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The Eurovision Song Contest 2012, for its 57th edition, will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2012. A golden opportunity to promote the country and maybe work on democracy.

By Guler Mehdizade & Aytan Alakbarova

The most expected event for 2012. After Azerbaijan’s victory in the 2011 contest with Ell & Nikki’s song “Running Scared”, Eurovision’s organization became like a family business. Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan himself, signed the order on implementing the “Eurovision-2012” song contest in Baku. The first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, even became the Head of selection in the Organizing Committee.

Crystal Palace project

Oil money and smart strategy

In terms of organization, money is not the problem. “The song contest cost 47 million Euros when it was held in Germany. Azerbaijan has opportunity to spend more money than this”, explains economist Natig Jafarli. The budget is estimated to one billion dollars, financed by the Azerbaijan’s state.

It is the first time that Azerbaijan organizes such a big international event and the country wants to take the opportunity to offer a new and shiny image of the country.

For the moment, most of the citizens met in Baku, the capital, are very proud of hosting Eurovision.

Foreign tourists attending the final of Eurovision 2011, held in Germany, were more than 70 000. But until now, everyone is wondering if Azerbaijan will be ready on time. One article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, explains that Azerbaijan needs “stronger infrastructure,” if it wants to organize the contest “the way Germany did“.

From the official side, everything seems under control. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Humbatov, guarantees that “Baku is able to host such events as Eurovision”. “Everything will be ok”, adds Adil Kerimli, head of the delegation from Azerbaijan in Eurovision 2011.

Since the announce of the contest, construction works have invaded the whole city. The Old Town of Baku has been completely brand new renovated. The ‘flames towers’, three high transparent buildings, supposed to host an hotel, a residential property and offices and symbolising the current oil boom, are nearly finished. In 2011, 5 five-star hotels, amongst others the international Four Seasons and the Hilton, will open their doors.

Visa and politics

According to the head of EU delegation in Azerbaijan, Ambassador Roland Kobia, and Eurovision “is gold opportunity for Azerbaijan. All attention of medias will be directed here. I hope that the country will use this chance to modernize itself.”

The NGO “Transparency International” notes that Azerbaijan figures regularly on the list of the “most corrupted countries in the world”.

Difficulties for getting a visa are also pointed out by human rights activists. The Association of Azerbaijan Migration Center suggests “simplifying visa regime and even its abolishing it for EU countries”. Some exceptions have been already decided: if foreign guests are invited by authorities, they can get visa inAzerbaijan airport.

For Amnesty International, “the Azerbaijani government cannot credibly maintain that it is making progress in its democratic development whilst systematically clamping down on social movements and political gatherings that it disapproves of.

On 12th May 2011, the Council of Europe itself adopted a sentence, that criticized political situation and human right’s level in Azerbaijan, following the repression of a manifestation in Baku last spring. In this document, the Council disapproves dissipating oppositions meeting, and notes its regret in front of the “pression in civic society, active people in social networks and journalists.

Riots in Baku

On 2nd April, following the wave of unrest in Middle East, about 30 people have been jailed in Azerbaijan after police cracked down on an illegal anti-government rally that took place over the weekend in the capitol city of Baku. Another 160 activists have been arrested.

Demonstrators reportedly chanted “Resign” and “No to the dictatorship!” before riot police intervened. Those activists were sentenced to jail -1.5 to 3 years in prison-, on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and causing material damage to other people’s property.

In reaction to this arrest, the campaign “Free Music in a Non-free Country” was launched by local organizations, such as the Institute for Peace and Democracy or the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety. Their objective? To ensure that the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights will be implemented the period of the contest and its foreign participants and guests will have the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and will benefit from facilitated visa regime.