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« We are the winners of Eurovision »
Justina Buskaitė
09 April 2024
published in Issue Five

On losing Eurovision

Lithuania has lost the Eurovision Song Contest thirty times. The first loss, in 1994, was awarded to Ovidijus Vysniauskas’ « Lopšinė mylimai » (Lullaby for my lover). The ballad about a secret love, worthy of a soundtrack to a Kevin Costner romance, received nul points and placed absolute last, disqualifying Lithuania from the next year’s contest and prophesying the three decades to come. (I count disqualification as a second loss rather than a continuation of the first loss. I also count withdrawals as losses.)

There are different ways we could count. Since 1994, Lithuania has had 24 entries, out of which:

☞ seven failed to qualify for the Eurovision final;
☞ eight placed at the bottom half of all the entries;
☞ three have placed so low that Lithuania was disqualified from competing in the next year’s contest;
☞ three have made it to the top 10!
☞ zero have been close to the podium.

Lithuania withdrew from Eurovision after the trauma of « Lopšinė mylimai » and only returned in 1999, with an entry sung entirely in Samogitian, a Western Lithuanian dialect, which then disqualified Lithuania from competing in 2000. But Lithuania has lost Eurovision not only in standard Lithuanian and Samogitian: we’ve lost in English and French, and with scattered losing lyrics in German, Russian, and American Sign Language.

It is easy to say what makes a Eurovision-winning song. Eurovision-winning songs must have border-crossing versatility. Can you imagine it playing in a shopping mall in Slovenia? What about a gas station in Italy? That is your Eurovision-winning song. It should feel, in a good way, like listening to the radio in a foreign country, a thing you both have and have not heard before, sung with a depth of commitment and a conspicuously clear enunciation of every single word.

A good formula for losing is a much more delicate thing.


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Dutch MEP Lousewies van der Laan said that « The current controversy on the song contest entry, of all things, doesn’t exactly promote the image of Slovenia in Europe. » See Martin Banks, « Transvestite Eurosong win sparks Slove nia accession doubts », Politico, 6 March 2002.

Starting in 1994, Eurovision relied on relegation rules to manage the number of the participating countries. Rele gation rules disqualified the worst performing countries from performing in the next year’s Eurovision, allowing other countries to take their place. In the early 2000s, Eurovision would introduce semi-finals, so as to allow each participating country to perform on the Eurovision stage at least once. First one, and now two, semi-finals have turned the Eurovision Song Contest from a single Saturday’s broadcast into an epic series of three broad casts, spanning a full week.

A hypersexualization of Eastern European identity in Eurovision has occurred a few times. In 2014, Poland’s performance « My Slowianie » (We Are Slavic) featured performers in traditional dresses, with deep cleavage, washing clothes and suggestively churning butter.

There are always exceptions. Some of the smaller participating countries, like San Marino, do not have their own telephone lines. San Marino uses Italian phone networks. Back in 2016, the EBU proposed to San Marino that it count aggregated averages from an undisclosed group of voting countries as its public vote results. San Marino refused to rely on other countries’ votes, and since then San Marino is the only participating country in the Eurovision whose results in Eurovision are decided by only their own jury.

Of course I vote for Lithuania in Eurovision out of my own good will and pocket. In 2013, Lithuanian media reported on Eurovision voting fraud in a more traditional sense. News outlets released a video of Russian-speaking men meeting up with groups of students and offering them €20 each if they voted for Azerbaijan as many times as they could. Allegedly, every voting group was handed SIM cards and had a supervisor make sure that the recruited voters were actually voting. That year the Lithuanian public gave their twelve points to Azerbaijan and the performance came in second place overall.

Booing notwithstanding, high placement has not been problem for Russia. Russia’s lowest placement since 2014 was seventh place. Russian acts have received high points from both the public and the jury, the high public votes coming mostly from other ex-Soviet countries.