With nine months to go before Baku hosts the Eurovision pop-music competition, transparency concerns are arising about Azerbaijani government expenditures on the event. Meanwhile, local civil society activists are trying to get an early jump on a campaign to raise international awareness about Azerbaijan’s lackluster democratization record.
The government expects some 60,000 tourists to visit Azerbaijan in connection with the May 2012 event, a prospect that promises to generate unprecedented international scrutiny of Azerbaijan’s social, economic and political systems.
Currently, officials are focusing on finding an event venue. In mid-July, President Ilham Aliyev allocated 6 million manats (about $7.6 million) from the presidential reserve fund for construction of a new sports-concert complex in Baku’s National Flag Square, which is home to the world’s biggest flag and tallest flagpole. The new facility will “meet international standards,” Azerbaijani authorities promised.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku and a board member of the Open Society Assistance Foundation-Azerbaijan.