Vienna conjures up images of magnificent palaces, coffeehouses and horse-drawn carriages. But the host city of the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest is not always that charming. In February the Rabenhof Theatre staged the 12th edition of the Protest Song Contest, where 10 songs competed for the title of protest song of the year. Most of the artists came from Austria. Two came from Germany. All of them addressed important topics like social exploitation, corruption, prejudice, refugees and terrorism. No electro-dance love songs here…
The Viennese band Rammelhof won with “Wladimir (Put Put Putin)”. The lyrics refer to Russia’s natural gas supplies, Ukraine, Crimea, and Edward Snowden. Here’s one excerpt translated from German: “The Germans have their Mommy / the Russians have Putin / and the Americans have Barack Obama / Soon my eyes well up with tears of emotion / because most of the people want a strong leader.”
That most of the lyrics are German wasn’t a problem for the many international fans who have watched the Put-Put-Putin song many thousands of times. Naturally the protest song has become a huge YouTube-hit in Ukraine.
Even though Putin is mentioned several times, it’s more than just an anti-Putin-song, says Birgit Denk, a singer from Vienna and a jury member: “Putin just stands for a topic that bothers people in many countries today – namely that we listen to demagogues again. It is a song that wants us to rethink what democracy means.”
“Anti-Russian” songs at Eurovision
There have, of course, been Eurovision songs that were perceived as anti-Russian. In 2007 the title of the Ukrainian entry “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” sounded like “Russia Goodbye”. In the end the song finished in second place. Its performer — the Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka — was subsequently banned from Russia.
In 2009 — in the aftermath of the South Ossetia War — Georgia attempted to send the song “We Don’t Wanna Put In” to the ESC in Moscow. Russia successfully protested, citing the EBU rule against songs with political messages. Georgia later withdrew from the contest.
The PSC Winner 2015 will not represent Austria at the Grand Final in May but Birgit Denk would love to see a strong Austrian protest song at Eurovision. “Last year we all saw that the people in front of the TV like songs with a polarizing message,” she says.
However, we will have to wait until 13 March to see if a true protest song can win the Austrian national final “Wer singt für Österreich?”