Eurovision song contest 2008: Former communist bloc taking all the fun out of the competition

The former communist bloc has done it again, you could say.

Russian singer Dima Bilan captured the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest yesterday in Belgrade, Serbia.

What, you didn’t catch it?

That’s not surprising. While this is pretty much the biggest music event of the year for the members of the European Broadcasting Union — which is about 50 countries, including obviously some outside Europe — it goes largely unnoticed in the United States, where we (1.) remain, sadly, outside the EBU and (2.) really love American Idol.

American Idol is a useful analogy, in that the format of Eurovision also involves call-in votes from viewers. Countries of the EBU each year submit their song (O.K., there is a lot of stuff about representative television broadcasters and such, but it comes down to each country putting forth a single song). Through live performances, viewers call in and vote for their favorite songs (they cannot vote for their own country’s song). Finalists duke it out in a gala event, full or pomp, circumstance and, in past years, some really freaky stage performances.

Since Serbia won last year, it hosted the finals yesterday.

Eurovision is one of the longest running contests of its kind, and it’s credited with, among other things, giving ABBA and Celine Dion their major breaks (both won the contest, for Sweden and France, respectively).

Now, on to this business about the former communist bloc.

With Russia’s win this year, there’s a big dust-up over the perceived monopoly the former communist sphere in Europe has over the contest. People are calling it the “eastern voting bloc.” Basically, it’s criticism that citizens from eastern and southern Europe are voting for any act that is from the same region, regardless of talent, in kind of a geopolitical one-upmanship. In the last four years, three of the winners have been from the former communist bloc: Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

Terry Wog an, a long-time commentator of the Eurovision contest, tells the London Telegraph that he’s thinking of stepping down. The Easties aren’t making it fun for the rest of Europe. The event, he says, is “no longer a musical contest..”

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article about the political side of Eurovision.

I wonder if Gadling’s brilliant, bolshoi blonde Iva, who’s been giving us regular dispatches from Russia recently, witnessed any celebrations on the streets yesterday over Russia’s win yesterday.