I love Eurovision. I mean it took me a while to come to it. As a snotty teenage hipster, I thought that it was deeply uncool. Now, I see its merits. It’s camp, it’s fun and its message this year could not be more pressing.
With Brexit lurching into view there was an extra dimension to the competition this year. An opportunity to observe Europeanness in action.
What made each of these nations different and what brought them together?
Is there something that makes us uniquely European?
Is it something to do with the outlandish costumes and the appreciation of Balearic beats?
For me, the public vote answered it re-soundingly: we stand together against violence and oppression.
The fact that the public vote supported Ukraine’s political entry ‘1944’ seems eons away from Eurovision’s disco-pop credentials but definitely belie the contest’s foundations in tolerance, shared values and a sense of standing together in an increasingly unstable world.
In a David and Goliath moment, all of Europe cracked a smile as tiny Ukraine triumphed with a song which references it’s troubled history.
In many ways Eurovision has always done this. It’s always represented a wry smile in the face of oppression and intolerance.
For one night it’s a wonderful show of togetherness. A celebration of what is shared and what is different, of kookiness so alluring that it has drawn in participants from all over the world, all eager to jump on Eurovision’s sparkly, camp bandwagon.
In many ways, it represents all of the idealism and utopianism which characterised the first imaginings of the ‘idea’ of Europe.
I say this because before Europe came to refer to the E.U., to some sort of elaborate super-state, it was once an idea in the minds of intellectuals and writers and thinkers, something which united them culturally and politically.
These are exactly the ideas I explored in my Jameson project and which I’m delving into again now with my Writing the Refugee project. I suppose this idea of Europeanness lies at the heart of a lot of my work.
Founded on the values of Ancient Greece and Rome, rooted in democracy and the Enlightenment Republic of Letters, this was not a top-down idea. It was something based on people in Europe who worked together, traded together, shared art, shared cheese and read each other’s books.
It’s this intangible feeling of sharedness, which we sometimes lose sight of when Boris is comparing Merkel to Hitler or Cameron is talking about immigration.
The EU was always really just a formalising of these relationships in which the people thought of themselves as having something in common and that on that basis they should work together because they probably agreed on other things too.
What Eurovision has shown this year is that that is broadly still true.
Much as this year our politicians have shown themselves to be selfish and grasping over Syrian refugees, condescending and cruel when dealing with voters in their own countries and unscrupulous in manipulating European power structures to their own ends, European people have shown themselves to be compassionate and empathetic, from pulling together following the Paris attacks to greeting refugees in Germany.
The public vote bore this out showing that, while those in charge squabble and play games, the people of Europe are on the same page. Political oppression and persecution – they’re against it. Throbbing disco pop – they’re for it.
Away from the political wranglings of Brussels or London, it is this shared culture and these shared values which still unite Europe. We shouldn’t let the divide and conquer activities of our politicians spoil this, because it might be our only chance to join together in order to get them to serve us, instead of serving themselves.
It seems that this is what the politicians are really scared of.
There is a rising wave of intolerance in Europe and it’s not a racial one as we would be led to believe. There is a rising intolerance of the political corruption, of the victimisation of the poor and pandering to the super-rich and of political oppression, whether economic or ideological.
The only way to make the EU and our government answerable to us is to stay in, stand in solidarity with the populations of other European countries and demand change.
Last night Europe pulled together to give Ukraine a minor victory, who knows what we can do if we all stand together to hold our politicians to account.