Tag Archives: Azerbaijan

A happy ending for Eurovision?

by Rhodri C. Williams

I promise that this will be my last ever word on the Eurovision song contest. There are any number of good reasons for me to move on, not least the fact that Eurovision seems to move me to rant, which is honestly not my strongest genre. However, the best possible reason was handed to me on a plate by fresh-faced Emmelie de Forrest, who took all the honors and moved them conveniently from one peaceful Nordic democracy to another one a forty minute commute away.

And there were moments, as Azerbaijan nudged within a few ‘dix points’ of Emmelie’s comely heels, where I saw an alternative, dystopic future – a future in which I would once again be compelled to wander the darkened streets of the blogosphere, bitterly denouncing the capricious demolitions of homes in Baku, casting aspersions upon the political naifs of the European Broadcasting Union, and railing against the hypocrisy of ostensible guardians of democracy such as the Council of Europe, long since tamed by a steady diet of inflated per diems and caviar. Thank you, Emmelie, for sparing us all that.

But before I bow out of the debate about Eurovision and human rights fully, a few observations. First, despite the welcome contrast between Azerbaijan’s structural aversion to human rights (universality notwithstanding, how is one honestly to go about applying them in a dynastic autocracy fueled by oil patronage?) and Sweden’s imperfect but earnest efforts, the human rights did emerge once again as a background issue in this year’s contest.

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Breaking news – Dissident arrests, police abuse and mass evictions in downtown Malmö by Swedish Eurovision hosts

by Rhodri C. Williams

Okay, that was the first completely bogus headline I have ever run in TN. But I bet it got your attention. You were probably skeptical, and rightly so, about connecting the phrases ‘dissident arrests’ and ‘mass evictions’ with adjectives like, well, ‘Swedish’. Unthinkable, right? However, if ‘Eurovision’ seemed similarly ill-placed in such unseemly company, that’s where things get interesting.

In fact, it was only last year that Europe’s annual fiesta of pop-culture self-congratulation was hosted by Azerbaijan, a dynastically ruled pseudo-democracy where strategic location, deep oil reserves and self-interested support for the ‘global war on terror’ have bought the regime a near complete pass on human rights observance. Sound like Gaddafi’s Libya in late 2010? Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong there.

A key difference, one might argue, was that Gaddafi’s Libya was not eligible to join prestigious European regional organizations like the Council of Europe, which are meant to ensure mutual respect for human rights standards among their members. However, the performance of the Aliyev regime in Baku appears to indicate that Mr. Gaddafi’s problem was largely geographical.

In fact, last year’s Eurovision contest went boldly forward where no autocracy had gone before, bulldozing a shrill chorus of human rights criticism with Wagnerian pyrotechnics even as entire neighborhoods were razed to improve the view from an arena built with purloined money, protesters were roughed up by police and dumped at the edge of town, and political prisoners continued to rot in jail, unenlightened by Azerbaijan’s spectacular entrance into Europe’s vacuous pop culture scene.

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Can you be internally displaced for twenty years? Housing issues and protracted displacement in Azerbaijan

by Yuliya Aliyeva

Yuliya Aliyeva is a Senior Program Manager at the Caucasus Research Resource Center, Azerbaijan. This blog post is based in part on the publication she co-authored last year for the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, “‘Can you be an IDP for Twenty Years?’ A Comparative Field Study on the Protection Needs and Attitudes towards Displacement among IDPs and Host Communities in Azerbaijan”.  The report co-author, Tabib Huseynov, is the Caucasus Program Manager for Saferworld.

The ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia over Azerbaijan’s predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh produced one of the largest flows of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) seen during the deterioration process of the former Soviet Union. Today, some 595,000 people—or seven percent of the total population—remain internally displaced in Azerbaijan.[1] While the two states continue their posturing about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens await durable solutions to their displacement and continue to face major housing and property concerns in particular.

The conflict started in 1988 as Armenians demanded incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, leaving a huge power vacuum behind, inter-communal clashes escalated into a full-scale undeclared war between newly independent Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result of the fighting, which left some 25,000-30,000 people dead on both sides, Armenian forces gained control over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that together make up 13.6 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. A cease-fire was signed in 1994, which has largely held until today, although the parties have been unable to resolve the political dispute regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

As IDPs fled the conflict areas, they were temporarily settled throughout Azerbaijan. Some of them settled in administrative buildings, schools, unfinished buildings, dormitories and sanatoriums. Others were placed in IDP camps, railway cars, dugout shelters and other sub-standard emergency shelters in rural areas. The housing conditions for some IDPs have improved over time and are now similar to those enjoyed by the general Azerbaijani population. However, for the majority of IDPs, proper housing is still only a dream.

