This weekend was the 58th Eurovision song contest, a campy, nationalistic song contest that briefly united Europe (and places we wouldn’t traditionally consider Europe) for one night of singing in Malmö, Sweden.
Unfortunately, as the dust from the event settles, the song contest has been marred by a split between Azerbaijan and Russia over Azerbaijan’s apparent voting disparities.
It’s getting ugly.
The Russians are apparently so angry that Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has ominously warned that “this outrageous action will not remain without a response,” the BBC reports.
To understand what happened, first take a look at Russia’s entry in the contest — a song by Dina Garipova, a heartfelt ballad called “What if”:
The song scored 174 points, meaning that it placed fifth out of the 26 participants (Denmark’s Emmelie de Forest won with a song called “Teardrops”).
However, something weird happened during the voting process — in Eurovision, different countries give different amounts of points to each other, the lowest being zero (nul points) and the highest being 12.
Azerbaijan awarded zero points to Russia — despite the fact that Russia had given 12 points to Azerbaijan’s entry, “Hold Me” by Farid Mammadov (which eventually placed 2nd, with 234 points).
This is more controversial than it sounds. A number of academic studies have found that voting blocs can be vitally important in the competition, and there tends to be reciprocity between nations.
Azerbaijan — a former Soviet republic — only joined the Eurovision contest in 2008. Here’s its voting history, in regards to Russia:
- In 2012, the two countries gave each other 10 points.
- In 2011, Azerbaijan gave Russia 4 points, while Russia gave 12 back.
- In 2010, Azerbaijan gave Russia 3 points, while Russia gave 8 back.
- In 2009, Azerbaijan gave Russia 6 points, while Russia gave 7 back.
- In 2008, Azerbaijan gave Russia 8 points, while Russia gave 10 back.
So, a vote of “nul points” is pretty unusual (though Russia does have a habit of voting more back).
There’s more to the scandal too. Television viewers in Azerbaijan (as in other countries) can vote for their favourite songs by phone or by text message. The results of this public vote are then combined, 50/50, with the decisions of a national jury.
On Monday, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Russia, Polad Bulbuloglu, disclosed that President Aliyev had ordered an inquiry after it emerged that a large number of voters in the country had favoured the Russian entry — in fact, it had come second in the public vote.
The Azerbaijani government is now blaming the country’s public broadcaster and a vote recount is being scheduled, but it remains unclear if the European Broadcasting Union will accept a recount — they never have before.
While the points wouldn’t have made too much of a difference to the overall result (even with 10 more points, Russia would have still come fifth), there seems to be an issue of pride, and also the problem of geopolitics — RFE/RL points out that the relationship between the two countries has been strained recently by weapons transfers and oil and gas pipelines.
Today, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Russian counterpart Lavrov held a joint press conference in Moscow.
“Our participant [in Eurovision] has been robbed of 10 points,” Lavrov told the crowd.
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