Some viewers of the Eurovision Song Contest are quick to jump on the idea of tactical or political voting. Particularly, as the United Kingdom has scored 26th place (last) in the Grand Final in the last two shows, people are quick to blame our poor placement on international relations, or Brexit. The Eurovision Song Contest is supposed to be a place where music comes first, so does political voting really happen?
An obvious example that springs to mind is the frequent exchange of 12 points between the Greek and Cypriot juries. Due to their strong relationship as countries, they seemingly always give each other points, and the last time that they gave each other less than 12 points was in 2015. This 12 point exchange of course happened once again in Eurovision 2021, from both the jury and televote, and was met with boos from the audience due to its blatantly political nature.
It’s not only Greece and Cyprus that seem to allow politics to influence their votes, though. Countries of the former Eastern Bloc often give each other high points. In this year’s show, Moldova received 12 points from both Russian and Bulgarian juries, which again was met with disappointment from the audience, because it was thought to be based on regional voting. Indeed, Moldova returned the favour, giving their 12 and 10 points to Bulgaria and Russia respectively. (Belarus would also be included in this regional group, however they were forced to withdraw from this year’s contest as their song was too political in nature; it was a clear message in favour of President Lukashenko, and against the protests related to his undemocratic re-election in 2020.)
As another former Soviet country, Ukraine is not privy to this regional voting, likely due to their poor political relationship with Russia. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, in 2014, their political relationship has clearly affected voting in Eurovision, and even goes beyond voting. In 2019, Ukraine had planned to enter the contest, and even held its national selection, but the winner, Maruv, felt that her participation would be so rooted in politics that she was uncomfortable taking part, and chose to decline, forcing Ukraine to withdraw. Additionally, Eurovision 2017 was hosted in Ukraine, and the selected Russian participant had been found to have entered Crimea illegally so was banned from entering Ukraine; Russia was forced to withdraw, and did not broadcast the contest.
Countries of the former Yugoslavia also seemed to have regional-based votes: Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania. The former four Yugoslavian countries often award each other high points, for example, Serbia gave North Macedonia 24 points (12 points from both the jury and televote) in 2019, and North Macedonia gave Serbia 24 points in 2021, with Croatia also awarding high points. However, Albania, much like Ukraine, seems to be an outsider to this bloc voting due to its relationship with Serbia. Surprisingly, the Albanian jury did award Serbia 1 point this year, however it is clear that poor Serbian-Albanian relations seem to exclude Albania from the Balkan voting bloc.
Armenia withdrew from Eurovision 2021, due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war, and it’s clear that this is not the only instance where Armenia’s extremely poor relations with Azerbaijan have affected Eurovision. After Azerbaijan won in 2011, Armenia withdrew from the contest in 2012 which was hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan. Additionally, voting records show that Azerbaijan has never awarded Armenia a point, from either the jury or televote, and since individual jury votes were released, most Azeri jurors have ranked Armenia last place of their respective year. The voting records are similar for Armenia awarding points (or lack thereof) to Azerbaijan, too.
While there are some obvious examples of political and regional voting in Eurovision, it’s not clear whether the United Kingdom falls victim to this. Although we are not part of any voting bloc, which frequently exchanges high points, we do not have such poor international relations with other European countries that they continuously, and deliberately, do not award us points.