Today, according to official statistics, 86 percent of IDPs in Azerbaijan live in urban areas (mainly in Baku and Sumgait).[2] According to a recent World Bank study, 42.5 percent of IDPs live in one-room accommodations, compared to only 9.1 percent of non-IDPs.[3] As a result, IDP families have an average of 36 square meters of living space compared to 74 square meters for non-IDP families.[4] That being said, there is some diversity among IDP populations and their housing situations. Overall, the IDPs can be divided into four categories based on housing conditions.

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YouTube human rights channel, Cambodia and an upcoming guest posting by Natalie Bugalski

by Rhodri C. Williams

A bit of a Monday morning mashup today. First, I wanted to get the word out generally about the fact that YouTube has now teamed up with  WITNESS, an organization that has pioneered in the use of video for human rights, and Storyful, a social newsgathering operation, to provide a new human rights channel. According to the announcement run on the YouTube blog, the channel will add value to the raw footage uploaded to the website every day:

The channel, which will also feature content from a slate of human rights organizations already sharing their work on YouTube, aims to shed light on and contextualize under-reported stories, to record otherwise undocumented abuses, and to amplify previously unheard voices. …. Storyful will source and verify the videos, and WITNESS will ensure the channel features a balanced breadth of issues with the context viewers need to understand the rights issue involved.

This is clearly a valuable service from an advocacy perspective. The rush of compelling footage coming out of places like Syria has grabbed the attention of people everywhere and Kony2012 has controversially but undoubtedly shown the power of net-based media to reach out to non-traditional audiences with a human rights message. Hopefully a systematic effort to sort and contextualize raw footage will have a stabilizing effect, allowing video to continue conveying the urgency of human rights crises, but in a manner that allows people to educate themselves rather than simply be shocked. Whether this service can also allow such amateur evidence-gathering to be given a more prominent role in international criminal proceedings will be an interesting question to watch.

As witnessed in recent writings in this blog on both Azerbaijan and Cambodia, forced evictions and use of force against those protesting them have, among other things, made for some eye-grabbing visuals. The new YouTube channel has not failed to miss this, and one of the early ‘in-depth’ topics listed is ‘Cambodia deadly land clashes‘. TN readers with mobile phone cameras who find themselves at the front lines of the tenure security struggle should take note.

Keeping with Cambodia, I also wanted to follow on to last week’s guest-posting by Natalie Bugalski and David Pred on the ‘Boeung Kak Lake 15′ protesters and my subsequent report on the campaign for their release. This week, I wanted to belatedly announce Natalie’s publication of a Discussion Paper on a human rights approach to the development of Cambodia’s land sector. Natalie will also be guest-writing on TN again shortly in order to describe the World Bank’s forthcoming review of its safeguard policies, with a particular look at the involuntary resettlement policy (note that this topic is the focus of a campaign to be pursued by David and Natalie’s newly-founded, Cambodia-based human rights organization Inclusive Development International).

Europe, stop voting now! (The Eurovision contest returns to a democracy)

by Rhodri C. Williams

“Europe stop voting now!” shouted the well-scrubbed hosts of the Baku 2012 Eurovision finals last night after a dizzying round of 26 acts featuring babushkas, boats, bread ovens and backflips. And with that, the first truly free and fair exercise of democracy on Azerbaijani soil was completed. Too bad it was not a real election, but the results for Azerbaijan’s politics remain somewhat unpredictable.

The worst case scenario will be a return to repression as usual, but with the additional alibi of having ascended to the ranks of Eurovision-hosting countries. The rest of Europe, in other words, is free to resume voting periodically in meaningful elections, while Baku will continue to exercise its own discretion in the matter. On the other hand, the fact that the honors fell in this case to Sweden’s Loreen may help to ensure that the contest does not simply move on, allowing a free hand to the Azerbaijani authorities to crack down in its wake.

