Eurovision: Singing in Baku for prizes and freedom
Published: 26th May 2012 00:30:15
Twenty-six countries will be competing at the Eurovision Song Contest in the Azeri capital Baku on Saturday, but away from the performances, a battle for free speech and democracy is taking place on the capital's streets.
There cannot be anyone in Baku who does not know that the Eurovision Song Contest has come to town.
Everywhere you look there are signs declaring "Light Your Fire!" - this year's competition slogan.
You can see them on advertising hoardings, on the sides of buildings, and also on the 1,000 London cabs that Baku has bought to make it feel more like a European city.
By the way, Baku's taxis are not black - they have all been re-painted purple - which has earned them the nickname "aubergines on wheels".
Turn on local TV, switch on the radio - and you are bombarded by "Boom Bang A Bang" style Euro songs in a variety of tongues. Even for a long-time Eurovision fan like myself, it is a bit freaky.
So was the poster in the window of a women's lingerie shop I noticed yesterday.
It read: "As a gift we offer all our customers a 70% discount - on the occasion of the Eurovision Song Contest."
Suddenly I had visions of crowds of excited ladies queuing up to buy cheap knickers so they could throw them at the United Kingdom's entrant, Engelbert Humperdinck.
Yes, even at the age of 76, the "King of Romance" still gets underwear chucked at him by his adoring fans - he said so this week at one of his pre-contest press conferences.
I still cannot quite believe that a global megastar like Engelbert is taking part in a contest like Eurovision.
After all, this is the man who has sold 150 millions records around the world, who has shared the stage with Elvis Presley - he has even got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And yet now Mr Humperdinck has picked up the poisoned chalice of Eurovision. Among his competitors in Baku are the mischievous Jedward twins from Ireland - and six singing grannies from Russia. Yes, there has never been a Eurovision Song Contest quite like this one before.
Those singing pensioners are amazing, though.
Sadly, they will never get to share a stage with Elvis - but I would not rule out six more stars on the Walk of Fame.
In Baku, whenever the Buranovo Babushki appear in public, they are surrounded by journalists, or mobbed by fans. They are clearly the grooviest grannies in town.
And their disco dance Eurovision song, Party For Everybody, is tipped to do very well.
It has already set a new record. Granny Natasha is nearly 77-years old - that makes her the oldest singer in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest.
But it is not just the participants that are making this Eurovision song contest stand out - it is the politics, too.
In the run-up to the competition, international human rights groups have been accusing the authorities in Azerbaijan of trampling on democracy, stifling freedom of speech and locking up political opponents.
The government here maintains those criticism are unfair and has accused the West of a smear campaign.
This week police broke up an anti-government protest outside the Azeri television station which is broadcasting Eurovision - demonstrators there had been chanting "Freedom to Political Prisoners".
The police detained more than 30 people. And there was another protest this week - around 100 activists simply walked around Baku - to avoid being arrested, they carried no placards, they did not chant slogans.
But they wore T-shirts bearing the words "Sing for Democracy". I spoke to one of the organisers of the protest walk, Rasul.
He told me he wanted all the singers at the Eurovision Song Contest to speak out on stage against human rights violations in Azerbaijan.
The Swedish singer Loreen, one of the favourites to win this year's Eurovision, has already had a meeting with local human rights activists, much to the annoyance of the Azeri authorities.
And the arguments do not end there.
Azerbaijan is locked in a war of words with one of its neighbours, Iran. Clerics there have said it is inappropriate for a Muslim country like Azerbaijan to host an event like the Eurovision Song Contest.
After a spiralling war of words, this week Iran recalled its ambassador from Baku.
As for another neighbour, Armenia - well, it pulled out of the contest weeks ago, claiming security fears. With so much politics swirling around, it is easy to forget there is a song contest going on.
How to listen to From Our Own Correspondent:
BBC Radio 4: A 30-minute programme on Saturdays, 11:30 BST.
Second 30-minute programme on Thursdays, 11:00 BST (some weeks only).
Listen online or download the podcast
BBC World Service:
Hear daily 10-minute editions Monday to Friday, repeated through the day, also available to listen online.
Read more or explore the archive at the programme website.
At 17:58:08 in HeadlinesThe embattled Socialist prime minister of Bulgaria has resigned after only a year in office to allow for an early election on 5 October.
At 17:58:06 in EntertainmentDora Bryan was a talented character actress who could turn her hand to everything from musicals to Shakespeare, farce to tragedy.
At 17:56:46 in EnglandA maize maze has been shaped like a rhino head to raise awareness of how rare the species are becoming because of the threat from poachers.
At 17:53:35 in EntertainmentDora Bryan, the veteran British actress whose long career encompassed theatre, film, radio and television, has died in Hove, near Brighton, at the age of 91.
At 17:53:21 in ScotlandThe number of recorded personal insolvencies has reached its lowest level in nearly a decade, according to official figures.
At 17:51:43 in EnglandA man who set fire to a speed camera because he feared it had caught him speeding has been jailed for two years.
At 17:47:40 in TechnologyThe co-creator of a system designed to make internet users unidentifiable says he is tackling a "bug" that threatened to undermine the facility.
At 17:42:16 in EnglandA charity has warned that tombstoners are risking their lives after video footage showed people jumping into shallow water.
At 17:40:24 in EnglandA mother has been given a suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to killing her four-month-old baby.
At 17:36:59 in Northern IrelandThe first and deputy first ministers have reached agreement in principle on how to cut more than £100m from the executive budget.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Eurovision: Singing in Baku for prizes and freedom [Online] (Updated 26th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1431039/Eurovision-Singing-in-Baku-for-prizes-and-freedom [Accessed 23rd Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
Dora Bryan was a talented character actress who could turn her hand to everything from musicals to Shakespeare, farce to tragedy.
The number of recorded personal insolvencies has reached its lowest level in nearly a decade, according to official figures.
EU members states will have to boost their energy efficiency by 30% by 2030 according to the Commission.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
Doctors in India have extracted 232 teeth from the mouth of a 17-year-old boy in a seven-hour operation.
The Californian nutrition company, Herbalife, appears to have dodged the "death blow" delivered by its biggest critic on Tuesday.