely on juries if they will vote for an act entirely based on the name of the person who wrote the song?