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May I have your votes please?

25 January 2008 at 03:40 CET

In May 2004, Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest thanks to Ruslana and her Wild Dances. Not only would Ukraine welcome the 50th Eurovision Song Contest, it would also be an excellent opportunity to show Europe what Ukraine and Kyiv had to offer. However, the fairytale turned into a nightmare when the outcome of the country's presidential elections was heavily questioned and eventually would be declared invalid. An estimated one million people protested in favour of Viktor Yushchenko, who could count on the support of Eurovision Song Contest winner Ruslana. The declared 'Orange Revolution' ended peacefully and the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv was a great success. In March 2006, Ruslana was elected to parliament on behalf of Our Ukraine, of which Yushchenko is honorary chairman. In June 2007 she terminated her mandate again.

The emotional impact of winning the Eurovision Song Contest is enormous, not just for the artist, but also for the country and its citizens. Even the Finns, with their reputation of being quiet and sober, showed up in massive numbers at Lordi's victory celebration in Finland. It requires no explaination why the winner has such a strong impact as well. People like to see winners. People would like to be winners. That's why competitions do well, that is why people take part in them in the first place! We all want to be winners, and admire those who become.

Sometimes, entertainment personalities make the switch to politics. Nothing new. US President Ronald Regan was an actor before he moved to the White House. Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is more famous for his line "I'll be back!" in The Terminator than for any of his political quotes. Back to Europe... Vicky Leandros gave it a try, but failed to make it to parliament. Dana, winner of the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, became third in her run for becoming President of Ireland, but did make it to European Parliament in 1999 as an independent. Verka Serduchka, runner-up of last year's Eurovision Song Contest, announced to run for parliament in Ukraine with a new political party. Although 'her' party could count on 2% support, opinion polls showed, Verka pulled out weeks before the election. 

Marija Šerifović, who won last year's Eurovision Song Contest, has been spotted at a recent gathering of Tomislav Nikolic, who is running as presidential candidate in Serbia. The EU has expressed concern, as the Serbian pop star has also just been appointed as European ambassador for intercultural dialogue. The campaign commission is now worried that Šerifović made political statements which run counter to the aims of the campaign, and is investigating her actions.

What does this mean? Those supporting assumptions that the Eurovision Song Contest has a hidden political agenda, could use the examples I gave as strong arguments to fund their critics. I think the statement of Bjørn Erichsen, Director of Eurovision TV, says it all; "The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event, and that's the way it should stay, but who the winner supports after the contest, is not a matter for us." Aren't singers supposed to sing? Aren't actors supposed to act? And how fair is it to attract voters with a popular star, instead of with your political message? Those who are against this practice, claim that voters would actually vote for the star, instead of for the politician and his or her political message. For someone who strongly supports televoting at the Eurovision Song Contest, I'd be the last one to question the ability of the public to properly make up their minds! 

I believe that, when it comes to the moment they actually have to give their vote, people know what they do. Despite the disadvantages, I also see a lot of positive sides of the involvement of showbizz celebrity in the political arena. Overal, I even think it could increase the usually low interest in politics of the majority of people, as showbizz personalities are often very well able to bring across a message. The most important argument in favor of their involvement, is probably the fact that pop stars and actors are, like you and me, people! They also have an opinion (which I don't always agree with, but that's besides the point), they have a vision on the future and they have as much right to take part in the democratic process as you and me. 

Maybe that's one of the very few links between politics and the Eurovision Song Contest; It's a very democratic process. Constantly under evaluation, sometimes changing and each now and then facing heavy (ánd healthy) criticizm. But in the end, you can vote. For your favorite song, for the best dress, for the funniest act, or for your neighbour country (even if they have a really bad song, but I wouldn't do that...). In the end, the winner goes home with the biggest support from across Europe. And then we can heavily debate the outcome again... Isn't that the beauty of democracy?