The Swedes are one of the few countries in ‘old Europe’ to still take the contest seriously; this is their fifth win, placing them second behind Ireland in overall trophies. When we opened the window at midnight yesterday, the air veritably shook with lusty Viking voices “going up-up-up-up-up”. The Swedes also have a sense of fair play and a streak of impatience with countries that fail to live up to Nordic standards of democracy and rule of law, particularly where they are forced to cohabit the same European institutional spaces with them. Local reactions to the skeletons in Baku’s human rights closet were late in coming but strong. Last Thursday, for instance, the foreign policy spokesman of one of Sweden’s ruling coalition parties called for EU sanctions against Azerbaijan of a similar nature to those applied against other post-Soviet failed democracies like Belarus.

However, the latter piece raised at least two Swedish negative points on this issue. First the author explicitly noted that cooperation between an affiliate of Swedish telecoms giant Telia-Sonera and the regime in Baku is likely to make it easier for the latter to track down dissidents. Second, and implicitly, the relatively low level authorship of the piece emphasized the near-silence on this topic from the actual Foreign Minister, the ordinarily loquacious Carl Bildt, who could only be troubled to give recent mention to Eurovision 2012 as something of a distraction from regional security issues in his prolific blog (though he had expressed hopes the contest would improve the country’s human rights record a year ago – while at the same time praising Telia-Sonera’s investments there).

Nevertheless, on Friday night, the Swedish public television’s evening news was refreshingly well-informed about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan – and even stumbled onto a demo where grim-faced plain-clothed heavies didn’t let the rolling cameras crimp their style as they hustled protesters into waiting minivans (see minute 43 and onward of the broadcast). The Swedish reporter also took the time to visit a squalid home for IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh (she swoons visibly while pronouncing “27 families to a single toilet”) just minutes away from the ‘crystal hall’ built for the contest, as she notes, by the President’s own shell company. She also reports on disappointment in Baku over the passive approach of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and risks to activists (who have been ostentatiously filmed by the police) once the contest is over.

The segment ends with the former Swedish ambassador to Azerbaijan, Hans Gunnar Aden, who gives a candid take on the caviar diplomacy recently described by the European Stability Initiative (ESI), stating that the country is sliding toward dictatorship while demonstrating a marked ability to “deceive – or bribe” Western observers such as those in the Council of Europe. In other words, awareness of Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record and its successful campaign of obscuring these abuses in order to retain membership in prestigious European institutions has sunk in here in Sweden. Of perhaps the most practical use to Azerbaijan’s dangerously exposed democracy activists is the fact that the new Queen of Eurovision, Loreen, took the trouble to meet them personally and will no doubt remain interested in their fate. As reported by the BBC last week:

The Swedish singer Loreen, one of the favourites to win this year’s Eurovision, has already had a meeting with local human rights activists, much to the annoyance of the Azeri authorities.

The return of Eurovision to a country that consciously seeks to live up to European standards on human rights and democracy rather than to undermine them will make for a refreshing change. However, last night’s jamboree in Baku has both helped to legitimize an undemocratic European regime and to tarnish the reputations of both the Council of Europe and the European Broadcasting Union. Having won the battle for Eurovision last night, Sweden must now consider how it can contribute to winning the war for the assertion of core European values in countries that aspire to European membership.

Few signs of Spring in Baku (and less in Strasbourg) in the leadup to a tainted Eurovision final

by Rhodri C. Williams

As much as I am a big believer in maintaining a healthy firewall between work and life, the human rights branch can sorely test one’s ability to compartmentalize. As a result, I face a dilemma next Saturday. On one hand, my kids are now old enough to genuinely share in my (not unlimited) fascination with the annual sanitized bacchanalia that is Eurovision. So my private-me would love to break out the popcorn, pile onto the couch with the family and squirm through this year’s crop of ethno-retro-monstro-disco with an untroubled conscience.

Inconveniently, however, my public-me has long since foreclosed this option. Unlike earlier contests, this year’s final in Azerbaijan is tainted not only by the unapologetic disdain for human rights and democracy displayed by its hosts, but also by the self-defeating failure of the European institutions responsible for safeguarding these values to attach even the frailest of strings to the massive PR coup of holding the contest. Free but unwilling to lob criticism from the safety of Brussels, Strasbourg (home to the Council of Europe or CoE, to which Azerbaijan has made binding human rights commitments) and Geneva (in the case of the European Broadcasting Union or EBU, which sponsors the event), these organizations have displayed nothing like the courage of ordinary Azerbaijani activists and journalists who face blackmail, police beatings and hard time for expressing dissent.

In an age in which European leaders are all too willing to disown previously indispensable autocracies in the Middle East, how to explain this blindness to their own backyard? Will presumptive president-for-life Ilham Alijev become for the Council of Europe and the EBU what Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi ended up being for the LSE? And what legitimate claim will the rhetoric of ‘European values’ have on the loyalties of ordinary Azerbaijanis when and if the substance of those values actually prevail? These questions have been raised in a very pointed and concrete manner during recent weeks by a number of international and local organizations.

Beginning with the international advocates, my former Bosnia colleagues at the European Stability Initiative (ESI) today released a blockbuster report on the systematic campaign of ‘caviar diplomacy’ designed to win and retain “the stamp of legitimacy conferred by Council of Europe membership”. The ESI alleges that by offering annual gifts of caviar and flash trips to Baku, the Aliyev regime secured the loyalty of key members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (composed of national parliamentarians from CoE member states), as well as the organization’s secretariat. In return, Baku received “ever more anodyne, even complimentary” reports on its blatantly rigged elections and deteriorating human rights record.

In the words of ESI, the Aliyev regime succeeded in only five years in neutering Europe’s oldest human rights organization:

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Warming up for Eurovision in Baku

Herewith, a belated update to my earlier pieces (1) noting the campaign of forced evictions in Baku in aid of the last minute construction of a venue for the forthcoming Eurovision finals, (2) pondering the extent to which the European Broadcasting Union may wish to reconsider its essentially passive response to these acts, and (3) speculating on how much of the rest of Azerbaijan’s current rash of human rights violations may also be related to the music contest.

More recently, I stumbled across Human Rights Watch’s revelation of how the local press is likely to fare when they are so indelicate to cover such abuses in neighborhoods where they live, whilst wearing clothing clearly indicating they are journalists:

Approximately 20 policemen and SOCAR security guards attacked (journalist Idrak) Abbasov, beating him with fists and kicking him until he lost consciousness. Abbasov was taken unconscious to the Baku Hospital No.1, with multiple bruises and hematomas and blood all over his face.

 Light your fire, indeed.
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Musicians abused in Eurovision host-city

For most of us, the word ‘torture’ has been associated with the Eurovision song contest only in a figurative sense. The relationship may now be more concrete for activist musicians in Azerbaijan who are currently being held in incommunicado detention … Continue reading

Eurovision in Baku: Should the European Broadcasting Union care about human rights?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Last week, TN reported on a wave of forced evictions of Baku residents unfortunate enough to live in the path of a grandiose development scheme meant to beautify the Azerbaijani capital for its hosting of the Eurovision song contest next May. Quite coincidentally, TN also carried an update on the progress of voluntary guidelines meant to ensure that respect for human rights standards was ingrained into the practices of even private, non-political actors. A closer look at the situation in Baku indicates that the latter story might perhaps make salutary reading for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the ‘non-political’ Eurovision contest.

The latest twist in the EBU’s clammy relationship with its current interlocutors in Baku comes from a recent Guardian article that begins with an airing of the debate on the merits of a boycott of this year’s Eurovision contest. The piece quotes Emin Milli, a blogger beaten and jailed in 2009 over critical YouTube videos, on the importance of the event as a chance to focus the international spotlight on Azerbaijan and its poor record in human rights and democracy. However, this courageous assertion is followed by the EBU’s rather less obviously noble views on the issue of boycott:

Azerbaijan, which won the right to host Eurovision after winning the contest in 2011, has given the organisers, the European Broadcasting Union, a guarantee that foreign delegates will be secure and free from any censorship during their stay.

“We would be very disappointed to have any boycotting,” said an EBU spokesman on Saturday. “We believe strongly that Eurovision is not political. In real life, politics do come up at Eurovision. There was some talk of boycotting England in the 1970s over what was happening in Northern Ireland. But Eurovision can act as an agent of change. It is an event to unite countries and communities and bring understanding. It’s important to know that Azerbaijan’s prime minister has given a guarantee of press freedom during the contest, although we cannot ask for a guarantee for the next 10 years also.”

“It is an astonishing guarantee to have to give,” said Milli. “What does it say about Azerbaijan for the rest of the time?”

