The Eurovision Song Contest in Baku was accompanied by discussions about human rights. The attention focused on the country will hopefully be used address the political situation there.
In musical terms, there was no need to complain. The music served up at the ESC didn't contribute much to the world of arts, but there were several good songs, and the 26 participants in the final on Saturday evening made for good entertainment. Eurotrash is still on hand, but the days in which ESC songs were beyond the pale and, at best, topped the poor-taste hit parade are over. Moreover, the noisy enthusiasm of the many fans traveling to this country for the competition was great fun.
The artists performing here have a solid base for their success outside the ESC. The winner, Loreen, for example, has occupied the top of the Swedish charts for weeks. Of course, the contest showcases pop music with mass appeal, but what's wrong with that?
Deutsche Welle correspondent Matthias Klaus
ESC more controversial than ever
But seldom has the Eurovision Song Contest been as heatedly discussed as this time in Azerbaijan. Critics said the competition only served to burnish the image of a corrupt regime and was exploited to that end by the Azerbaijani government. One thing is certain: political leaders in Baku spared no expense in making the contest a success. The local advertising, the construction of the Crystal Hall and its seaside promenade all seemed more than mildly excessive.
The aim was to depict the country in glamour and glory, and what the journalists got to see was truly spectacular. So many magnificent buildings, excellent infrastructure, and all the "welcomes" created the impression that everything in the country was fine. The many human rights demonstrations seemed to fade away in the background. Questions about omnipresent police security were brushed off.
Azerbaijan didn't scrimp in self-promotion. Houses were torn down to make room for the Crystal Hall, their residents relocated to substandard housing. It has been reported that the roughly 600 million euros ($750 million) spent on various construction projects and the competition is now missing for pension payments to citizens. And seriously: did the president's daughter really have to host the show? Open criticism of these things was punished by imprisonment.
Boycotts are a dull weapon
In the run-up to the Song Contest, some felt it should be called off or at least boycotted. But would that have made Azerbaijan a democratic country? Would President Ilham Aliyev have said, "Oh, I didn't know presidents have to be elected. Excuse me!"
Shouldn't it be the job of politicians to point to human rights abuses and advocate change? It's clear everywhere here that the west's business with Azerbaijan is flourishing, after all, we also buy cell phones from China and oil from Iran.
It's hard to escape the impression that calls to boycott the ESC are so frequent because they're so easy and because they have no real consequences. All you have to do is change the TV channel for one evening.
The politicians' turn
The artists who appear here cannot bear that responsibility. All they can do is try to avoid being made accountable for the policies of a country's president who has inherited the office from his father and who tolerates no public accountability in the family's spending of the country's wealth. But is it any different in Abu Dhabi? Festivals and car races take place there without any calls for boycotts.
What standards should a political system meet to make it Eurovision-worthy? There are political prisoners in other countries too. In fact, it could be argued that the contest had the opposite effect. Until now, the situation in Azerbaijan wasn't in the collective consciousness. Now that the republic in the Caucasian mountains is on the map, everyone has had a glimpse of the regime in power. It's to be hoped that interest in this rather distant country doesn't dissipate when the Europeans go back home. Human rights, after all, are harder to violate in the public eye than in obscurity.
Author: Matthias Klaus / rf
Editor: Ben Knight