Eurovision threatens to split Balkans
Advertisement Severina is sexy, nearly naked and Croatian. I know that because what little she is wearing is a Croatian flag. But that is not what has produced snorts of derision from one end of the Balkans to the other.
Consider the words from her song for Europe: "The grass has not yet sprouted … Where my high heel has trodden … hay, straw, cheese, salami, risi-bisi … Africa, paprika."
Funny? I don't think so. It is war in the Balkans again. And this time it's the war of the Eurovision Song Contest.
The contest takes place on May 20 in Athens and, for some snooty northern Europeans, it is all a bit of a joke. Not so down south, where these lyrics have ruled her right out of the running.
Who would have guessed when the founders of the venerable contest held their first, gentle little sing-song in Switzerland in 1956 that, more than half a century later, the former Yugoslavs would take it all quite so seriously?
I began my Balkan Eurovision odyssey in Kosovo. Technically it remains part of Serbia but is now under United Nations jurisdiction. Of its 2 million people, more than 90 per cent are ethnic Albanians, who want independence. When it comes to a song for Europe, that is a problem.
The song contest might stretch from the Atlantic to the Urals, but there is one tiny hole in it: Kosovo. No state, no song.
Since 1999, Kosovar groups that wanted to get to Eurovision have had to trek down to Albania's capital, Tirana. Not surprisingly, Albania has never given a group from Kosovo the chance to represent Albania.
Maybe things will be different next year. Talks on Kosovo's future have begun and may end in independence.
Over the mountains and not too far away, Montenegrins are licking their wounds. Technically speaking, Serbia and Montenegro are linked in a loose "state-union". What they have in common is an army, a few ministries, a flag and one ticket for Eurovision. Last year a Montenegrin boy band called No Name got to go to Kiev.
When they were there they draped themselves in the Montenegrin flag. Since most Europeans could not tell the difference between this flag and one from a Tintin book, it was a gesture that passed others by. Not the Serbs, though; they saw it as a nod to the tiny republic's campaign for independence.
On March 11, No Name was voted to represent Serbia and Montenegro again at a contest in Belgrade. The Montenegrins were triumphant. As one senior source said, they had spread a rumour about who they thought would win. The Serb judges fell for it and the Montenegrins gave full marks. No Name outvoted the Serb judges.
The Serbs were having none of it. As No Name came on stage to perform their winning number, a virtual uprising began in the Sava Centre concert hall. "Thieves, thieves," screamed the audience, pelting the Montenegrins with bottles.
"I was shocked , I was terrified," said Sandra Peric, sister of No Name's bass player. No Name retreated, under armed guard, to their dressing room, while the triumphant Flamingos, the Serb band that came second, went on stage to perform in their stead.
Britons fail to see the possibilities of Eurovision. Less than 12 hours after the contest in Athens, the polls open in Montenegro in a referendum on independence — from Serbia.
Serbia and Montenegro will not be going to Athens this year. The powerful director of Serb television refused to sign the necessary paperwork, a move unprecedented in 51 years of Eurovision and one that Montenegrins say proves why the republic needs independence.
Milica Belevic, one of Montenegro's judges at the Eurovision Battle of Belgrade, said politics was the furthest thing from her mind when she voted for No Name. But her colleague, Sabrija Vulic, from Montenegrin television, said that, whereas "Yugoslavia was divided with guns, Serbia and Montenegro will be divided by songs".