Russia’s European song victory polishes neighbourly ties

May 29th, 2008 - 9:00 am ICT by admin  

By Aleks Tapinsh and Alissa de Carbonnel
Moscow/Riga, May 29 (DPA) Russia’s victory in the annual Eurovision song contest has not only boosted resurgent patriotism but also sparked an outburst of gratitude towards unlikely Baltic friends. After votes from several former Soviet republics helped singer Dima Bilan win the 43-nation competition, a pro-Kremlin group picketed the Latvian and Estonian embassies in Moscow to express thanks.

“It’s very pleasant to hear that Russia was supported in this contest by our nearest neighbours, including the Baltic states, with whom our bilateral relations aren’t very good,” the Young Russia group said in a statement.

Past actions by pro-Kremlin groups were less friendly than Tuesday’s Young Russia event.Estonia’s decision last year to move a Red Army soldier statue sparked protests. This May, Young Russia activists burned an effigy of director Edvins Snore outside the Latvian embassy after his documentary on crimes under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin aired in Latvia.

On Saturday, however, the once-Soviet Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Ukraine, Belarus and Armenia, gave Bilan the maximum 12 points each in the Eurovision Song Contest. It was hailed as another Russian success on the world stage.

Karlis Streips, who provided commentary for the Eurovision show on Latvian television, credited ethnic Russians in the Baltics. But there may be other affinities.

“In Latvia’s case, there may also be a cultural connection in that Dima Bilan has performed in Latvia often, although I’m not sure to what extent his concerts have attracted a (ethnically) Latvian audience,” Streips told DPA.

The Russian singer launched his career in the Baltics in 2002 when he performed at an annual music festival in the Latvian resort town of Jurmala.

In Western Europe, Eurovision voting was seen as a game of realpolitik expressed through song and dance, leaving Western Europe behind.

“The Iron Curtain has descended across Eurovision,” Britain’s Eurovision commentator Terry Wogan told The Telegraph newspaper.

“Eurovision was intended to bring us all together but instead it makes it manifestly clear how far apart we all are,” he lamented.

“People in Bosnia-Herzegovina are bound to feel more culturally attuned to the music of Serbia or Montenegro than to anything from western Europe,” he told the paper.

In Moscow, music critic Boris Barabanov took up the singing-as- politics theme. Eurovision countries voted according to geopolitical principles, he said.

“Eastern Europeans are still taking it seriously, so the joke is on the West despite their thinking they’re being ironic and sophisticated,” British expatriate Mike Collier told DPA in Riga.

Though the voting ran into the early hours of Sunday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was the first to call Bilan, 26, with congratulations from an official visit to China.

Barabanov called it “the third Russian triumph this month” after the Zenit football team won the UEFA Cup and Russia’s hockey team became world champions in Canada.

“It helps to change the attitude Russians have toward themselves,” he wrote in the Russian business daily Kommersant on Tuesday.

With his winning power ballad - sung in English at the show staged in Belgrade - Bilan also ensured that Russia would host next year’s Eurovision contest.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the victory was “yet another triumph for all of Russia”.

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