Apricots and Hora dances: Connecting countries through the Eurovision Song Contest
May 27, 2024

Apricots and Hora dances: Connecting countries through the Eurovision Song Contest

Photo credit: Jens Büttner/dpa

Every year, millions of Europeans gather in front of their TVs for one of the biggest entertainment shows of the year: the Eurovision Song Contest. The contest has always been an inspiration for countless viral videos and fragments, and has often been smiled at as a cliché, but have you ever wondered about the deeper meaning and values behind the glitter and the colourful dresses?

To most Europeans, the concept of the Eurovision Song Contest will be familiar: during an annual competition, countries from Europe (and beyond) compete with original songs, and the winning country receives the honour of hosting next year’s contest. The first edition of the contest was held in 1956, and while in the first decades the field of competitors consisted of mainly western European countries, most countries from the former Eastern European bloc have joined the competition since 1993, shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Eurovision Song Contest is therefore considered as a mirror of Europe’s history, and is seen as one of the most important pan-European events that promotes European unity and identity.

For many nations, the show is a unique opportunity to showcase their national culture to an international audience. However, this often comes with a dilemma: on one hand, countries have the chance to represent their national language and music. On the other hand, however, countries can present themselves as modern and international, by singing in English and entering the contest with a song in a mainstream genre. This dilemma can be described as an example of nation-branding, which is the way in which a certain nations want to present themselves to a wider audience. The concept of nation-branding is strongly related to national identity, and is particularly important to the former Soviet republics, which have all been independent since 1991, but whose national identity is still rarely known abroad. 

One way in which national identity can be expressed, is through the use of language. Although countries initially had to perform in their native language, this language rule was abandoned in 1999. The number of native-language songs initially decreased, but has made a comeback in recent years. While it was first seen as essential to sing in English, in recent years not only singing in your native language, but showing ethnic culture have become more important again. This trend has also been visible among the EaP countries: Armenia sent native language entries in 2018 and 2024, and Azerbaijan sent a native song for the first time in 2024 as well.

Afbeelding met tekst, Perceel, lijn, diagram  Automatisch gegenereerde beschrijving

The percentage of entries that were (partly) sung in a native language between 2008 and 2024. The graphic starts in 2008, which is the first year in which all EaP countries competed, and excludes entries that were sung in a non-native language other than English.

Another way for nations to  showcase their identity is through the use of national elements. An example of this is Armenia’s entry from 2010. The song, Apricot Stone, uses the apricot as a main motif, a fruit that is often referred to as the national fruit of Armenia. In addition, the song includes traditional instruments. However, it is sung in English, which is a chance to convey the message of the song abroad. A similar trend can be seen in Jamala’s 1944, which tells about the deportation of Crimean Tatars during the Second World War, and thereby tells Europe about an important era Ukraine’s history, even linking it to recent events. The song won the contest for Ukraine in 2016, and while the chorus of the song is sung in Crimean Tatar, the verses are sung in English. 

Other songs focused more on connections with other European nations, such as Moldova’s 2022 entry Trenulețul. Here, the band Zdob și Zdub sings about the recently reopened train between Bucharest and Chişinǎu, and they refer to the similarities between the two countries. A song that built connections more subconsciously was Nelly Ciobanu’s 2009 entry Hora din Moldova. This song refers to the hora, which is a dance that is mostly popular in Moldova and Romania, but also common in other Balkan countries. Therefore, the entry did not only focus on national identity, but on the European aspect as well.

The Eurovision Song Contest is thus not only an annual entertainment show, but is about identity, culture, diversity and similarities. What happens during that one Saturday evening a year can be analysed in detail to find a deeper meaning of European identity. Similar to the Young European Ambassadors Programme, it functions as a way to connect different cultures and people through music and performance, and shows us a future vision of a more connected Europe.

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