Just one year ago I wrote a post about Conchita Wurst’s unexpected triumph at the Eurovision Song Contest. This year’s edition was broadcast last Saturday from Austria, her homeland. The winner was the handsome Måns Zelmerlöw, representing Sweden, in tight competition with the pretty Polina Gagarina, representing Russia. I know that my remark is far from original, but their singing in English highlights the main reason why the United States of Europe are failing to materialize: we are too reluctant to accepting our diverse cultural and linguistic identities.
If I recall this correctly, the singers using their national language were representing Italy (third in the grand final), Montenegro (thirteenth), Romania (fifteenth), Spain (twenty-first) and France (twenty-fifth). The rest of the twenty-seven sang in English, or, rather, the bad English full of clichés that surfaces when you translate from your own language lyrics already quite cheesy. Of course, singing in English guarantees no good results: look at the United Kingdom’s position–twenty four out of twenty-seven… (Australia, the guest country, did much better, making it to a fifth position which should have been a second). And, as usual, the Spanish media and social networks have deplored that Edurne only got 15 points… because she sang in Spanish–well, send a Basque singer, or Catalan, or Galician, and see if that improves matters. And once again, our local jury delegate, Lara Ciscar, spoke only mediocre English, saving us at least from the embarrassment of last year’s ‘oit points.’ Just barely.
My personal favourite was Latvian Aminata’s “Love Injected”, which was also accompanied, in my view, by the best, most elegant, atmospheric mise-en-scène. Aminata, the festival’s commentators explained, is the daughter of a Russian mother and a Burkina-Fasso father, but regards herself as profoundly Latvian… whatever that means, for I simply don’t know. She sang in English which, I guess, must be for Latvians as shocking as it would be for me to hear Manel (local most popular Catalan band) sing in Shakespeare’s language. So, on surface, beautiful black Aminata does represent Europe’s plurality, as did the winner of 2012, the Swede Loreen (born Lorine Zineb Nora Talhaoui in Stockholm to Moroccan Amazigh parents). Yet, this is only on surface for as long as the ruling language is English the plurality remains unseen (and, above all, unheard).
Knez, the gentleman from Montenegro who offered us the beautiful ‘Adio’, sang, I assume (excuse my stupidity) in Serbian. Nobody bothered to explain which of the four languages spoken in his country he sang in. Anyway, the Eurovision Song Contest website does offer translations of the lyrics into English (…and French, since Francophone speakers seemingly still believe that theirs is a pan-European language…) This translation, then, could have been easily used in subtitles, helping us viewers understand what Knez sang about (not that this was strictly necessary as the title ‘Adio’ helped very much). In Spain’s case it would certainly have helped as it was hard to guess why Edurne was crying very pretty tears as she danced with a great-looking male dancer (mourning a dead lover, it transpires). The Rumanians, offering a moving song on the sorrows of abandoning your children to migrate elsewhere–now that’s a European subject–opted to self-translate, offering a bilingual song.
The contest is always criticised for being a shabby, old-fashioned spectacle for which nobody in their rights mind should care. To begin with, it’s not that shabby anymore and, as TV shows go, it is quite good. If, excuse me, this is an event supported mainly by gay people, then let’s give gay people the run of all European TV, it would be much more fun, believe me… I watched the contest, semi-finals and all included, because for a few evenings I got unusual variety on TV, and I heard about countries supposedly also in Europe, which never appear on my local media (or only for tragic, war-related reasons). Four years ago Azerbaijan’s Ell & Nikki won with “Running Scared” and I can still sing the chorus; I wouldn’t know, however, to place their country on a map. This does not mean that a handful of songs, more or less silly, should or can conceal tensions in European politics–everyone hoped this year Russia would NOT win with ‘A Million Voices’… a pacifist song, for God’s sake! Sorry, Polina Gagarina, I know you meant well.
Love it or hate it, the Eurovision Song Contest is the only yearly event that makes this strange idea we call Europe visible–it’s Brigadoon, remember?, that little Scottish village which in the famous Broadway musical reappears only once very hundred years. Luckily, we don’t have to wait that much, yet it is to be wondered why Europe is managing so poorly to exist. Many years ago, Robert Maxwell, the Czechoslovakian-born British media mogul, founded the only newspaper with a truly pan-European vocation, simply called The European. Its short life (May 1990 to December 1998) and reduced market (a weekly circulation of just 180,000 against the planed 225,000) is, to me, a sign of Europe’s inability to believe in itself as a political, social and cultural entity. In this context, the festival (now reaching its 60th anniversary) is simultaneously a freak event in European life and a much necessary, basic link among the disparate nations of Europe.
How is, then, the problem of this unmanageable diversity solved? We cannot all abandon our local languages for English, which is why it is a very bad sign that so many Eurovision’s singers are doing this. If this trivial event manages to highlight so clearly what our main problems are, imagine what things must be like at Strasbourg’s Parliament… I would prefer everyone to sing in their own language, using, as I suggested English subtitles for translation; in the Parliament, likewise, they use translators even though everyone speaks English (well, I assume …). What simple kills me is how European television is not happening at all beyond that evening every May. I have noticed that the Germans have managed to sell us lots and lots of second-rate TV movies but, beyond this, how come we have never heard of Måns Zelmerlöw, Polina Gagarina, Aminata or Knez if they are so famous in their own countries? Just to mention a few names… And will it matter for Latvia (or Estonia) that so many millions outside their country voted for their song and its multicultural lady singer?
Um, one last barb for Catalan nationalism: all those who complain that we waste plenty of money by sending Spanish singers to the contest, as they never win–wouldn’t you be pleased if Manel won singing in Catalan? Um, what a chance to explain Catalan independence to this Europe who cares nothing for it…
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