National project with a Stradivarius

Who would think that a banal song contest like Eurovision can trigger new round of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. When Kyiv won the right to host the finals of the 50th Eurovision contest, Moscow was sick with envy and spent millions to catch up with the Western neighbor. It cost Russia several expensive but futile attempts. And finally with his second attempt at Eurovision 2008 Russian pop singer Dima Bilan won the contest.

Bilan was safe to win this year. Otherwise, would the national TV channels have launched the campaign long before the contest? The "Russia! Bilan!" slogan was being televised over all national channels during several months as something really important, far more important than the national elections!

So when the promised and planned victory was sealed, Moscow was triumphant; both the President and the Cabinet sent their compliments to the winner. Meanwhile, Kyiv was questioning the results, pleading falsifications and promising a comeback. Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko honored Ani Lorak, Ukrainian singer who took the second prize, as if she won the contest. President Viktor Yushchenko awarded Lorak and her producer Philip Kirkorov with titles of People’s Artist of Ukraine. All in all, there was no less patriotic hysteria in Ukraine than in Moscow.

One Russian music reviewer commented that the victory at the 2008 Eurovision contest became in Russia a national idea and thus anyone who would doubt or censure Bilan’s songs was a public enemy and a Russophobe. I’ve run through this comment several times and have found no irony in it. The guy really meant it! So did the bureaucrats who made Eurovision the national project. Any investment into the affair has paid off well or is about to do so in the near future.

When we have nothing else but hockey and the Eurovision contest to nourish our patriotic feelings, what is it if not a national catastrophe? On the other hand, there is much more behind such a trend. The more the citizens all over the world are alienated from the social life, the less there are levers for them to influence the decision-making process and the more they are motivated by purely private interests, the higher becomes the role of all sort of public entertainment that substitute public discussions, debates over ideology and social activism. Public entertainments cultivate passivism by being a substitute for participation; it helps to make slaves out of citizens. It is telling that the Roman slogan "Bread and circuses!" (Panem et circenses!) appeared in the imperial period of the Roman history.

The fuss around a song contest uncovers the inferiority complex that both Russia and Ukraine suffer from. Eurovision is a second-rate event never visited by the European music superstars. Otherwise all the laurels would go from year to year to Italy, France and sometimes to Spain, Britain and Germany.

For Eastern Europe Eurovision is much more a challenge. They spend money on it and make of it an issue of national pride. The contest permits the "fringe Europe" to remind about itself the whole continent that has less than few occasions to do so.

Even against the background of the Eastern Europeans, Russian authorities manage to stand out. For Kyiv Ani Lorak is as important as Dima Bilan for Russia, but the young lady at least technically corresponds to the rules of the contest – she is not yet a superstar. The same was true about the Russian girl band "Serebro" ("Silver") that was specially created to take part in the 2007 Eurovision contest where it won bronze. As for Bilan, his status of a superstar simply doesn’t correspond to the contest’s criteria. All the more that it was his second try at the Eurovision contest.

To tell the truth, Bilan was the best… for no other reason than that the singers of his level don’t participate in Eurovision. To be proud of this victory is next to being proud of a heavyweight knocking out a boy at a school boxing tournament.

I can understand the wish of the Moscow mayor to play it safe. What a shame! For several years we’ve been spending money to no effect. It is all the more lamentable that Ukraine has got there without great financial resources. But did the trick with the Russian triumphant trio work? I strongly doubt it. Despite all the propaganda the general public cannot full-heartedly sympathize with the Bilan-Plushenko-Marton triumvirate. To play a winning game, they backed Bilan with the Olympic figure-skater Evgeny Plushenko and a Hungarian (!) composer and violinist Edwin Marton. The latter was playing a Stradivarius. I wonder who is more Russian – Marton or a Stradivarius?!

That was too much! It was evident that Russia was represented at Eurovision by money, not by a singer. And the lack of trust from the part of producers to Dima Bilan must have been humiliating.

Should the Russian authorities invest one third of the money spent on promoting Bilan in hospitals and schools, that would perceptibly improve the situation in several Russia’s regions. But public health care workers and pupils don’t form the public opinion – Russian propaganda gurus must think so.


 Eurasian Home, 11 June 2008

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