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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Eurovision voting, mockery and politics

By Jonny Dymond
BBC Turkey correspondent

Just under a week ago, it all began. It was warm night at the waterside of Istanbul's best hotel.

Greek and Cypriot singers
Greek and Cypriot singers

The Bosphorus lapped at the shoreline whilst tourists on boats gawped, not just at the swing band and the guests, but at quite how much food could be placed on the buffet tables that ran for metres on end.

Turkey has pulled out all the stops to make Eurovision 2004 a stunning success. And as it has done so it has revealed the gaping chasm between Britain and the rest of Europe.

It's nothing to do with the Euro, or the new constitution or any such tedium. It's about the way that for British citizens, the Eurovision song contest is a chance to squeal like a puppy with embarrassment at the awful parade of singers.

National pride

But for many other countries in Europe it's a chance to regain some national pride lost in some long forgotten battle in the mists of the 14th century.

This year has seen some changes which are apparently interesting.

There was a semi final on Wednesday where the very worst of the dross was chucked out. This was a terrible shame.

Because now very few people will get a chance to hear the Estonian entry, which appeared to employ a wobble board as its main instrument, and a tortured rodent for vocals.

At this semi-final, the novel tactic of telephone voting by citizens was embraced.

Quite why this should cause such excitement - five or so years after audience participation stormed round European TV - is anyone's guess.

There was some hope that it may tame the nationalist passions that rage around the voting - Greeks voting for Greek Cyprus, Turkish workers in Germany voting for Turkey, absolutely nobody in Europe voting for Britain.

Political voting?

I asked Korhan Abay, one of the Turkish presenters of the show, whether he thought the voting might be less political this time around. His gleaming smile slipped for a second or so.

Korhan Abay
Turkey has no problem with Greece, says presenter Korhan Abay

"I think the real problem" he said "is between the United States and Iraq". Keen eyed readers will note that neither are participating.

" I don't think we have real problems with Greece," he added, "we love Greek people and I know my Greek friends - I have a lot - they like us a lot. I don't think we have any problem with them"

Standing next to Korhan Abay was the female half of the Turkish presenting team, Meltem Cumbul could not have grinned any wider without doing herself an injury. But when pressed she revealed a dark passion beyond bad boy bands.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Terry Wogan" she giggled, referring to the man who has done more than anyone over three decades, as the anchor of the British show, to ridicule the Eurovision song contest except the contestants themselves.

"I like him, I love him so much, so I'm looking forward to meeting with him", she said.

For the last couple of days Terry Wogan has hosted his Radio 2 breakfast show from Istanbul.

Mockery

On Friday he was reading out emails from listeners complaining that he must be joking when he said he was in Istanbul, and trying out choice Turkish phrases in such a bad accent that local staff had no idea at all that he was attempting their language.

Meltem Cumbul, one of the presenters
Presenters Meltem Cumbul is looking forward to the show

"I am of course beside myself with ill-concealed excitement over this whole thing" he said, referring to the changes to the voting system and the new semi final.

"I'm not quite sure what's going on but then I never am", he said.

Terry is a charmer, but there has been some hurt feelings about his reported comment that every entry this year was "crap". His response?

He paused. That's rare. He blathered. Not so rare. And in the end he came clean with his honest opinion "Who is suggesting that these songs are not crap?"

Ah it's easy to mock. And, let's face it, such fun.

But Eurovision does serve a purpose beyond amusing smug Brits and exciting nationalism in corners of Europe where the EU has declared that sort of behaviour strictly out of bounds.

After all, when was the last time two Eurovision contestants have gone to war? Can it be long before we hear the line "Hello Baghdad, can we have your votes please."?




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Sillito
"Phone voting will decide the winner"



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