Azerbaijan: Eurovision Voting Scandal

by Onnik Krikorian

Global Voices Online
Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 @ 00:19 UTC

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

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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