The group from Ukraine, Kalush Orchestra, were triumphant with their song Stefania; an ode to a mother, which became the first Eurovision winning song to feature a rap
t would have been a huge surprise if the Eurovision song contest were won by a group from other than Ukrane. Ukraine is in the news and is being cast as a victim of Russian aggression. Whatever the Ukranians do these days is legit and calls for the appreciation of all those who see Russia as demonic and evil. This has been a standard criticism of the various forums that judge the artistic or literary merit of a work of art or the oeuvre of a writer. During the Cold War era all that stood for freedom and liberty was lauded beyond comprehension and the “communists” treated as villains. This thwarted the high ideals of the greater good that the West has set itself for.
In the past two decades or so, the attitude has remained the same. However, the villains may have changed. Much that was being done or accrues out of the countries harbouring “terror” was seem to be abhorrent and any little protest or an indication was lauded beyond its true worth and value, and seen as protest against that system or a set of values. It was unfortunate that whatever was seen to be negative was appreciated beyond measure and held as vindication of the evil nature of the order. This stance has been critically important and not the literary or the artistic merit of the piece or the contribution of the person. It is judged more in a stock manner where the lines of evil and good are drawn very clearly and no scope for any deviation or difference is tolerated. Even the most prestigious bodies like the Nobel Committee and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have not been able to absolve themselves of such bias in determining the quality of a work. The hidden bias or an overt one has been ruling the criteria that distinguish a good work from a mediocre one.
The Eurovision design was embedded in the Cold War era. The number of countries that took part in it were also limited like the original ones that formed the European Customs Union. Then it expanded with the end of the Cold War to include some more countries that were not averse to joining the military alliance, NATO.
It is unfortunate that these international forums or bodies pose themselves as the absolute benchmarks of good and evil and decry the rest and the prestige and the rewards associated are so much that it is seen as a great achievement. It is then touted as absolute in the standards offered against which the arts are judged.
Usually in countries like ours the standards are very different. They may not be based on some derived political criteria or a set of values held as sacrosanct but have evolved over time to strike a chord with the sensibility of the region. The standards may be very different and perhaps do not strike a chord with the rest. The criteria are then held inferior or alien or not lauded as absolute. So many of our artistes and their works are not considered. If they are considered due weight is not given to regional standards. Some are overvalued and one is rather taken aback by the appreciation lavished on them. It is the lessor ones being rewarded against criteria that may be alien or imposed.
From the original seven countries which entered the first Eurovision contest in 1956 the number of competing countries has steadily grown over time. 18 countries participated in the contest’s 10th edition in 1965. By 1992 these countries were regularly competing each year. Besides slight modifications to the voting system and other contest rules, no fundamental changes to the contest’s format was introduced until the early 1990s, when events in Europe in the 1990s resulted in a growing interest in countries from the former Eastern Bloc.
The group from Ukraine, Kalush Orchestra, were triumphant with their song Stefania; an ode to a mother, which became the first Eurovision winning song to feature a rap. When it came to the televote, Europe (and Australia) delivered a clear message: the general public got behind Ukraine in overwhelming numbers, bulldozing the scoreboard with a total of 439 points – an incredible achievement given the maximum haul possible is 468.
At the press conference after their victory, Kalush Orchestra shared a message of gratitude, thanking voters across Europe who had awarded their song the record-breaking tally of points, as well as the juries who had voted in their favour: “We want to thank everyone out there who voted for Ukraine. The victory is very important to Ukraine, especially this year. For us, this support is even more important for Ukraine in these times. And we really appreciate that you helped us with your votes.”
Unfortunately, the arts have become so tied up with politics that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate art from propaganda. At the height of the Cold War the patent criticism with which the West beat the ideological blocs overriding political concerns that ruled the arts as well and now the same stick is being appropriated by them to beat the rest, whether a narrow reading of frenzied nationalism or an ideology based on religion.
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore