Eurovision, in three maps and a chart
The odd way Eurovision defines Europe means that Iraq and Saudi Arabia could, theoretically, one day compete.
This post is an edit of one from the subscriber only bit of the newsletter in 2021. I swear I did make a bunch of changes to reflect the fact we’re a year on, yet somehow managed not to save them and to send this out full of baffling errors. Goddammit. Still, here we go:
It won’t have escaped your notice that it’s Eurovision on Saturday. I was originally planning to tease you with this fact then pivot, like a troll in a tutu, to some fascinating historical GDP maps of Europe I’d found. Then I decided I’d stick one Eurovision map in at the end, to silence the haters. Then I realised that the Eurovision maps are actually really interesting in and of themselves, so that’s what you’re getting. We’ll save historic GDP for another week.
First up, here’s a map of Europe and its neighbourhood, coloured by how often countries have won Eurovision. Ireland, with its seven impressive and expensive wins, is out in front, followed by Sweden with six, and so on down to those in dark grey which have taken part in the competition but never won. (Those in light grey have never competed.)
Image: I, AxG/creative commons.
Two things leap out at me about this. One is that, despite being the target of apparently universal revulsion these days, the UK has won an impressive five times in the past, most recently in 1997. It also holds the record for most second-place finishes, with 15 of them.
All of these were back in the olden days, however: this century, the best it’s managed is third, back in 2002. Worse, it’s come last five times and scored nul points twice (2003 and, er, 2021). Still, never mind, there’s always next year.
The other thing that strikes me about that first map: western European countries have generally done a lot better than eastern European ones. Nearly half (25 out of 52) of the countries that currently take part have never won the competition: of these, 15 are in a belt running from Lithuaian to North Macedonia, and two more are in the Caucasus.
Image: Sims2aholic8/creative commons.
The explanation for that is probably less any lingering anti-Slavic prejudice than it is simple opportunity: although the contest has been held 65 times, the Cold War means a lot of those countries have only been in it since the 1990s. They’ve competed fewer times, and in an era where any individual country’s odds of winning have dropped from as high as one in seven in the earliest contest to as low as one in 40 today:
Image: Oz1Sej/creative commons.
Lastly, how are we defining Europe exactly? Why do countries like Israel or Australia get to play?
Any active member of the European Broadcasting Union is entitled to enter. (Some American write ups have confused the EBU with the actual EU, with hilarious results.) To qualify for that, a state needs to fall within the European Broadcasting Area, which differs slightly from traditional definitions of Europe, and which was extended in 2007 to include the Caucasus states.
Image: Vanjagenije/creative commons.
All of which means that a number of North African or Arab states could, theoretically, participate in the EBU and thus Eurovision, should they so wish. One – Morocco – has participated in the past (Samira Bensaïd’s Bitaqat Hub was the only entry ever to be sung in Arabic. It placed second to last, and the Moroccan authorities were so offended they vowed never to return.) Others have declined, either because they don’t fancy it or because they don’t fancy joining the EBU or, in the case of Lebanon in 2005, because doing so would require them to acknowledge the existence of Israel.
Two European states have also never competed, despite being at the heart of Europe. One, Liechtenstein, has never applied to join the EBU (it didn’t get its first TV station until 2008), and so is not eligible. The other, the Holy See, better known as the Vatican, is actually a member, but has never shown an interest in participating either. This is a shame as, with that flair for costumes, this would be absolutely brilliant.
Lastly – why does Australia take part? Because the contest has a lot of fans down there and so, in 2015, the organisers asked if they fancied participating. If, instead of leaving the EU, Britain had persuaded the other 27 to let Australia in, we’d be in a better state today, I’m sure.
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