Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Georgia to host rival contest after Eurovision ban on Putin song

Banned from the Eurovision Song Contest for an anthem that mocked Russia's Prime Minister, the Georgians have hit back by organising a song festival of their own.

The organisers of Alter/Vision have invited pop groups from all over Europe to participate in their rival event, which will take place at the same time as the Eurovision final in Moscow on May 16. It is an impertinent response to the ruling that the original Eurovision entry, a disco song performed by Stephane and 3G entitled We Don't Wanna Put In - a play on the name of Vladimir Putin - was too political.

The entry was seen as a protest over the war in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia last August. The European Broadcasting Union banned the song after deciding that it broke competition rules against political statements.

Georgian Public Television, which held the national contest, was asked to revise the lyrics or submit an alternative. Instead, it withdrew from Eurovision, complaining that organisers had bowed to "unacceptable" pressure from Russia, which is hosting the contest for the first time.
The Georgian Ministry of Culture is backing the alternative festival, to be held in the capital, Tbilisi, from May 15-17. Organisers said that it would feature 20 acts from nine countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Russia, but that there would be no voting to choose a winner.

"It's our moral support to the people who were supposed to sing at Eurovision but won't be there," a spokesman, Irakli Matkava, said. "We want to express true European values of freedom and fun. Eurovision is about bureaucratic control and censorship. It's more about a country's prestige than music."

The Russian hosts of this year's 54th Eurovision final are unlikely to lose sleep over this display of rivalry from Tbilisi. They would have been far more worried about the prospect of Mr Putin, who is not known for laughing off criticism, being mocked on live television in front of 100 million viewers across Europe.

Even so, Russia's own entry has been mired in controversy after a Ukrainian singer was chosen to represent the country soon after the "gas war" between the two former Soviet neighbours. Anastasia Prikhodko had already been rejected in Ukraine and her victory in Moscow sparked allegations of vote rigging from a losing finalist.

Contestants have begun to arrive in Moscow for rehearsals at the giant Olympiyski Arena before two semi-finals on May 12 and 14 to whittle down the 42 participating nations to 25 for the final.
Dmitri Shepelev, a journalist with the state-controlled Channel One television, will be the host. "The only thing I don't want is political questions. I'd like this contest to be focused on unity," he said yesterday.


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