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This conference, convened by the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Memory and Post-Conflict Studies, seeks to further scholarship addressing how various forms of conflict affecting members of the European Broadcasting Union have been, and continue to be, prosecuted, mediated, reconciled and remembered through the medium of, and discourses on, popular song and stage performance at Eurovision.
The spectacular interval act of the Eurovision Song Contest final in Stockholm, 2016, ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, simultaneously parodied and celebrated the long-standing centrality to the Eurovision brand of the themes of international harmony and reconciliation. Ever since its inception in 1956, the officially apolitical Eurovision Contest ‘has reflected and become intertwined with the history of postwar Europe from a political perspective’ (D. Vuletic, 2018), as a stage whereupon popular music artists, and their vast global audiences, have engaged with the tensions and terrors of the continent’s ‘Cold War’, the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, conflicting memories of collective trauma, and diverse struggles for democratisation and human rights.
Since the 2014 Russian-backed insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbas region and illegal Russian annexation of Crimea, debate and recriminations regarding the intentional or inadvertent ‘politicisation’ of the contest have intensified, for example with a particular focus on Jamala’s 2016 winning entry for Ukraine, ‘1944’. At the same time, the increasingly bold affirmation of the rights and identities of ethnic, sexual or gender minority communities, and critical responses thereunto, including from the Hungarian state broadcaster MTVA, which withdrew from the contest in 2019 (The Guardian, 27/11/19), have drawn Eurovision into bitter culture wars in states continent-wide. Many such disputes, ostensibly focused on national identity and moral values, have been identified by political analysts as smoke-screens for attacks on the rule of law, media independence, or human rights. While, for example, elements aligned with authoritarian and isolationist governments in Poland, Hungary, and the UK denounce the Contest’s promotion of a purportedly degenerate and harmful ‘gender ideology’ lobby, the implicit celebration of ‘progressive’ causes such as environmentalism, gender equality, and LGBTQIA+ emancipation in recent Contest entries from Azerbaijan and Israel has prompted accusations of the ‘pink-washing’ and ‘greenwashing’ of reputations sullied by the former state’s intimidation, detention and torture of critical activists (Human Rights Watch, 2013) and the latter’s continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
In 2022, the expulsion from the Contest of Belarus and of Russia - whose Eurovision entries have consistently won extensive media coverage and high scores - together with the record-breaking victory of Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, inevitably positioned the Contest and its fanbase in relation to a local conflict that has fuelled a global diplomatic and military stand-off, and even claims of a ‘new Cold War’. In the wake of the 2023 Contest - when Ukraine co-hosted with the UK in Liverpool even as the Russian military aggression bombarded the home town of the Ukrainian entrants, Tvorchi.
10:00 - Coffee
10:30 - Introduction
11:00 - Keynote: Catherine Baker, '"Mama, idem u rat!" ("Mama, I’m going to war"): military drag and Croatian anti-authoritarian world politics at Eurovision 2023'
(40 mins + 20 mins discussion)
12:00 - Working papers
- Olena Zinenko, 'The Eurovision Song Contest in a Discourse of War'
- Oleksandr Pronkevich, 'Motherhood and Nation-Building in "Stefania" by Kalush Orchestra'
- Mark Sabine, '"We are not your dolls": Feminist appropriation of Pan-Slavism as anti-war protest in Vesna’s "My Sister’s Crown"'
13:30 - Lunch break
14:30 - Roundtable 1
- Eurovision and the Russia-Ukraine war: further discussion
- Historical overview: Eurovision and the backdrop of war
15:30 - Coffee
15:45 - Roundtable 2: Where do we go from here?
- September conference: revised call for papers
- Practicalities – travel, visas, etc
- Publication plans
16:45 - Close