January 8, 2012
SIX years ago I made a radio programme for the BBC about the former Yugoslavia and the infamous Eurovision Song Contest. I noted two things. First, despite the devastating wars of the 1990s all the ex-Yugoslav constituent countries voted for one another. The second was that Kosovo, which had not yet declared independence, was not represented in the annual pan-European songfest.
Jan 8th 2012, by T.J. / The Economist
Choosing to capitalise on this Yugoslav solidarity, in 2006 the Bosnians chose as their candidate for the competition Hari Mata Hari, a well-known singer whose fame dated from the Yugoslav days. The gambit almost paid off: his haunting song “Lejla” came third. (It was written by Zeljko Joksimovic, who had represented Serbia & Montenegro in the contest in 2004 and is representing Serbia this year).
In the run-up to the contest Hari travelled across the former Yugoslavia giving concerts and interviews, and generally drumming up support for his bid. His near-victory, propelled by votes from Bosnia’s neighbours, was an early example of the so-called “Yugosphere” (which I first wrote about here).
As for the Kosovo Albanians, they are still excluded from the contest. After the war with Serbia in 1999, Kosovars who wanted a chance to enter had to compete for the nomination in Albania proper, hoping that their kinsmen would select them. For the radio programme I met Rona Nishliu and her friends in their girl band Flakareshat(pictured). “I said we will be the winners,” Ms Nishliu told me. “We will represent Albania.”
Off mic, however, the Kosovars grumbled that the Albanians would never select anyone from Kosovo to represent them. That was then. On December 29th the Albanians selected Ms Nishliu for this year’s contest, in Azerbaijan. (This is her entry.) Although in her heart Ms Nishliu may be representing Kosovo (which is still not a Eurovision member) rather than Albania, this may be an early example of the emergence of an “Albanosphere”.
Not only does Ms Nishliu have an impressive voice, she has an interesting story. (See aprofile of her I wrote for the European Stability Initiative in 2007.) She grew up in what is now Serb-controlled north Mitrovica in north Kosovo (which we have coveredextensively on Eastern Approaches). There is now some irony in the words of the Serbs who expelled Ms Nishliu and her family from their home during the NATO bombing of Serbia:
When the bombing started in 1999, on April 4, men with military uniform came into our home and threatened us and told us we had to leave. They beat my father in front of us; me, my mother, my brother, my aunt and grandmother. They said: “You can’t stay. You’ve got to go!” My grandmother said: “Where should we go?” They said: “Go to your country, go to Albania.” My grandmother said: “Kosova is our country. I was born here and have lived 65 years here.”
The many Europeans who regard the Eurovision Song Contest as a bit of a joke may not be aware that it is taken rather more seriously in pockets of the continent. Azerbaijan views this year’s show as an opportunity to burnish its rather tarnished image.
For Kosovars Ms Nishliu’s presence in Baku, on the same bill as Mr Joksimovic no less, will be seen as a great triumph, not least because Azerbaijan and Serbia are close allies. As I wrote here, the pair make common cause because, just as Serbia rejects Kosovo’s independence, Azerbaijan rejects that of Nagorno-Karabakh.