Euro Madness by Barbara Nadel

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Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest is nearly upon us again and I for one can’t wait to see what insane costumes and pyrotechnics each entrant has chosen this year. In the past we’ve had people skating on tiny ice rinks, ballerinas appearing out of holes in pianos, singing rubber turkeys and women wrapped in tin foil. Just a small selection there of the sartorial insanity that marks out Eurovision from just any old bunch of people singing songs in vast spaces.

I’ve long wanted to write a crime novel based around Eurovision. I think it would be great fun and probably the campest book on the planet. A couple of years ago when the contest was held in İstanbul I did seriously think about giving it a go, but then my courage failed me. God, I thought, how would that work with all that national pride and all those weird alliances going on? The outré clothes and the naff songs aside, because this is Europe you also have to consider the reality that none of the countries on our continent actually get on – or if they do it’s in a weird, ethnically similar sort of a way. This is reflected very graphically in the scores that are awarded by each nation to all the others.

For instance the Scandinavian countries always give each other top marks. Norway could enter complete silence and Sweden would still vote for them. The UK and Ireland generally give if not a full 12 points to each other, then high marks of some sort. Greece and Cyprus have a legendary Euro cuddle up almost every year and things can be cosy between Spain and Portugal. Eastern Europe tends to do its own funky old thing with those countries closest to and most afraid of Russia, expressing these facts in their marking. And then we come to Israel. An international crisis all on its own, Israel is marked according to what other nations thinks about its place, or not, in the chaos that is the Middle East. Nothing to do with Europe at all, but then is Armenia, or Georgia?

Back in the day, when I was a child and television sets had valves, Eurovision was all about songs from Western Europe, Scandinavia, Greece and Turkey. We all knew our places: the Italians crooned, the Greeks and the Turks were ‘exotic’, the Germans and the Scandinavians did ‘oompah’ band and plinky plonk Euro ditties, the French were sexy, the UK entrant was bouncy and Ireland always won. Dull and predictable, it was hardly contentious and the audience always had a laugh. But then over the hill came Eastern Europe, the Caucuses and Israel and Eurovision went nova.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the expanded line-up. And sometimes a half decent song actually emerges from the Euro chaos that ensues. But every contest these days is also a potential international incident and so to write about such a thing, even wearing the cloak of fiction would be a hazardous course of action.

Some sort of incident between the German singer(s) and the UK entrant(s) would be predictable and a bit hackneyed. But what would happen if the Russian entrant was brutally murdered in the Green Room? Would anyone believe for a second that one of the Caucasian or Baltic state entrants were not to blame? How would you, as an author, get around the fact that the victim’s entourage would probably try and actively block any other solution? Digging out the truth, whatever that may be, would be tough – even in fiction.

The reality is that the modern Eurovision Song Contest has to deal with power that is muscular and total now. NATOs old enemy Russia is in town, no longer as the Soviet Union, but as a reborn superpower under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. We didn’t have a superpower in the contest back in the old days. Every country involved was knackered except Germany. Superpowers are a bit big and scary. In reality the Russians should be pitched up against the Americans and the Chinese but that’s probably pushing the boundaries of Europe too far. We’re already at Israel. Were next? Mongolia?

So I think I’ll leave my Eurovision crime novel fantasies at the back of my head where they belong. I’d hate to spark a war between Andorra and Lithuania and anyway what on earth would the combatants choose to wear for such an event. The mind boggles.

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