Eurovision - In the Empire of Oil Dictatorship

The lamest pop stars on Earth, drowning in dodgy oil money.

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04 July 2012, 12:00pm

Sneer at it all you want, you won't be able to change the fact that the Eurovision Song Contest is the biggest pop competition in the world. I used to watch it on TV, but when I heard that this year it was going to be held in Azerbaijan, I kinda felt obliged to travel there and see it live.

Azerbaijan is a small country situated next to Iran, on the Caspian Sea, and it's basically bathing in oil. This was the first time the competition's fans and participants had had to travel this far east, and I don't think loads of people knew much about the small country before the victory of the Azerbaijani participant last year. But suddenly it became the focus of international reporting.

Azerbaijan is pretty much run by a single family, the Alyievs. They own a large part of the national resources (a fact they are not too shy about) while every key government position is occupied by one of their members. Any kind of opposition is quickly silenced.

I wanted to find out whether, and in what ways, this massive international coverage would change things in little, post-Soviet Azerbaijan. The pre-Eurovision gossip promised a group of babushkas singing about pie, the septuagenarian crooner Engelbert Humperdinck, a monk and a poem dedicated to Facebook romance, but would the reality match the spectacular dream?!    

Or would it become the absolute lowest point in the history of an already trashy contest? And was the claim of its organisers about it being a non-political event valid, when its host has been a Human Rights Watch favourite for several years now? I went to find out.