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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 12:58 GMT
Comrade Karl reveals Eurovision secret
Karl Pihelgas
Karl Pihelgas led daring double life under communism
By the BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Tallinn

There is something rather unusual about Karl Pihelgas.

You feel it as soon as you enter the 71-year-old's tiny flat in Tallinn.

If my boss had found out about our Eurovision parties, I could have lost my job

Karl Pihelgas
After all, not every Estonian pensioner has a homemade satellite dish in the corner.

Or a pile of short wave radios on the carpet. Let alone 1,000 audio tapes neatly arranged on the sideboard.

And then - there are Karl's secret files. Karl shows me reams of documents, some torn, others fading.

But all make fascinating reading.

Leonid Brezhnev, former Soviet leader
Not amused: Brezhnev's Soviet Union rejected the Eurovision
Until recently, he kept them under lock and key - terrified his secret would be discovered.

Because for decades, Karl Pihelgas led a double life.

In public he was Comrade Karl - the factory worker, doing his bit to build communism.

In private, though, Karl Pihelgas was chairman of Estonia's secret Eurovision Song Contest Fan Club.

There isn't anything Karl doesn't know about the Eurovision Song Contest.

Signal jammed

His files contain scoring sheets for every competition since 1966.

Each year he and his friends gathered to watch the show and guess the winning songs.

They tuned in via Finnish TV with the help of a special antenna.

Western culture was frowned on by communism... for me, though, it was so important to break through the Iron Curtain and feel part of Europe

Karl Pihelgas
When the signal was jammed, he built the satellite dish.

He was taking a big risk.

"If my boss had found out about our Eurovision parties, I could have lost my job," he said.

"Western culture was frowned on by communism. And that included the Eurovision Song Contest.

"For me, though, it was so important to break through the Iron Curtain and feel part of Europe."

Karl shows me his collection of Eurovision Song Contest videos - he admits to being a closet Cliff Richard fan.

Sir Cliff Richard
Eurovision winner Sir Cliff Richard had a closet fan in Estonia
In Soviet times he used to make recordings of all Eurovision hits and pass them round, so that his friends could hear the sounds of capitalism.

"It was so important," he said. "Soviet life just wasn't interesting - we were against it and we wanted to hear something different.

"So I taped all the songs and played them at the parties. Everybody loved them!"

Karl also made souvenir glasses - one for each Eurovision song contest.

The shelves in his flat are bursting with them.

Eurovision winners for Estonia Dave Benton and Tanel Padar
The Eurovision is now coming to Tallinn - to Karl's delight
Sadly, though, last year he decided to disband the club. Most of its members - he says - have passed away.

Little did he know that Estonia would go on to win last year's Eurovision final for the very first time.

And that this year's contest would be held right here in Tallinn.

For at least one day in May, Estonia will be at the very heart of Europe.

That's something of which Karl Pihelgas has been dreaming for so long.

See also:

23 May 01 | Music
Estonia's Eurovision worry
13 May 01 | Reviews
Another year, another Eurovision
12 May 00 | Entertainment
The politics of Eurovision
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