This is indeed a fascinating wrinkle. First and most obviously, of course, with regard to the Azerbaijani government, which, as Milli notes, has just conceded that it is not prepared to guarantee media freedom or refrain from censorship at any time other than during the scattering of days when the Eurovision contest is in full swing. How, one wonders, does this apparent policy of default media un-freedom comport with Azerbaijan’s longstanding human rights commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to numerous UN rights treaties?

However, even more interesting is what this quote implies about the EBU’s role in affirming (or ignoring) respect for human rights. In the long quote above, the EBU spokesperson begins by denying that the song contest is political, then goes on to defend it as a means of bringing about positive political change, and then brandishes a one-week suspension of Azerbaijan’s media clampdown as an example of such positive change. Should we be impressed?

First, one might take a substantive rights approach. Is a temporary suspension of human rights violations involving censorship sufficient? The US Department of State human rights report indicates a number of other systemic issues in Azerbaijan as recently as 2010. Perhaps EBU might have flexed its muscles a bit. How about extending the one week suspension to cover torture and killing in official custody, for instance? Arbitrary arrest and detention of political activists? Restrictions on political participation and religious freedom? TN readers might suggested forced evictions as well, of course … ?

The absurdity of the situation quickly becomes evident. What would a ban on police torture be worth if it ended as soon as the disco balls came down? Is a temporary ban on media repression worth more? However, at a deeper level, the absurdity of the situation reflects a lack of engagement with what human rights actually mean. Azerbaijan has already committed itself to European institutions and its fellow UN member-states to suspend all such violations for all time. It has acceded to or ratified numerous human rights conventions and is, by all accounts, manifestly failing to comply with these commitments.

In this context, the EBU misunderstands both its role and its power. Its job is not to induce promises of good behavior from Baku. That has already been done and in a legally binding manner. The EBU is no more required to act as a judge of Baku’s compliance. Human rights NGOs, UN treaty-bodies and mechanisms and the European Court of Human Rights have done all the heavy lifting there. But in the face of such overwhelming evidence of skeletons in the closet of the next Eurovision host, the EBU should have anticipated that its ostensibly non-political role would be politicized - both by a regime craving international prestige as a substitute for clear democratic legitimacy and a population craving political rights.

As Europe expands eastward, it bears both carrots and sticks. The Eurovision contest, however silly it might appear to jaded western Europeans, is still seen as a juicy carrot in some quarters. While its administrators are not required to take over the role of wielding the stick of human rights, they should be aware that failure to ensure a minimum degree of coordination and policy coherence between these two approaches will undermine both. This is particularly evident where, as in the case of Baku’s recent evictions, violations of European human rights standards are undertaken in direct connection with hosting the Eurovision contest.

It is high time for the EBU to go beyond the mantra of being non-political and explore how it can complement, rather than contradict, the effort to build a democratic Europe founded on respect for human rights.

Euroviction: Azerbaijan demolishes homes for a song (contest)

by Rhodri C. Williams

Hat-tip to TN guest-author Anneke Smit for pointing out Azerbaijan’s most recent contributions to the busy field of forced evictions. (And apologies to ToL for partially appropriating their pun. I only realized later – proof, one hopes, that great minds do think alike…)

In many respects, recent rounds of ‘urban renewal’ in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku have followed an all too familiar forced evictions playbook. For instance, according to a February report by Human Rights Watch, the authorities in the oil-flush country have violated their own laws and constitution as well as their international obligations through a well-known litany of omissions including failure to provide notice of evictions, no meaningful consultation or recourse, no protection of residents’ health or safety and inadequate compensation and resettlement assistance.

Moreover, in a manner befitting one of the remaining outposts of the former Soviet Union that has made few concessions to even managed democracy (and may not need to as long as the petrodollars keep flowing), the Azerbaijani authorities also appear to have carried off the evictions with a certain panache. For instance, Zulfali Ismayilov, the senior municipal official in charge, described displaced residents as “greedy” in a press conference covered by ToL, and then went on to make one of those off-the-cuff statements that speak more loudly than volumes of best-practice guidelines and workshop conclusions:

Ismayilov would not answer any additional questions from a reporter. But when a member of one of the last families in the building said she would immolate herself if police came to forcibly remove her, Ismayilov offered to help her do so.

Such an offer can only with some difficulty be reconciled with the embrace of human rights values professed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. In fact, the gap between the MFA’s windy declaration of Azerbaijan’s official aspirations and Mr. Ismayilov’s terse expression of its actual governance approach is precisely what makes these evictions shocking. In a country with current membership in the Council of Europe and long-term aspirations to European integration, forced evictions are clearly counterproductive as well as wrong.

