Eurovision soft diplomacy heals rifts and builds pride

Thu May 22, 2008 11:56am EDT
 
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By Ellie Tzortzi

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Some 100 million Europeans will tune in on Saturday for the annual giddy, big-hair-and-glitter Eurovision song contest that delights in stretching the limits of good taste, of what is music, and who is European.

Traveling from Iceland's Atlantic shores to Russia's Pacific coast, Turkey and Israel at Europe's southern fringes, most acts feature novelty costumes, outlandish arrangements and choreography, and nonsensical lyrics in a mishmash of languages.

"It's a cult thing," said sociologist Steve Aldred, who noted Eurovision brought people together for a big night in, much like the Super Bowl in the United States.

"The awfulness of it is part of the pleasure."

Merit aside, Eurovision commands a loyal following of fans who paid thousands to get to Belgrade, a city that was bombed by the West only nine years ago. The Serbian capital hosts the event's 53rd incarnation, the biggest so far with 43 countries.

The wacky good cheer is rubbing off: Belgraders talk odds and plan dining menus for the final, while hardened journalists wave flags and squeal like schoolgirls in news conferences. One gave the Latvian entrants some "lucky underwear" as a gift.

The artists also take it very seriously: a photo opportunity for Georgia's Diana Gurtskaya had her releasing doves from a cage, singing her "Peace Will Come" as she set the birds free.

"It takes a tremendous amount of courage to be an artist in this contest, honestly," said Poland's Isis Gee after qualifying to the final. "I feel like God is really watching over me."   Continued...

 
<p>"Pirates Of The Sea" of Latvia perform during rehearsals for the Eurovision Song Contest semi-final in Belgrade May 21, 2008. REUTERS/Marko Djurica</p>