On Eurovision night, the best and most heartfelt performances always come from the countries imprisoned behind an Iron Curtain not so long ago. Since Romania joined the comity of Eurovision in 1994, its entries have always impressed. It has always known that Eurovision is a rare chance for the peoples of Europe – and its environs – to come together, drink vodka and laugh with (and sometimes at) each other’s entries. The sheer effort that these tiny countries go to, as they show themselves to the world’s largest television audience for a non-sporting event, is testimony to the awesome soft power of Eurovision.
Which is why it is scandalous that the European Broadcasting Union has today ejected Romania, complaining that its government has not paid £11 million of debts. Money is the curse of Eurovision: Britain’s (awful) songs always make the final, without having to go through the qualifiers, because the BBC gives so much to the EBU. As a result of this musically and morally indefensible arrangement, the BBC can’t be bothered to find a decent entry: pretty much all of ours since the turn of the century have been passive-aggressive insults to an entire continent.
The Romanian broadcasters, by contrast, have gone to huge lengths. They laid on an open nationwide contest, with televised semifinals, in order to find a winner: Ovidiu Anton. The video is above. Not quite Scandinavian pop standards, to be sure. But they have fielded a singer/songwriter, with the courage to stage an entry in 3/4 time when almost every Eurovision entry is in 4/4. The showmanship and choreography also beat anything that Britain has laid on for years: the whole song has a rather beautiful slavic/gothic theme to it, and it’s certainly top ten material.
Lest any Brits feel tempted to laugh at the Romanian entry, let’s remember how the votes have gone since 2000 (the year that the BBC, which controls UK entries, stopped taking Eurovision seriously). Romania has finished, on average, 13th whereas we’ve finished 19th. And if you count up total points awarded in the last 16 contests, this is how things stand…
Eurovision ought to be about more than money. If there is one thing that the EU should actually be funding, it’s this – because it’s about bringing a continent together, rich and poor countries alike. And promoting the ever-closer unions of people through the medium of television, cabaret and alcohol. Free trade, cheap flights and Eurovision is all you really need from Europe: everything else is bureaucracy. And in the case of the EBU’s shameful exclusion of Romania, it’s bureaucracy that doesn’t even work well.