Fairytale is the sprightly little ditty that won the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest for Norwegian Alexander Rybak last Saturday in Moscow. We Don’t Wanna Put-In is a song by Stefane and 3G of Georgia.
The Georgian entry was nixed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to shield the apparently very thin skin of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from the possibility of a burn from the strobe lights of Olympiyski Arena. Fairytale might also have described the saga of a Norwegian fiddler, three pretty Georgian girls and a guy with funny hair—except it was real-life farce.
Rybak and Fairytale triumphed at the 54th Eurovision Song Contest. The series began on May 24, 1956, when singers from 14 countries met in Lugano, Switzerland to launch a new idea on the nascent Eurovision Network. Lys Assia of Switzerland won with a song called Das Alte Karussell.
Since then, top picks have included ABBA’s Waterloo and Brotherhood of Man’s Save all Your Kisses for Me. Some winners were seldom heard after their one glorious evening on Eurovision’s stage. And the contest overlooked songs destined for world fame such as Domenico Modugno’s Volare—presented at the 1958 Hilversum contest as Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu—and Betty Curtis’s Al di Lá. Nonetheless, it was all good fun.
Over 53 years, more than 1,000 songs entertained Eurovision audiences. In 2008, the television audience was about 100 million; nearly 9 million votes were cast by telephone or text message. Last year, there were 43 participating nations.
On May 24 they gathered in Belgrade for the 53rd contest. Russia’s Dima Bilan won, singing Believe. Georgia’s Diana Gurtskaya took 11th place with Peace Will Come. Regrettably, her lyrics were premature. Russia was already preparing to attack Georgia. Even as she sang, Russian so-called peacekeepers—with artillery, air defense and armored personnel carriers—were digging into the Georgian territory of Abkhazia, uninvited by Georgia.
The notes of Gurtskaya’s song still lingered in the heavy August air when Russian tanks poured into Georgia. Then, the noise of rusty Russian tank treads gave way to another tune—Tavisupleba (Freedom), Georgia’s stirring national anthem. Just a few weeks after the hot phase of the war, a million ordinary Georgians sang in the streets to defy Putin’s tanks, slovenly soldiers and sneering generals.
Russia occupied some Georgian territories, but it failed to defeat Georgian freedom, and freedom breeds creativity. Stefane Mgebrishvili, Nini Badurashvili, Tako Gachechiladze and Kristine Imedadze—Stefane & 3G—hatched an idea to take a Georgian musical message right to Moscow, venue for the next Eurovision Song Contest.
“We are not politicians, but we are patriots; we love our country,” Mgebrishvili told The Guardian. “When you hear bombs going off in your country you have to say something.”
In February, Georgians naturally selected We Don’t Wanna Puti-In, a thinly veiled poke at the Russian Czar, as their entry in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. The EBU demanded that Georgia revise the lyrics or replace Stefane & 3G as its entry.
Georgia—correctly—refused, preferring to skip the contest.
“This song was our little protest, and we were denied the right to sing it,” Mgebrishvili said.
“I think it is a shame the EBU gave in to pressure from the host country to ban the song,” Georgian Culture Minister Nikoloz Rurua told The Guardian. “Our freedom of expression has been shamelessly and grossly violated.”
For Stefane & 3G, the ban had a silver lining. “Who remembers Eurovision entrants, apart from one or two? They are forgotten after 24 hours,” said Imedadze. “This is a much better opportunity for us—thanks for the publicity, Mr. Putin.”
She is right—it is just a song. More vexing, however, is that the Eurovision stage has become a metaphor for some parts of Europe—a happy place of zippy tunes, strobe lights and well-coiffed presenters; not a place for offensive lyrics. In a Eurovision world, one must speak of invading tanks and airstrikes on civilian apartment blocks only in muffled, equivocal tones, lest Putin be offended.
So, Mr. Putin, since you were so zealously protected by the EBU, here is what you missed from Stefane, Nini, Tako and Kristine:
We don’t wanna put in,
Cuz negative move,
It’s killin’ the groove,
I’m gonna try to shoot in,
Some disco tonight,
Boogie with you
And, members of the EBU, look at the Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to the Year 2020, approved while you were in Moscow for the Eurovision Song Contest. With the triumph of Norwegian entry Fairytale, the song contest moves to Oslo next year. Norway is unlikely to attack Finland or Sweden, but Russia is gearing up for a conflict with Norway and other Arctic nations. There will be trouble on the Eurovision stage until we all understand that We don’t wanna Put-in.
David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington. This column appeared in 24 Saati (24 Hours), Tiblisi’s major newspaper.