However, the irony of Baku’s most recent demolitions is that they have been undertaken for the express purpose of beautifying the site of next May’s Eurovision song contest, an annual event dedicated to promoting “the cultural union of Europe”. In explaining the historical paths along which Azerbaijan has converged with Europe and its annual glam pop extravaganza, the official Eurovision website highlights both Azerbaijan’s own painful experience of conflict-based internal displacement and its aspirations to democratic rule of law:

In spite of the sad results of Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan (Armenia occupied the territory of Nagorny Karabakh and 7 neighboring districts. One million out of total population of eight million are refugees), our country mobilized its potential and had great successes in building democracy. Azerbaijan manages to successfully overcome the difficulties and continues making important and firm steps towards the establishment of a democratic and lawful country with civil society.

While it is true that Azerbaijan has struggled to cope with the effects of conflict and internal displacement, the current imbroglio over the Eurovision contest demonstrates a failure to learn from these experiences. As reported recently by the Brookings Institution, for instance, the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities initially allocated private homes to internally displaced persons on an ad hoc basis and then failed to build alternative housing that would allow the quick return of the occupied properties to their owners led to findings of violations by the European Court of Human Rights. In a country virtually sloshing with oil revenues, such an eventuality was not only unfortunate but also unnecessary.

Similarly, the current botched and abusive nature of the evictions of residents of the nascent Eurovision zone appears to result almost entirely from poor planning and disdain for legal niceties. On one hand, Human Rights Watch notes (Section II) that respect for the procedural requirements for resettlement under Azerbaijani law was nearly impossible in light of the narrow window between the country’s victory in last May’s contest and its hosting of the 2012 contest in two months. However, this would seem to be a rationale for at least minimizing the scope of resettlement necessary, e.g. by refraining from demolishing a nine-story building housing 72 families simply because it “blocks the view from the Crystal Hall.” Moreover, while Azerbaijan may not have had time, it certainly has money, suggesting that any deficit behind the failure to pay adequate compensation to victims (HRW, Section V) may have been of a democratic rather than a fiscal nature.

It is undoubtedly difficult to keep politics out of Europe’s premier kitsch culture event. In the case of Azerbaijan, this is most clearly indicated by the tersely worded notifications on both Azerbaijan and Armenia’s official Eurovision sites that the latter has sent its regrets and will not be attending. While the failure of the authorities in these neighboring countries to resolve their territorial conflict is unfortunate, it reflects poorly on them and not the Eurovision contest itself. However, the new evictions in Baku raise the question of whether the Eurovision contest risks damaging its own standing. When pressed by HRW (Section VII), the European Broadcasting Union disowned the evictions on the grounds that the ‘improvements’ behind them were planned long before Azerbaijan won the right to host Eurovision:

[Joergen Franck, director of television for the EBU] reiterated the EBU’s position that there is no connection between the expropriations and the Eurovision Song Contest, and said the people in the area would have been evicted even if the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest were to be held elsewhere. “The EBU does not believe its brand has been tainted by government actions or by articles in the press,” he told Human Rights Watch. Franck said that although the EBU is seeking explanations from the Azerbaijani government about development plans in the area, the EBU would not be seeking assurances from the government about addressing eviction-related abuses. Doing so, he said, would interfere with the non-political character of the Eurovision Song Contest. Franck also said that organizations could take advantage of the “bright spotlight” the Eurovision contest was throwing on Azerbaijan in order to highlight human rights violations, and that this was “a good thing.”

While HRW dispensed with these arguments by noting that the current rationale and the timing of the evictions is clearly linked to Baku’s impending boy band invasion, there may be a deeper question involved. Eurovision celebrates European culture in the spirit of unity through respect for diversity. As a result, the winning formula typically involves spicing up a generically catchy piece of synth-pop with some pan pipes or dancers in rustic smocks or terrifying Nordic monster outfits in order to reinforce the idea that Europe is not a bureaucratic steamroller of the things that distinguish member states in inoffensive and enjoyable ways. However, if there is any type of culture that truly distinguishes ‘Europe’ as a post-World War II project and a sum that is greater than its parts, it may well be the culture of respect for democracy and human rights. Be prepared for a clash of cultures in Baku.