This fall, when pop stars from China and the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan gather in Sochi, they won’t just be competing at a revived Intervision Song Contest. They’ll also be playing a part in Putin’s geopolitical posturing. I recently wrote about the contest’s revival for Newsweek—you can read the full article here. But below I summarize the most important points.
1. Eurovision is too European
As all of you know by now, conservative politicians in Russia were not amused by Conchita’s victory. “This is the end of Europe,” railed Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic party of Russia. “It’s rotted away. There are no more men and women. There is just ‘it’.”
Valery Rashkin, the deputy leader of the Communist Party, immediately demanded that Russia establish a heterosexual alternative for the morally pure.
The fact that the audience at Eurovision blatantly booed the Tolmachevy Sisters signaled the growing cultural divide between Russia and Europe. It was a huge slap in the face to Russia, whose politicians view Eurovision as a barometer of its international standing.
2. Countering NATO and the E.U.
For years Putin has been aware of the growing gulf between Moscow and the West, and has sought to expand his relations elsewhere. This has only intensified in the aftermath of the crisis with Ukraine. He sees the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a counterweight to both NATO—the Western defense alliance—and the European Union. Interestingly, all six nations competing at Intervision are members of the SCO. As an academic in New York told me: “Russia uses the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as an arena to build its non-western links, including cultural exchange. An alternative to the Eurovision Song Contest fits very well into that pattern by creating a space for Russia to partner with China in opposition to the West.”
3. Post-Soviet Nostalgia
It’s well-known that Putin, a former lieutenant colonel with the KGB, oozes post-Soviet nostalgia. He famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. He misses Russia’s place as the center of the powerful USSR. He dreams of a multi-polar world with a Russian bloc playing a key role. That’s one of the reasons he’s been pushing a Eurasian Economic Union.
Putin first proposed reviving Intervision at a 2009 meeting of the SCO, with the goal of “strengthening cultural ties between our peoples.”
“The first Intervision was about challenging the West and this Intervision is about reaffirming Russia as a force to be reckoned with,” says Dean Vuletic, a historian at the University of Vienna and an authority on Eurovision. “It’s no coincidence that it will be held in Sochi, which Putin used to showcase modern Russia during its Winter Olympics.”
So what do you think? Will Intervision help spread the glory of Russia? Will you be tuning in online?
Photo: Eurovision.tv (EBU)