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 18:58:48 in HeadlinesNigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered a forensic audit of the state oil firm following claims that $20bn (£12bn) had gone missing.
At 18:47:16 in ScotlandA driver whose car mounted a pavement in Glasgow killing two students is not immune from prosecution if he gives evidence at a fatal accident inquiry.
At 18:38:09 in BusinessWall Street bonuses rose 15% last year, to the highest level since the global financial crisis, according to the New York state finance chief.
At 18:37:29 in SportTruro City have sacked manager Steve Massey with the club in 19th position in the Southern League Premier table.
At 18:34:40 in BusinessA judge has told ex-Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre to pay more than $825,000 after a jury found him liable for defrauding investors.
At 18:28:58 in EnglandA former rugby league player has gone on trial accused of sexual offences dating back to when he was a child.
At 18:25:02 in EnglandNetwork Rail has said it has no idea when the line linking East Sussex, Kent and London will fully reopen.
At 18:23:45 in SportMike Ross hopes Ireland's punishing series of scrum sessions will pay more dividends in Saturday's crunch Six Nations game against France in Paris.
At 18:15:12 in SportEverton winger Aiden McGeady says he has no regrets about choosing Republic of Ireland over Scotland and expects to be booed when they meet in November.
At 18:14:04 in ScotlandA 51-year-old man has been arrested as part of a cross-European police operation.
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 12th Mar 2014]
News In Other Categories
A driver whose car mounted a pavement in Glasgow killing two students is not immune from prosecution if he gives evidence at a fatal accident inquiry.
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
A Department of Education official has said it has been at fault in its "relentless focus on achievement".
David Cameron has accused Labour of making "no sense whatsoever" on Europe, after leader Ed Miliband said it was "unlikely" his party would hold a referendum on staying in the EU.
A former rugby league player has gone on trial accused of sexual offences dating back to when he was a child.
The survivor of a serious motorbike accident has had pioneering surgery to reconstruct his face using a series of 3D printed parts.