How Much Eurovision Can Baku Handle?
Eurovision, the Super Bowl of European pop music, is headed next year to Azerbaijan, but questions linger about whether Baku has what it takes to host the annual celebration of glitz and electric tunes. Funds for infrastructure updates and pageantry are not at issue here. Rather, the biggest question is quickly becoming whether Azerbaijan can ensure the security of journalists, performers and fans from its neighbor-cum-foe, Armenia.
The song contest’s official website reported on June 29 that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) held talks with Azerbaijan’s public broadcaster, Ictimai TV, about the 2012 event. “EBU presented a detailed planning, venue requirements, information about security and accreditation…” to the Azerbaijani side, stated a release on the Eurovision website.
Azerbaijan has yet to name the venue for the contest. Options include building a new arena.
The EBU requested that the government provide security guarantees for everyone during the event, and freedom of expression in line with the European standard; something that is not Azerbaijan’s strongest point, rights groups say.
On June 27, the Azerbaijani government was described as a "Consolidated Authoritarian Regime" by Freedom House, an influential American civil rights advocacy group. Critics argue that two recent incidents similarly detract from Azerbaijan's Eurovision image.Bloomberg photo correspondent Diana Markosian, a dual Russian/American citizen, was deported from Azerbaijan this week, allegedly because she lacked accreditation. Markosian, however, maintains she was told it was because of her Armenian last name. Earlier on, a handful of men assaulted and beat American journalist Amanda Erickson and British human rights activist Celia Davis in Baku. Four male suspects have been arrested. For its part, the Azerbaijani government argues that its got tolerance down cold. Unidentified sources within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism told the pro-government-inclined News.az website on June 30 that “Armenian representatives have equal rights with contestants from other countries in the contest and there are no special problems here." Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Elkhan Polukhov gave similar assurances to Interfax-Azerbaijan.
Armenia, in the meantime, has been on the fence about whether or not to send singers to Baku for Eurovision; a decision is expected "soon," PanArmenian.Net reported the head of Armenia's Eurovision delegation as saying earlier this week.