Eurovision 1993 – When Just Taking Part is the Greatest Victory

Many of you might know that I’ve decided to watch all 59 runnings of The Eurovision Song Contest. So far I have almost virtually the halfway point by watching 29 with 30 to go. The latest one was the 1993 contest which I believe is worthy of a big mention.

Ireland had won the year before in Malmö, Sweden and decided to host it in Millstreet, a village in County Cork with a population of only 1500 people. But they managed to stage it in the Green Glens Arena, an Equestrian Centre with a hall which managed to hold 8000 audience members. On the night Ireland managed their fifth victory and the second in a row of a string of three victories. Ireland ended up winning in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996 to win four times in the space of five years. AN outstanding record that has yet to be matched. With seven wins, Ireland hold the most Eurovision Victories with France, Luxembourg, United Kingdom and Sweden equal 2nd with 5 wins a piece.

But that is not what I remember wen I think of Eurovision 1993. For this was a time when Communism was disappearing and Europe was changing dramatically. Areas of Yugoslavia were being carved up and new countries were declaring their independence. By the end of 1992 Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina has all declared their independence from Yugoslavia. What remained of Yugoslavia eventually became Serbia and Montenegro which separated their union in 2006. Kosovo declared their independence in 2008 but it is still in contention. Some successions were peaceful whereas others were met with extreme tension and resistance. By far the worst situation was in Bosnia and Herzegovina which manifested into the Bosnian War. I won’t go into too much detail as you can research yourselves if you wish, but I will say that Bosnia and Herzegovina was in a complete state of disarray. Fighting was widespread, atrocities were committed and the capital of Sarajevo was under constant siege from 1992 until 1996.

So it was with great national pride that a wore torn country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina would even think of trying to complete at Eurovision. But they had been admitted into the European Broadcasting Union and they made an application to do so. A televised show was broadcast in Sarajevo to select a song, “Sva bol svijeta” as the Bosnian entry. This title translates to “All the pain in the world” and was as much a song for Europe to know of their cause as it was for the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina to stay strong.

The next challenge was by far the most difficult. The 25 person contingent had to make it out of Sarajevo alive. The city was surrounded by Republika Srpska military and the only way out was through to safe territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina was by crossing the open tarmac of Sarajevo Airport which was susceptible to snipers and machine gun fire. It took multiple attempts but a contingent successfully made it out of Sarajevo and made it to Zagreb in neighbouring Croatia.

The next step was a one off pre-qualifying contest where 7 newly formed or former Soviet Countries competed for the 3 new spaces that the European Broadcasting Union had allowed for the Contest. This took place in Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina made it through along with Slovenia and Croatia. Estonia, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary would all appear the following year as the Contest would rotate participants based on their performance.

So with all they had gone through, Bosnia and Herzegovina prepared for Eurovision. As electricity was unreliable there were stories of people running their TV’s off of car batteries and generators. Despite all that was happening, Bosnia and Herzegovina was going to appear as a nation on the European stage and they were going to witness it. It didn’t matter that they only came 16th on the night. Bosnia and Herzegovina had done what seemed to be impossible.

It’s a brilliant story that reenforces that winning isn’t everything. But this story is not over. After all the songs were performed each country would phone into the main venue and announce the votes of their national jury on the air. This meant that Sarajevo, a city that was bombed day and night had to make phone contact with Milstreet, Ireland. The only means they had was either by Satellite phone or Ham radio as their phone network was down. As far as line quality goes, with feedback and the call fading in and out, this is probably the worst quality phone call ever broadcast. But I think this is by far, out of all 29 contests I have seen, the most heart wrenching and emotional moment of The Eurovision Song Contest.

I can’t believe this is the only segment that I can find. There are other longer videos with the full vote but it was hard for me to find it. This one’s even incorrectly titled “Les Pays Bas..Douze Points! Eurovision Song Contest 1993 II” which means “The Netherlands..Twelve Points! Eurovision Song Contest 1993 II” which is wrong because their 12 points went to Austria. I don’t know exactly why this is a moment that Eurovision don’t feature at all. I think it’s the Eurovision equivalent of Derek Redmond at the 1992 Olympics trying to finish the 400m after tearing his hamstring. It’s the embodiment of Europe coming together to celebrate their music and culture. The very reason The Eurovision Song Contest was established in the first place.

Having Bosnia and Herzegovina at Eurovision was a big deal. They managed to appear at Eurovision every year from 1993 to 1997 without getting relegated. I’ll finish this post by putting the Special mention of Bosnia and Herzegovina was given in the 1996 Programme as it sums it up perfectly.

“When the head of the jury in Bosnia Herzegovina calls, we suddenly get the feeling that the Eurovision Song Contest is something more than the world’s oldest television programme. When he says “good evening Oslo” from his war-devastated capital and is met by spontaneous applause from the concert hall, then we really understand the whole idea behind the programme”.