Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Moscow Diary: Political Eurovision

The BBC's James Rodgers reflects on a hullabaloo in Russia about this year's Eurovision song contest, and urges readers to come up with ideas for his last entry before he leaves Moscow.

His diary is published fortnightly.


Trying to play this down is like telling a football fanatic to relax because it's only a game.

Anastasia Prikhodko performs her song Mamo during the qualification contest in Moscow
Anastasia had originally wanted to represent Ukraine, but was disqualified

This year, as a result of a long-awaited victory in the 2008 competition, Russia will host the Eurovision song contest in May.

The selection of the song has started a scandal.

Before I explain why, it is important to point out that in Russia many people take the contest much more seriously than they do in Western Europe.

Russia's main TV evening news ran a report the other day in which it praised the staging of the final as sign that "after decades of isolation, our country is finally returning to Europe and reclaiming the status of a superpower in politics and culture, including popular music, that rightfully belongs to it".

Of course, that superpower status has been much discussed over the last 12 months: usually in the context of Russia's relations with its neighbours.

The singer who will perform Russia's entry, Anastasia Prikhodko, is Ukrainian - and that's not the only potentially sensitive political issue.


"For me this is an enormous joy," Anastasia Prikhodko's Georgian producer Konstantin Meladze told the RIA-Novosti news agency.

"I'm in favour of the friendship of Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians and all others. In principle, this is a very international song, because the music was written by a Georgian, a Ukranian sang it, and half the text was written by an Estonian."

That is why there is a scandal.

Let's get Ukrainian footballers to represent the Russian national team at the European football championships... and a coach from Georgia
Iosif Prigozhin, Moscow producer

In the last 12 months, Russia has had a gas war with Ukraine, and a real war with Georgia. Two years ago, it had a bitter row with Estonia when that country moved a Soviet-era war memorial.

It would be hard to pick three former Soviet republics that have worse relations with their one-time masters in Moscow.

The producer of one of the rival acts in the contest to represent Russia has exploded in patriotic outrage.

"Let's get Ukrainian footballers to represent the Russian national team at the European football championships - Dynamo Kiev, for example, and a coach from Georgia," Iosif Prigozhin told Ekho Moskvy radio. "It is all a bluff. It is all a farce."

Some of the Moscow rush hour crowds seemed to agree.

"It's not right that Russia will be represented with a song in the Ukrainian language. It's just not right," said Anna.

"Yes, it's no good - after all, the Russian language is mighty and much nicer than Ukrainian," agreed her friend.

Some may see in Russia's multilingual, multinational effort an attempt to recreate a communist-era idea of "friendship of the peoples".

Others sense a sophisticated scheme to draw the sting from any organised anti-Russian voting.

There are echoes of war and post-Soviet strife in Georgia's entry too.

Eurovision organisers have told Georgia's representatives to alter a song which seems to mock Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - but they've decided to pull out instead.

So, with two months to go, this is already promising to be a most memorable event.

If Russia and its neighbours really want to "return to Europe", they should start to see the song contest a little less as a battleground for global ambition, and a little more as entertainment.


I will not be in Moscow for the contest. My time as BBC Moscow correspondent comes to an end at the beginning of April.

My next Moscow diary, in two weeks' time, will be my last.

Before I leave I wanted to ask you if there are any areas of my life and work in Russia you would be interested in hearing about.

I cannot promise to answer every question - but I have always appreciated people taking the trouble to post comments so, for the last Moscow Diary, over to you.

I agree Russia takes this contest way too seriously. The rest of Europe sees Eurovision as more of an event that celebrates Europe as a whole and brings everyone together. Russia on the other hand, as is typical for them, comes across as viewing the entire event as some big political statement that needs to be made.
Anatoly, Belgrade, Serbia

I agree it is not right that a song in Ukrainian should represent Russia. It is like a slap in the face for millions of Russian people. Half of Ukraine considers Russian their first language and there is a huge population of ethnic Russians, yet the Ukrainian government would not grant the Russian language an official status. It is a big issue in Ukraine and it's an issue of human rights that is important for millions of Ukrainian citizens. Russian is only recognised as an official language in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Katia, Kerch, Ukraine

One good thing: finally, the Russians are admitting that Ukrainians are a nation in their own right and not just "Little Russians" with funny accents. The Russian empire is receding, allowing the former colonies to be themselves. Russians finally recognise the differences.
Darian Diachok, Alexandria, US

I watched the contest myself and was extremely disappointed to see how weak the performers were. They simply can't sing (aside two or three and those weren't that great either) and that's top 15 out of 1500 who applied to represent Russia on Eurovision. Question number one: Where did all the local talent go in Russia? Question number two: Are they that desperate so they are willing to have foreigners to sing for them?

