Azerbaijan: Eurovision voting scandal

Although held in May, some media outlets in Azerbaijan last week reported that 43 people who voted for the Armenian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest have been identified by police and one has even been called in for questioning. Still effectively in a state of war over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, the news is just the latest of many scandals surrounding both countries in the international music competition.

The Snowolf says that it is not sure whether the news is alarming or entertaining. By the end of the post, however, the blogger seems to have decided on the former.

[…] Bloody hell. He voted for a fucking song. It's not just us that use the security dogwhistle as an excuse to give someone a hard time for the hell of it, then.


One final little question; How did the authorities know this man had voted for the Armenians? I'm willing to bet that it was down to the retention of all telephone calls and text messages on some sort of central database.

Brett Neely comments on the Soviet-era tactics employed by the authorities.

The super-cheesy annual Eurovision song contest (held in May) has had its share of political undertones in the past few years (Georgia, Russia, etc), but the latest case of politics creeping into the event has a downright Stalinist cast to it (minus the Siberian gulag).


Though the Azerbaijan entry wound up getting a very respectable third place, the thought that Azeris might support Azerbaijan’s arch-enemy, Armenia, was a bit too much. Never mind that the Azeri entry included an Iranian-Swedish singer joined by an Azeri pop star – which prompted Nasirli’s protest vote for Armenia. Even scarier is how the Azeri spooks discovered Nasirli’s “traitorous” voting:


A couple of points worth noting here. First, the Azeri state must feel insanely insecure if someone within the security services felt the need to look up SMS records to find out who’s not for Team Azerbaijan in one of the world’s silliest televised events. Human Rights Watch has documented the country’s heavy-handed attempts to silence dissent.

Others are not surprised, especially as Eurovision was already off to a bad start with Georgia's aborted entry in February. Eurovision central has more.

[…] his action is broadly representative of Azerbaijan’s government. International Politics rearing its head in the Eurovision? Who’d have thunk it?!

Here’s the Armenian entry that got the voters in trouble – I wonder if they still think it was worth it?

A Fistful of Euros says that the news is indicative of the state of democracy — or lack of it — in both republics.

That’s actually a fairly good index of the relative freedoms of the two countries. Armenia is a managed democracy, where the opposition is kept pretty toothless. Last year, when the government got tired of peaceful protests over a stolen election, they gunned down a bunch of protesters in the street. (And then blamed the opposition, of course.)

That said, Armenia has a formal opposition. The Armenian press is free-ish. (Well, newspapers are. TV and radio, not so much.) Open criticism of the government is tolerated. […] And there’s a much wider field for… I’m not sure how to say it… not dissent exactly. Opinions that differ from the nationalist consensus? There are boundaries that can’t be crossed in Armenia, but they’re much wider. Nobody really cares if you vote for the Azeris.

Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is a fairly repressive dictatorship. There’s not much more to say. Politically, it resembles the former Soviet republics of Central Asia much more than it does either of the other two countries of the south Caucasus. And Azeri society allows much less room for public dissent.


Anyway. Azerbaijan is a wannabe police state, the Nagorno conflict is intractable. Not really news. But once again, we see the power of Eurovision! And that’s always worth reporting.

Notes from the Bartender says the incident is Orwellian, but adds that the song didn't deserve being voted for in the first place.

Although amusing, these sorts of stories always make me wonder about the mindset of people who get into positions of power. Is their grip on power so tenuous that they need to monitor who their citizenry vote for in a song contest? Are the government really using resources to read everyone’s phone texts? How distorted has their sense of patriotism become?


[…] Long-time EU members now seem to treat the contest as something of a joke, seeing who can enter the most ridiculous contestant. New inductees into the wider European community, however, tend to take things a little too seriously, perceiving victory as a mode of national advancement.

I could understand if this was a visit from the Taste Police. […]

Life after Helsinki 2007 calls the heavy-handed tactics absurd, while The Armenian Observer simply concludes that if only 43 Azeri citizens voted for Armenia in this year's competition, and reportedly without the telephone number to do so being displayed, it is unlikely that any will do so in 2010.


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