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The Eurovision Song Contest and its peace projects – from European reconciliation to queer utopia?

    “Love peace peace love

    Make it unforgettable

    You will be the best

    And win the Eurovision Song Contest”

    Lyrics of “Love, Love, Peace, Peace” (Edward af Sillén), a song which describes how to win the Eurovision Song Contest

    The Eurovision Song Contest has been regarded as a European peace project ever since its establishment in 1956. It started as a way to unite European countries through television broadcasting following the horrors of the Second World War. In its over 60 years of existence, the song contest has dealt with peace in a variety of forms. The most famous example is probably the 2016 finale Swedish interval performance by hosts Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw. In their song “Love, Love, Peace, Peace”, they claimed that in order to win Eurovision one has to perform a song about one of these “universal” concepts, love or peace. The theme of peace and love has been used as a self-description by Eurovision ever since. The contest aims to encourage peace through furthering European unity while also celebrating national differences and marginalised identities; most recently, the 2023 Liverpool Eurovision song contest was held under the motto “United by Music”. In light of this, it is worth examining whether, outside of its branding, Eurovision actually contributes to cohesion and peace within the European context.

    Since its establishment, the Eurovision song contest has allowed for its participating countries to compete in a European setting, providing an opportunity for them to show their national uniqueness as well as their place within the European community. Fans argue that the Eurovision Song Contest creates a unifying community feel. Not only do people come together through their love for music, but they also support their favourite artists across borders. Eurovision is therefore said to not have the same feel as a competition, but rather that of a communal music festival. Countries tailor their performances for pan-European audiences, aim to speak to audiences across Europe and talk about universal themes and topics. At the same time, the contest keeps its diversity by artists singing in their native languages as well as using traditional instruments and mythology in their songs. It has also allowed states that are traditionally not viewed as part of Europe to participate and be included in a European context (for example Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Australia, Israel). The outcome is not only a winning song that is played across Europe, but also an understanding of national diversity within a European community.

    While fans claim that Eurovision furthers peace in Europe through this encouragement of both diversity and interconnection, critics say the contest is lacking in its efforts to encourage diversity. One criticism is that the inclusion of traditional instruments and emphasis on national identities often plays on surface-level stereotypes while not providing viewers with an improved understanding of the performer’s culture. Even 2016 host Måns Zelmerlöw commented on this, saying: “Show the viewers your country’s ethnic background by using an old traditional folklore instrument that no-one’s heard of before (…) Just make something up. No-one will know!”. Outside of the cultural diversity aspect, more and more countries have switched to English language songs over the years, diminishing the linguistic diversity of the contest. They have reason to believe that this will increase their chances of winning, since songs performed in English made up 45% of winning performances, with the other 55% of wins being split between 12 different languages. Alongside a declining diversity in language, Eurovision has often been criticised for discouraging diversity within music genres, prioritising pop music over other genres. For example, in the entirety of Eurovision, there have been two rock groups that have won the Contest, Finland’s Lordi in 2006 and Italy’s band Måneskin in 2021. Examined under these conditions, it is interesting to reconsider whether Eurovision furthers unity through a recognition of diversity or simply encourages assimilation and conformity, exacerbating tensions for those who don’t fit into the mould.

    Italian band Måneskin (in the picture) was the second ever rock band to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021 after Finland’s Lordi in 2006
    Iceland’s Eurovision contestants (Með Hækkandi Sól) show their support for the trans community by waving trans pride flags at the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest 2022 flag parade

    Beyond furthering European cohesion, Eurovision has explicitly painted itself as a safe haven and welcoming space for marginalised communities, most notably LGBTQIA+ communities. Since its quite conservative beginnings in the 1950s, artists have campaigned for more rights for LGBTQIA+ people and also celebrated queer identities and culture in their songs and performances within Eurovision. Starting in the 1990s with Eurovision’s first openly gay (Páll Óskar) and trans (Dana International) performers, Eurovision has integrated queer culture into its very essence. Eurovisions costumes and performances are heavily influenced by drag elements and the flag parade has become an opportunity for performers to ally themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community. It has also often been used to campaign for LGBTQIA+ issues, with Krista Siegfrids (Finland) 2013 performance featuring a same-sex kiss within a wedding scene before same sex marriage was legal in Finland. Eurovision in its recent years touches clearly on queer themes and centres queer performers and singers in popular culture, to the point where it has been clearly understood to not only celebrate European national but also queer identities.

    Krista Siegfrids kiss in her “Marry Me” Performance at the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 was an act of protest towards Finland’s ban on same-sex marriage

    However, Eurovision’s connection between national and queer identities has not always played out in peaceful/peacebuilding ways. Take, for example, the repression of queer movements and performances when Eurovision has been hosted by anti-LGBTQIA+ states (e.g. Russia in 2009, Azerbaijan in 2012). It also has been met with boycotts by states like Turkey (whose broadcaster TRT mentioned LGBTQIA+ visibility as a reason) or Hungary in 2020 with the rise of homophobia under Victor Orbán’s government. In those cases, rather than Eurovision bringing pan-European ally-ship and unity, marginalised communities have been isolated in their struggle. The question therefore remains whether the very open and visible LGBTQIA+ inclusion in Eurovision spaces enables Europe to brand itself as a safe haven for such communities without actually ensuring protection and acceptance within its member states. Is the Eurovision Song Contest just a mass event that parades inclusion and international cohesion without any substance, or does it actually have the potential to further equality, commonalities, unity and peace across national borders?

    What do you think?

    • How is the vision of peace advanced by Eurovision different from that of other mass events (e.g. World Cups, Olympic games, etc.)?
    • How much do you think about European cohesion, queer representation and peace when you watch Eurovision?
    • Can Eurovision be an increasingly powerful stage for peace activism to take place? What might prevent that from happening?
    • Can Eurovision further state cohesion with anti-LGBTQIA+ states while also being a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ communities?
    • Does Eurovision have the potential to challenge stereotypes about queer people, or does it reinforce them?

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    Kim Jessica Wahnke, November 2023


    Baker, C. (2016). The ‘gay Olympics’? The Eurovision Song Contest and the politics of LGBT/European belonging. European Journal of International Relations, 23(1), pp.97–121. doi:

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