Andre Sobotovych, London, Canada

First of all, I doubt Russia wants to 'return to Europe'. Where did you hear that, James? It's cool to hold a European contest, as well as the Winter Olympics, when 'ships of all flags will come to us', but unfortunately here it's just a cause for smug self-assertion.
Oleg, Novosibirsk

So what if Russian entry draws on talents from different countries - other states have been doing this for years. The Swiss entered Estonians in 2005, France sung in English in 2008 and the BBC approached a Swedish artist to represent them this year. And as for complaints over language choice - didn't Ukraine sing in German, English and Mongolian in 2007?
Chris, Birmingham, UK

What is the status of the so called oligarchies in Russia. Is the Russian government planning to reverse the somewhat shady privatisation deals of the late 90s?
Parikshit, Hyderabad, India

Tell us about how Russians view the UK and Brits in general.
Arkadiy, NY, US

I would like to hear about the level of racism in Moscow or whether its exposure to the international stage has fostered more tolerance of tourists and migrants.
Ramzi, Luton, United Kingdom

I would like to know if you will miss living in Russia and what you have learnt about yourself from your experiences there. It would also be interesting to know how Russian people differ from British people.
David John, Milford Haven, UK

I would love for you to talk candidly to school teachers about their curriculum. In particular I'd like to know whether the rise of Putin and the resurgence of Russian chauvinism and pride has affected the way they've been asked to teach impressionable students their own country's history. If it has, how? And how have they responded?
Jonathan Bone, New York City, US

I would like you to ask some of the younger people of Moscow (or Russia) how they view the Soviet era and its leaders.
Philip Booth, Clevedon, North Somerset

How safe do you feel walking around the streets of Moscow?
Alex Milligan, Dunlop, Scotland

It is true that the Russian police are getting the better of organised crime or is it still a very dangerous place to do business?
Ian Moore, Limerick, Ireland

I'm a 24-year-old businessman heading to Moscow for the first time this May for a week-long exhibition. It's going to be the same week as Eurovision.

I've studied Russia intensively and have long been fascinated in it like no other place. I'd be interested to get your advise to all those heading to Russia for the first time. What did you feel that very first time you landed at the airport, the very first time you stood in the Red Square etc. Finally, on a more humorous note, I'd like to know your first experience of chatting up a stereotypically beautiful Russian lady.
Craig, Brighton, UK

I am interested in the state of adoption in Russia. Is it increasing or decreasing? Are international adoptions viewed favourably and what's the state of the orphanages?
Dorothy, Beverly, US

Have you been free to practice your trade without intimidation from Russian authorities?
Sam Ogilvie, North Carolina, US

I have just finished a fascinating book on Stalinist Russia. I have two questions: Do the Russian people still revere Stalin? Does the infamous Lubyanka building still have the ambience of terror it once had? Also, does Russia have that menacing yet romantic lure that seems prevalent in all movies and books set there? Sorry that was three - hard to contain oneself with such a fascinating subject.
Jean Hopkins, UK

James, about 10 years ago John Simpson did an anecdotal piece on BBC Radio about how Russia had changed since he was based in Moscow during the Soviet period. He mentioned, for example, people frolicking near the fountains in Alexandrovsky Sad and how that would have been unimaginable 15 years earlier. You probably do not have the same length of perspective, but something of a similar kind relating to the period you have been here would, I think, be very interesting.
Doran Doeh, Moscow, Russia

Is there anything positive in Russia? I often wonder whether I've visited the same country as BBC correspondents. BBC reports tend to concentrate on poverty, democracy problems, cold and gas wars, bomb explosions - the rule seems to be the 'darker' the better. Even your Eurosong story paints Russia as some distant, strange, too serious country not capable of separating entertainment from politics. Can Sir Terry Wogan do?
Jean C, Toulouse, France

I would like to see a report on the progress of the gay pride event in Moscow which will be held on the same Saturday as the Eurovision final. The mayor of Moscow has repeatedly banned gay people from gathering. Gay people face enormous challenges in Moscow. In fact the far right mayor has told gay people that they are not welcome in Moscow's streets. Considering the Eurovision is so popular among gay people across Europe I would like to see how the Eurovision organisers are reconciling such a camp event being held in such an officially homophobic city./
Simon Murphy, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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James Rodgers Leaving for good
Our correspondent's valedictory entry before departing Moscow

MAY - OCT 2008

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