Azerbaijan’s Turn to Euro-Dance
Hold on tight, Georgia and Armenia, it's time to run scared: Now that two Azerbaijani performers have triumphed at Eurovision, the continent’s annual pop mega-extravaganza will be headed next year to your next-door neighbor, Azerbaijan, leaving a trail of glamor and camp in its wake.
Singers Nigar "Nikki" Jamal and Eldar "Ell" Gasimov, who got the Euro-pop crown for their “Running Scared” love ballad, received a hero’s welcome at home and, as a bonus, a personal audience with President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva.
It is no small feat to win the world’s glitziest pop contest, in which voting often tends to reflect Europe’s political fault lines. But despite the winners' expressed desire "to bring Europe together," those fault lines are not likely to disappear when the show comes to Baku next year.
On the foreign policy front, there's neighboring Armenia, a hardcore Eurovision enthusiast and former contest finalist, that's already debating whether or not to participate in an event hosted by its archenemy, Azerbaijan.(One MP, disappointed by this year's loss, has even proposed a parliamentary debate about how Armenia's Eurovision candidates are chosen.)
And in flag-waving Azerbaijan itself, other debates have emerged. Some Azerbaijani observers have objected that the victory that does nothing to improve the government's less-than-stellar civil rights record. With poverty still running rampant in Azerbaijan, others question the millions shelled out on the contest -- even despite the market opportunities in store for Baku's new, luxury hotels and for the seaside city itself when Eurovision comes to town in 2012.
Abroad, still others just take issue with what they say is scant reason to feel real, lasting pride in Azerbaijan.
". . . I suspect, to a lot of people, winning this contest means something that I just don’t think it does," wrote UK-based blogger Scary Azeri. "For instance, that we are now officially cool. Or that we are now a part of Europe . . . .Come on! Be proud to be Azeri, feel free, but surely, you must have other, better reasons for it."
For now, though, for many Azerbaijanis, Eurovision is reason enough.