Lukas is standing on the street outside a bar. It’s a miserable night. Misty rain cloaks the city centre. If it wasn’t for this cigarette he’d be inside in the warm. He sees two men approach from across the road. Stocky, dressed in matching leather jackets with hair cut short in nondescript crew cuts, they look like bouncers, except meaner. Stern and businesslike, they don’t look in search of a good night out.
“Hey buddy, yes you. You want to make some money?”
Not sure what to say, Lukas manages a “Hmm?” as they approach nearer.
“Yes, easy money, you like it, yes?”
“I guess” he replies, wishing they’d go away, or at least not stand so close. He ends up backing against a wall. The man who is talking to Lukas looks a good ten years older than his companion. He has dark leathery skin; the sort that makes Lukas want to quit smoking.
“You like Eurovision? Of course you do.” Lukas doesn’t really like Eurovision but he daren’t say anything to that effect. What’s going on? Is this a gay thing? “They hold it in Sweden this year, Malmö,” the man continues, “I don’t know why they don’t pick big arenas in Stockholm. Make big show, right? I don’t understand. If stadium taken for football, build new one.” This seems to raise a smirk in his friend, but he then quickly returns to staring intently at Lukas’s face.
“Here,” the man reaches inside his jacket. Lukas’s heart skips a beat, but no weapon emerges from the old guy’s pocket. Instead it’s a picture. “This is Farid Mammadov. He very sexy boy, no? Farid does Capoeira. He kick very high.” His friend threatens to demonstrate, but is cut off when the old guy barks at him in some impenetrable language.
“Farid sings for Azerbaijan this year. We need you to help us vote for him. He sing very well. We don’t want him to get lost between Iceland and bastards from Greece, right? Look,” he reaches into his pocket again and emerges with another picture, “You like man in box?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Lukas replies perplexedly.
The other guy mumbles something in his own language. “My partner here says box represents Farid’s inner self which can only break free and prosper if given love of good woman. It is beautiful, is it not? Perspex, I think.”
Lukas finds himself agreeing about the box and about the voting. Before he knows it they’ve exchanged phone numbers and the men disappear into the mist. This will be the weirdest thing Lukas has ever done for money. And he’s done porn.
I can’t help but find something deeply comical about Azerbaijan’s antics. Eurovision is, at heart, a fun Saturday night entertainment show, albeit the best fun Saturday night entertainment show in the world. It seems ridiculous that any country would take it so seriously as to arrest its citizens for voting the wrong way, forcibly evict residents of its capital to make way for its hosting and pay thousands of American dollars to rig the phone vote in its favour. It seems Azerbaijan have done all three.
Perhaps the ridiculousness is part of how they get away with it. It’s easy for the EBU to become complacent about the potential for fraud in Eurovision. To be successful, a country would have to commit to vote-buying on a massive international scale. Who would bother? Now the complacency has to come to an end. The rumours that have attached themselves to Azerbaijan now have solid evidence to back them up. Some big action has to be taken.
There needs to be greater transparency in the voting. If one country gets an unbelievably massive share of a phone vote, it should be visible. There ought also to be a review into how jury members are selected and how to combat the potential to influence their votes.
Most importantly, some sanctions have to be implemented against Azerbaijan. They can’t be allowed to get away with a cursory slap on the wrist. A fine isn’t enough. A ban on participation, or a ban on hosting if they won, would be the only worthwhile punishments. It’s not just for the sake of justice and the integrity of the competition, it’s in the EBU’s own interest too. If left to their own devices, Azerbaijan will win again and, this time, everyone will know how they did it. It won’t make for an edifying spectacle when the winner takes their prize to a chorus of booing from the crowd.