Janet Rabin

Janet Rabin (Women in Black from Serbia): Janet’s love of Slavic and Balkan culture was sparked by a summer school Russian class that she took in elementary school. She received her undergraduate degree in International Relations and French at Mount Holyoke College. As a student she spent a month studying at the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan studies in Sarnath, India. After living and working for a year in Edmonton, Canada, Janet returned to her hometown of Tucson, AZ to work as Community Outreach Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee. Here she worked with refugees from Bosnia, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, and Iraq. At the time of her fellowship, Janet was a Master's student at Georgetown University concentrating in International Development. After her fellowship, Janet wrote: "This was my first time being part of an activist movement, and it was an invaluable opportunity to gain perspective on the nature and interaction of concepts I usually deal with in a much more abstract fashion.”

Eurovision in Belgrade: Camp and Contradiction

30 May

For those of you who have not heard of Eurovision, it is a phenomenon of pageantry and politics: started in 1955 by the European Broadcasting Union, member countries each submit one performer or group to represent them at the annual competition, which is watched by well over 100 million viewers worldwide. Long before there was American Idol, there was Eurovision. At first I was worried this topic would appear too trivial for a first blog post, but the frivolity of the campy songs and outfits is tempered by very real issues of cultural identity and nationalism. A Washington Post article on the significance of Eurovision that appeared the day after the contest confirmed my conclusion that the accessibility of the topic doesn’t make it any less newsworthy.

Belgrade is hosting Eurovision this year, and I arrived the night of the final competition. The contest is always held in the capital city of the country whose entry won the previous year – 2007’s winner was Serbian songbird Marija Serifovic, who performed a ballad called Molitva, or “Prayer.”
[youtube]0Sp9OOoxCJo[/youtube] Belgrade is not yet high on the list of European tourist destinations — a trip to a large bookstore in Washington, D.C. will yield shelves of travel books on Croatia, tons on Prague, even several on Slovenia; Serbia is lucky if it has one. The weekend of Eurovision, however, the capital was filled with an estimated 3,000 journalists and 15,000 visitors. Hotels were booked solid. So for a city which has more recently been in the news for hotly contested elections and riots protesting Kosovo’s declaration of independence, this would appear to be a public relations windfall. But…

Here’s where things become confusing, at least to an outside observer. As a representative of a cultural event that is pan-European in the most expansive sense (the competition includes countries without even a pretension to EU membership, such as Israel and Russia), Serifovic has been named a European Ambassador for intercultural dialogue by the European Commission.
However, during recent elections, she supported Tomislav Nikolic, whose RSS party is firmly opposed to EU membership. Read more about this here. Why would Serifovic choose to take on these two roles, which would appear to be mutually exclusive? I’ve heard some theories, and I’m reading more about it, but am not in any position to have a truly informed opinion yet.

I watched last Saturday’s competition on TV with a mixed group of Serbs and Americans. Many people liked the entry from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Laka, and thought the beautiful young girl representing Albania had a good voice. Croatia’s entry was deemed “classy.”

At the end of the night, however, Russia’s Dima Bilan was the winner, and there were comments by some that he only won because he got the votes of all the ex-Communist countries. Indeed, it turns out many neighboring countries – even ones which were in a state of war relatively recently – vote for each other (no country can vote for itself). Again, the theories on how and why this happens are varied: when the competition spans such a large variety of countries and cultures, does a sense of regional pride assert itself? Or do the immigrant populations (i.e. Russians in Ukraine voting for Russia, Serbs in Bosnia voting for Serbia) skew the numbers?


I don’t want to give too much weight to something intended purely for entertainment purposes (check out the winning entry above); however, as noted in the WaPo article, entire dissertations have been written on the political significance of Eurovision! It ended up being a fitting way to start off a summer which is already living up to its promise, both in terms of intensity and complexity…

Posted By Janet Rabin

Posted May 30th, 2008


  • Antigona

    June 3, 2008


    I enjoyed reading this post Janet. I didn’t realize how huge Eurovision was until I visited Kosovo in the summer of 2006. I saw everyone there glued to the TV screen. I also sat in disbelief among Brazilians, Albanians, Americans, and Germans when I learned that Finland won. Brace yourself, this was the band that represented them and won that year:


  • Uri

    June 10, 2008


    I remember sitting in a pub in London and watching Lordi win in ’06. That was glorious, but I had no idea the event had political significance. Anyhow, I’m glad to see your blog is up and running, and I hope all is well over there!

  • Margot

    June 11, 2008


    Isn’t it amazing how international politics manage to become intertwined with even the most (arguably) apolitically-intended things such as Eurovision?

  • Jeremy Tamanini

    June 24, 2008


    Ah, Eurovision. Yes, it is a huge deal in Azerbaijan as well where they placed 8th. And certainly a worthy first blog post! Hope all is well in Serbia – I enjoy your blog a lot. You are a great writer.

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