Thursday, 30 May 2013

Russia Accuses Azerbaijan Of Fraudulent Eurovision Vote

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by Mina Muradova (05/29/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

A diplomatic row has emerged between Russia and Azerbaijan over "stolen" points that Azerbaijan allegedly gave to its northern neighbor during the Eurovision song contest held in Malmo, Sweden, on May 18. This year, the talk of politicization of the annual competition of European pop music reached its peak. Turkey refused to participate in the contest by claiming that the latest rules in the voting system, the 50%-50% combination of jury voting and phone voting, are unfair and that the involvement of a jury would negatively affect Turkey’s points.

 

However, this year’s main scandal involved Azerbaijan and Russia. During the presentation of Azerbaijan’s votes, a Russian female anchor could not hide her amazement at the list of countries receiving points from Azerbaijan: “It is impossible, no point to Russia?! We should check it.” Later, some well-known Russian artists summing up the results said that Azerbaijan would regret this. Russia’s entry in this year’s Eurovision, “What If,” sung by Dina Garipova, came in fifth.

Azerbaijan came in second and received the most “12 points” this year, from ten countries including Russia. In addition, Azeri singer Farid Mammadov won an Artistic Award given to the best artist after a vote by Eurovision commentators. 
Immediately after the contest Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev ordered an investigation and the national broadcaster Ictimai revealed that viewers’ votes put Garipova in second place in Azerbaijan’s list in addition to the jury’s support. According to this data, Russia should have received 10 points from Azerbaijan. “We sincerely hope that this incident, possibly initiated by certain interest groups, will not cast a shadow over the brotherly relations of the Russian and Azerbaijani peoples,” said Camil Guliyev, Head of Ictimai TV.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slammed the “outrageous” incident at a press conference in Moscow with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov on May 21: “Russia became outraged over how Eurovision votes for its entrant disappeared during a voting process in Azerbaijan.” Yet, he noted that any deterioration in relations between the two countries is out of the question. “When 10 points are stolen from our participant, there is cause for concern,” Lavrov said, adding that “this outrageous action will not remain without a response.” He also stressed that he would decide on a proper course of action after receiving the results of an investigation into the matter.

Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Russia Polad Bulbuloglu noted that the incident is “either a technical failure or elementary provocation.” In an interview to Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, he noted that three of Azerbaijan’s mobile phone operators registered the Russian singer as receiving among the highest votes. Bulbuloglu said that all three operators opened their data under a court decision, showing that the companies Azercell, Bakcell and Narmobile respectively received 1,677, 380, and 112 votes for Garipova. “I am a creative person; I can tell you it cannot be possible that Azerbaijan gave no vote for the singer from Russia. We have common cultural roots. Many people in Azerbaijan were outraged,” Bulbuloglu told News.az. “I want to stress that every call is money. Why should one call cost nearly 1.5 dollars? Azerbaijan gave Dina more than 2,000 votes. Where are this money and these voices? Let the European Broadcasting Union respond!”

An executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Jon Ola Sand, ended all the discussions about the accuracy of the final result with an official statement published on eurovision.tv: “We believe that the Song Contest’s apolitical spirit is a cornerstone of its enduring success, and we will do all we can to protect it.” The combination of phone and jury votes actually did not result in a top 10 position for Russia in the overall result from Azerbaijan, he noted. “Therefore, Azerbaijan awarded Russia no points – a result confirmed by a notary onsite, by our voting partner Digame and by an independent observer from PwC. This now means that the Azeri Jury placed Russia so low down in their rankings that despite Russia being second in the televote they did not come overall in the Azeri Top 10.”

Despite the complaints, the extra 10 points that Russia may have lost would not have made a difference in the final results, as Russia finished 17 points behind Norway. Many Azerbaijanis, terming the investigation “ridiculous” and “silly,” preferred to calmly ignore it. “Why should they [the authorities] do this? It is just a song contest. We have to keep silent and not politicize the issue … It is a shame,” said 38-year-old Nigar Guliyeva.

Amid the scandal with Russia, the Azerbaijani public has generally ignored another brewing scandal – an online report from a Lithuanian news outlet report that Azerbaijan allegedly bought votes for Eurovision. The news agency said it had videotaped a meeting where two Russian-speaking men offered money to Lithuanians for their votes in favor of the Azerbaijan contestant. A group of students also claimed to have been approached by men who offered them €20 each to vote multiple times for a contestant. Those recruited were given SIM-cards to vote as many times as possible within 15 minutes. A supervisor was assigned to every group to check the results and give the payment.

Jon Ola Sand responded on this video that there is no proof that this took place, but the European Broadcasting Union says in a press release that they will investigate whether Azerbaijan really did buy votes from other participating countries. “EBU will look further into these specific allegations to see if there is substance to it and if any specific measures have to be taken in the future.”

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