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The Ties That Bind

May 16, 2014

I suspect this isn’t going to be my most coherent post, I’m groping after meaning, I feel this is important but I’m not sure I can express it concisely or fluently*. In part it’s a follow on from last week’s post about the First World War, it’s connected to the up-coming European elections, but it’s also, of all things,  the result of watching the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, I know, but bear with me on this one. For those non-European HARN members, or indeed those in Europe who don’t have the news headlines dominated by Eurovision fever for weeks before and after the event, a quick word of explanation – the European Broadcasting Union was formed in 1950, the idea was to unite the countries of Europe after the Second World War and to provide pan-European programmes. Marcel Bezençon came up with the notion of a song contest where each member country of the EBU would submit an entry, the concert would be shown live in all the countries and votes would be cast to decide the winner. The main point being that nations are not allowed to vote for their own song. I love the idea that singing would promote harmony and understanding between nations, absolutely love it! Particularly since, to me at least, Eurovision has provided occasions of jaw-dropping incomprehension and the feeling that there are many, many European countries operating on rules and concepts we simply don’t understand. There have been so many ‘Eh? What? Why would you do that?’ and ‘WHAT ARE THEY WEARING?’ and ‘That has to be the WORST song, ever!’ moments that I can’t single out a particular example, although our own entry from 2007 had me thinking Britain was a very strange – and unmusical – place, so heaven knows how it struck the non-Brits.

But despite, or because of, the insanity of some of the entries, Eurovision is enormously popular, it gets huge viewing figures and it is part of so many people’s history

As a child I was allowed to stay up late to watch the acts and my parents would always tell us the following morning who had won. These days I don’t always watch it, but when I do I sit back and expect a fantastic evening of camp mayhem, and I get it. It is a wonderful way of bringing Europe together. It’s also a good indicator of which countries feel they belong together, a nation can’t vote for its own song and supposedly they’re voting for the song they think is best, yet this is often the song of their allies – Belarus always, always gives high points to Russia no matter how bad the song, Switzerland always gives votes to Austria and vice versa, Norway, Sweden and Denmark vote for each other, the UK votes all over the place, but never for countries we’re having an argument with. As the results came in I found I was singing ‘He’s my friend, they’re not my friends’

But Eurovision does throw up surprises, and this is its charm and its power, it’s why the seemingly silly notion of getting European nations together to compete in a concert is a wonderful idea. Ok, maybe the Russian Tolmachevy twins didn’t deserve to be booed, but it was a clear indication of how the audience felt about the Russian attacks on the LGBTI community andor the Russian interference in the Ukraine  .And then there’s Conchita Wurst by Russian politician Vitaly Mlanov, criticised by the Armenian Eurovision singer and the subject of transphobic abuse, yet she won, by a mile, and even though it wasn’t my favourite song I whooped and danced and smiled for 24 hours.

Because this is what it’s about, this is why we have Eurovision so we can vote for tolerance, for being who and what you want to be without fear and to hell with those who don’t like that. It’s a vote where this huge entity called Europe slots into place as a real and wonderful thing and reminds us that actually what ties us together is far more important than what divides us. A salutary reminder when we’re coming up to the anniversary of the First World War, a salutary reminder given it’s the European Elections on the 22nd of May and to my horror it looks like UKIP will do well here. (Yesterday to my even greater horror I discovered that the BNP are allowed to send flyers through the Royal Mail – like they were a real political party as opposed to a bunch of racist xenophobic thugs.) Why you would vote to send UKIP to the European Parliament  when the party is opposed to Europe, want to take us out of Europe,  want to make immigration to Britain even more difficult and basically pull apart everything that ties us to Europe is beyond me. We are part of Europe whether we like it or not. Just like we’re part of the rest of the world. Rather than unpicking those ties we should be celebrating our togetherness and our difference, working out – peacefully – how to deal with the problems we face, voting for tolerance, for being who and what we want to be and opposing those who would erode our rights to difference, to otherness.

This, finally, is where I come back to my starting point! This community of ours, this blog, all the HARN members in all the different countries working on different projects in very different ways but keeping the history of archaeology at the forefront – these are the reasons we make connections, group together, answer each others questions. Last week I asked about archaeology and war, Jonathan Trigg, Catalin Nicolae and Sam Hardy replied. To me that’s amazing, members taking the time to answer my queries. We have an incredibly valuable resource here people, and one we shouldn’t take for granted, this is an amazing network a place to freely discuss our ideas and research. We have freedom and acceptance: we don’t have to agree with each other, we don’t have to do the same sort of history, we can argue about what we mean by ‘history’ by ‘archaeology’ and by ‘research’ if we choose to do so. The point is we have a place where we can meet and discuss, there are no barriers, no rules – aside from ‘be polite’! – no judgements. We are free to say what we think. I think that’s incredible and I’m proud to be part of it.


* It doesn’t help that I keep having to break off to go and rescue my son’s soft toys from the smallest cat, it’s raining, she’s bored and she sees his room as the locus of all excitement so sneaks in there while he’s out to raid his Lego and teddies. There are days when I long for an ivory tower, or even a garret – you can see why I fantasise about HARN towers!


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