The Department of Gender Studies 2015-2016 Public Lecture Series
Gender and geopolitics in the Eurovision Song Contest
By 2007, when Marija Šerifović was about to win the Eurovision Song Contest for Serbia with a performance widely interpreted as ‘lesbian’ or ‘queer’, the association between Eurovision and queer visibility was already strong enough that the writer Peter Rehberg could describe the contest as ‘a rare occasion for simultaneously celebrating both queerness and national identity’. The following years, as LGBT issues were being increasingly contested in world politics by states, international organisations and activist movements, would demonstrate that Eurovision had become a site around which understandings of LGBT politics and European/national belonging were publicly contested, as well as a ‘mega-event’ that formed part of the same circuits of representation, capital and expertise as the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, Eurovision both reflected and helped shape discourses about Europe’s symbolic boundaries, ‘eastern’ versus ‘western’ Europe and a ‘Europe/Russia divide’ – with LGBT equality being constructed through Eurovision as a key symbol of European modernity even before Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision victory in 2014 closely followed the controversies over Russian state homophobia during the Sochi Olympics. Yet could conclusions about Eurovision, gender and national identity based on an early 2000s ideal of European prosperity still hold after the global financial crisis and its impact on understandings of European unity? And what might have been erased or silenced in these new narratives of queer, national and European belonging?
Catherine Baker is Lecturer in 20th Century History at the University of Hull. She is a specialist in the cultural politics of popular music and international events and in the politics of representing the post-Yugoslav region. Her books include Sounds of the Borderland: Popular Music, War and Nationalism in Croatia since 1991 (2010), Interpreting the Peace: Peace Operations, Conflict and Language in Bosnia-Herzegovina (2013, with Michael Kelly) and The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s (2015). Her first article on the Eurovision Song Contest appeared in 2008 and she edited a special issue of Contemporary South-eastern Europe in 2015 on gender and geopolitics in Eurovision since the Cold War. She is currently researching the politics of Eurovision and transnational LGBT rights.