Eurocheaters?: Passions for song contest reveal “post-election” syndrome

The passions over Eurovision, an annual song contest held by public broadcasters in Europe, were flying high throughout last week as the discussion of the controversial outcome of a national selection stage appeared to eclipse even the debate on such vital issues for the country as the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.

Emma Bejanyan and Mihran Kirakosian (more known by the stage aliases of Emmy & Mihran) challenged the results of the contest announced by Armenian Public Television that gave victory to an obscure Russia-born Angelina Jolie look-alike songstress with a model’s looks and a Greek-sounding stage name. Emmy and Co. cried foul immediately after the results became known later on Sunday, February 12, and they effectively accused the organizers of blocking SMS votes that would be coming through in their favor.

A small but no-nonsense protest over the contest outcome was even staged by some fans near Liberty Square, the site that had become the main point of convergence for the opposition’s dissatisfaction with the presidential election outcome these days two years ago.

The Public Television defended its integrity and denied accusations that the outcome was a foregone conclusion given the support that Eva Rivas enjoyed from her powerful Russian Diaspora-linked production team.

At the initial stage of the strife Emmy & Mihran challenged only the outcome of the SMS vote in which they came third after Rivas and Razmik Amyan (the panel of judges that had a 50 percent say in the contest outcome, meanwhile, gave Emmy & Mihran the top spot).

Emmy’s mother and producer Nadezhda Sargsyan would thunder: 1,400 or so text messages are a tenth of the number of fans that the Emmy fan club embraces, each of whom would have sent at least three text messages. Let alone the fans of Mihran, a US-based dancer-turned-singer who used to dance with several world celebrities...

Later, Emmy and Mihran made a sensational statement (RFE/RL’s Armenian Service Maxliberty program, February 18) saying that the Public Television had made a promise that they would go to Oslo, Norway, for the Eurovision Finals in May. The Public TV, they asserted, had promised to stage no contest to pick a participant, but only a contest to pick a song. And Mihran further alleged that even after he learned that there would be a contest for the participant he contacted the Public TV and got assurances that Emmy and he were “99 percent favorites” to go to Oslo and only needed to take part in the show. “I’ve been cheated,” said Mihran.

And Emmy, who had unsuccessfully contested an Armenia Eurovision Finals spot in the past, told Radio Liberty’s youth program that “she had developed an immunity” against such treatment from the Public Television. Meanwhile, the Public TV has denied these accusations.

Armenia’s public broadcaster is known to have the prerogative in picking the participant. It may choose to do so either through a contest or direct selection by other criteria, such as the Best Singer of the Year’s title, etc.

Emmy’s mother Nadezhda Sargsyan would not conceal her dissatisfaction in media interviews: “They should have told us that they had already chosen the participant and only needed a show as it was in the past.” She implied that would have been a fairer approach.

What’s shocking about these whole revelations made by the Emmy camp is that the names of national selection finalists had been predetermined on all four previous occasions. On two of them Armenians had been told that their SMS votes counted in selecting the national finalist in a live show broadcast on Public TV, while as a matter of fact that wasn’t so.

And if this speculation is true – and nobody appears to be denying it – then it turns out that this year’s selection is not “the first-time cheat” in this contest and Emmy and Co. have little reason to be fuming over it. By raising this, do they mean that people were sending text messages (and paying to their mobile phone operator) in 2007 and 2009 for no reason? And did Emmy herself know that Hayko would be preferred over her when she challenged Armenia’s deserved artist in 2007? (An SMS option then was used during semifinals, while the final selection was made by the jury.)

There appear to be more questions than answers after this year’s national selection for Eurovision-2010, just like questions always remain after elections of political leaders in Armenia. The best way for Eva Rivas and her team to prove all this talk wrong is by winning the contest in Oslo in May. Winning without the perception of fraud should be an option for Armenian politicians, too.