I don’t watch much television, and when I do, it’s usually that I have shirts to iron and I kill two birds with one stone. Last night was no exception, and the Eurovision final was on. As I watched the 25 shortlisted songs/countries, I couldn’t help reflect on what a huge, draw-out affair it has become. The first I remember hearing of the European song contest was in 1977, when my great-grandfather told me how Marie Myriam had won the contest with “L’oiseau et l’enfant”. He was very proud of the fact that France had won, even if the singer happened to be from Portugal. So many Portuguese people live in France, many with dual citizenship, that it was never an issue. At the time, the contest was still a small-do, even if already attracting a large audience. For us living on the border of three countries (France, Belgium and Luxemburg) and with a mixed gene pool, the contest was as natural as crossing the border to Luxemburg on Sundays to go and buy cheap petrol.
The fact that there are 39 contestants today (unless I am wrong) merely reflects the geopolitical changes that have occurred in Europe over the last twenty years: fragmentation of larger countries such as Yugoslavia or Russia, merging of others (Germany) and entry on the political and international scene of members of the former Eastern Block. It’s all in good faith and it’s all about singing. Is it? I don’t think this particular contest exacerbates regional frictions. In fact I find it interesting to notice that thirty years down the tract, neighbours still support each other (which is exactly the opposite of what can sometimes happen at the political level). Romania gave Moldavia an excellent rating, and – overall – the ex-Yugoslav republics supported each other. But I can’t help wonder if the event hasn’t become just a little too big. It had to be split to fit everyone and, let’s face it, it does drag on a little. I can’t also help notice – with a tinge of regret in my voice – that most contestants have dropped their native tongue for English. I can understand why from a marketing perspective (After all, I doubt a song in French or Turkish would remain on European charts for too long these days) but wasn’t part of the fun listening to languages you would never dream of hearing in any other circumstance? I must be getting old.