Sunday, May 06, 2007

Greece’s new national issue: The Eurovision Song Contest

The biggest and most massive annual televized operation in Europe opens for the 52nd time since 1956 and countless lovers and haters of the institution gather in groups, most of them facing their TV sets, together with good friends, pizzas and snacks. Eurovision may well be a “silly fiesta” as most of Europeans admit offering the alibi of lightness to the institution, but it is also an apotheosis of the music industry, the reality talent shows, the kitsch and the trash in artistic expression.

But in Greece, as in Europe’s other under-developed societies (eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans and former communist states), this “little fiesta” becomes a national issue and so we witness a responsible government, a huge state apparatus and public institutions spend huge resources of energy, time and -most importantly- money in order to promote the “great cause!” A victory in a trolley-go-dolly arena is what this is all about, because other kinds of victories are hard to find. The nation got so used to receiving thumbs down in almost all serious areas of activity (foreign policy, industry, education, the arts, research, health, infrastructures) that it seems only natural to feel nationally proud for standing out in ridiculous international competitions (Eurovision, football, beauty contests, etc.), which are after all defining the collective moral and intellectual level of the people.

Last year, I was trying to write a piece on a significant art project that was initiated from Thessaloniki’s Museum of Contemporary Art and spread over the Balkans. I was trying to do my job and collect as much information as I could, so I ended up calling the Greek embassy in Bucharest, Romania, since the project was presented there at that time. The embassy’s cultural attaché picked the phone and then I asked him about the Greek exhibit in the city’s Contemporary Art Museum. He was clueless! What project? he asked. I explained. And then I asked back. “Excuse me, how come you don’t know this? It is important you know…”

It was around this time of the year and Mrs Anna Vissi, the Greek-Cypriot singer representing Greece in the 2006 ESC was in the middle of a “promo tour,” traveling around capitals together with a numerous exotic and weird entourage of public servants and stylists in order to promote her “international career.” All expenses paid by the Greek public of course (tax payers’ money). For those who don’t know, 45 year-old Vissi is a local star of the music industry, adored by scores of fans, who is singing a mixture of a low quality oriental pop.

The Greek diplomat on the phone gave me an answer that shocked me. Not only was he unaware of an art project of Greek interest taking place in the capital of the country he was accredited, but went on as far as to excuse himself by saying that lately all embassy’s personnel is working hard for “tonight’s reception at the ambassador’s residence.” What reception? I asked naively. And then in the most natural way he explained that Mrs Vissi was in town and the ambassador was throwing a party as ordered by the special note that the Greek Foreign Ministry dispatched to all of Greece’s diplomatic missions in Europe.

Sounds irrational? Career diplomats, who have spent their best youth studying hard to be experts in their fields and defend their country’s interests, to give receptions for people like Vissi, Paparizou, Rouvas, Sarbel (all pop idols in Greece) and their colorful entourages. Does this make any sense? And all these for what?

Hellenic Broadcasting Service ERT TV, which runs the show claims that all participant countries do the same with their “promo tours.” This is a lie. How many Eurovision singers from any country have come to Greece as part of their “promo tour?” Just check ERT’s website and you’ll see. No more than five or six out of 42. And where are these from? Well from countries that Greece feels comfortable with: Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, etc. This is the league… Let’s face it… Greece belongs to this league. What a shame…

Read here an amusing
Survivor's guide for Eurovision TV viewers from


Blogger itelli said...

Whatever u do, please don't stop poking at us. That's how i perceive of ur posts. Even though I disagree slightly that the socio-cultural heritage DOES play a role, I don't say anything cos, on the other hand, I do agree that it is in our hands to find the balance between East (which now I'd say is the 'mental/attitude' bit) and West (the material bit).

I got it that u love the place, but if it is strange (foreign) to u, how do u manage going through all that cultural war?

7:10 PM, May 10, 2007  
Blogger Saile Sistigrev said...

Dear itelli.
I have a theory. We live in a matrix. Cervantes gave the idea in literature (inspired by Plato of course). He showed that the world we live in is probably not the real world but what others want us to perceive as such. In fact, what happenes does not really happen. And what we experience, it does not exist. We just think that this is real but the truth of the matter is, it is not. Why am i saying all this mambo jumbo?
Because, living in this country for a number of years I decided to protect myself. I said "no, this is not happening" and actually, it wasn't. I said "no, it's not that bad" and of course it was as good as honey. I have my beloved group of friends, very nice people that i know, my house that I enjoy, my piles of books that keep me going, my work that never bores me. I never watch the news on TV, rarely read papers. I never mess around with services and public sector (this is what banks, lawyers and accountants are for). So I have no real contact with what most people think that is "happening." Therefore nothing ugly happens to me in my microcosm. See? It's easy... At times, of course, I open my eyes and I see something that distorts the beautiful picture of the loveliest place in the world that i have in mind. Then I write about it. And it goes away. And then it's just me and My Greece again. The only place on earth that makes me feel at home. The Matrix is ugly and terrifying. Don't go there...

9:10 PM, May 10, 2007  
Blogger IdentityCafe said...

Awesome post.

I think greece needs more voices like yours, i m also fed up from this totally confused society with its priorities all mixed up and delusionally happy about it!

And you know, i think your voice is much more valid because i feel you write these things in pain...

As far as it concerns our public servants, it would astonish me if they knew anything about culture...

Waiting for your next post.

10:52 PM, May 10, 2007  
Blogger Saile Sistigrev said...

@ IdentityCafe
i think you overvalue me. i write because i want to live longer. it is very selfish indeed.
greeting to my good old toronto.

1:18 AM, May 11, 2007  
Blogger PinsKtros said...

Let me add here that when Paparizou won the contest, there were actually people driving around with Greek flags.... Also, let me add that a recent add in the Economist about Greece (paid for by us dumb Greeks), it compared Paparizou with Maria Callas. So, hail to the thiefs (of our history).

1:20 AM, May 16, 2007  

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