By Bruce Edwards, Australia’s Chargé d’Affaires to Ukraine
The glitz and glitter that is Eurovision has now descended on Kyiv as Ukraine hosts the annual musical spectacle for a second time (the first in 2005 following Ruslana’s victory). The first blooms of glitter and sequins were spotted last week as performers, delegations and legions of committed fans arrived.
Australia’s own entrant, seventeen-year-old Isaiah Firebrace, from country New South Wales, has impressed many in Kyiv, with some raw talent and pure star quality on stage.
— Bruce Edwards (@AUinUA) May 7, 2017
As well-known celebrity (and one-half of the Australian commentary team, along with Joel Creasey) Myf Warhurst wrote recently:
“Eurovision is music’s Olympics, with all the glitter, props, multiple key changes and wind machines your heart could desire. Clearly, it’s my idea of heaven. It’s the event where everything you know and love about music is turned up to 11. What’s not to love?”
Kyiv has well and truly embraced the celebratory atmosphere, with the longest Eurovision red carpet ever, the famed Euroclub perched above the Dnipro River, and multiple fan zones. Among these is the Eurovision Village, which has taken over Kyiv’s main thoroughfare – Khreshchatyk Street – where military parades once trundled on May Day.
— SBS Eurovision (@SBSEurovision) May 8, 2017
— Bruce Edwards (@AUinUA) May 8, 2017
Symbolic perhaps, as the event will present the opportunity for Ukraine to present a liberal, European-oriented image to the world. At the same time as it is fighting a protracted conflict in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists and chipping away with hard-won reforms to root out corruption entrenched in past practices.
People ask from time to time – year after year in fact, typically as Eurovision kicks off – what has Eurovision got to do with Australia, and why are we competing? I like to tease my British colleagues by suggesting that we give native English-speaking countries the chance to back a decent entrant for a change. Although I’m quick to concede that the UK has been represented by decent singers from time to time, such as Australians Olivia Newton-John and Gina G.
Now of course, some Irish folk would take umbrage with that notion too. To which I note that the only singer to have won Eurovision twice (and again for a third time as a songwriter) was Australian-born Johnny Logan.
But (slightly) more seriously, Australians just love Eurovision. A lot. We have been holding parties, donning costumes and sequins, and singing along for decades.
We love the spectacle. We love the drama. We love the kitsch. And we love a good party.
SBS has been broadcasting Eurovision for over thirty years now, and it has been getting bigger and bigger every year. Over 3.2 million Australians watched Eurovision in 2016, as Dami Im placed second after impressing both judges and fans, just edged out by Ukraine’s contestant Jamala.
Australia’s rich migrant communities no doubt played a large role in cultivating our early love of Eurovision. As one of the most multicultural countries in the world, 46 per cent of Australians have at least one parent who was born overseas, over one-quarter of us were born overseas ourselves, and over two million of us were born in Europe. Our links are old, deep and abiding.
But apart from the shared heritage, we are like-minded in so many ways. We share similar values. And similar views. We share close historical, political, economic and cultural links. We work closely together with our key European allies in various international fora across the world. We are valued partners of the European Union, NATO and the OSCE.
The EU as a bloc is Australia’s largest two-way trade-in-services partner. EU direct investment in Australia is worth over $150 billion and employs nearly 400,000 Australians directly.
Our love for Eurovision is just one demonstration of the diversity in Australia. The slogan this year, ‘Celebrate Diversity’, so perfectly encompasses Eurovision and the mission of the contest from the outset in 1956: a cultural contest that brought together in celebration a diverse range of countries and performers. It seems to be just about the perfect slogan for every Eurovision.
Europe is facing a range of challenges right now, and Ukraine knows this better than most. Eurovision alone is not going to solve those, but at a time when people talk of building walls rather than bridges, Eurovision demonstrates the strength in diversity. Of coming together to work toward a common goal. Of celebrating our similarities and our differences; our shared values and special talents; with open arms, open minds and open hearts.
Mr Bruce Edwards is Australia’s Chargé d’Affaires to Ukraine and a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has previously served overseas as Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Beirut, and at the Australian Embassy in Kabul. He also served in Honiara with the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), and in previous roles with UNDP Solomon Islands and UNDP Vietnam. In Canberra, Mr Edwards has worked in a range of roles, including in the Consular Operations Branch, the Pacific Islands Branch, and the Media Liaison Section. Mr Edwards holds a Master of Journalism from the University of Queensland and a Master of Arts (Geography) from the University of Melbourne. He is married and has one child.
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Communications and Parliamentary Branch at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade