Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 on Azerbaijan's Moment in the Spotlight

Azerbaijan’s Song Contest Victory Puts A President In The Hot Seat
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
June 5, 2011

Last month, more than 120 million viewers watched a pop duo from Azerbaijan win the 2011 Eurovision song contest. That’s a bigger audience than any ever recorded for the Academy Awards show.

For more than 50 years, Eurovision -- in all its kitschy splendor -- has pitted Europe’s best pop acts against one another for the cause of national glory. And while easily sloughed off as an exercise in the lowest of popular culture, the success of Eurovision has mirrored the evolution of Europe itself. Just as the geographic conception of the continent has changed, and its population diversified, so too has the pool of Eurovision winners, expanded to include representatives from the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, and even Turkey (in 2004).

Each year the contest is hosted in the home country of the previous competition’s winner, and Eurovision viewers often find themselves learning about places they would have never bothered to visit. This wave of publicity can be a blessing for the host country’s rulers -- or a curse.

So what will Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev make of the opportunity?