When Eurovision was – literally – a matter of life and death


Fazla, looking like they’ve stepped out of Miami Vice

In 1993, Bosnia was in the middle of a civil war and its capital, Sarajevo, under siege. No, not ‘under siege’ in the Steven Seagal sense; ‘under siege’ in the ‘no food, no water, being bombed daily’, sense.

In the middle of it all, a musician called Dino Merlin somehow wrote both the country’s national anthem and its first-ever Eurovision entry. I tell his insane story in my book.

But this week, with Eurovision approaching, I suddenly remembered Dino didn’t actually perform his song at Eurovision. It was a band called Fazla. So I called their lead singer to learn his story, and it turned out to be just as fascinating, bizarre and uplifting as Dino’s. Head over to the BBC to read it.

Here are Fazla at that year’s Eurovision:

Douze points!

And here’s this year’s Bosnian entry, which seems to be performed by a man with a plastic face.

Null points!

Update: As you’ll clearly know, Ukraine won this year’s Eurovision with the below slice of brilliant Russia-baiting. What was the first thing singer Jamala did when she got back home? She sung Ukraine’s national anthem, Ukraine’s not Dead Yet, of course! Read this great NY Times article on the political fall-out of her victory.

Dodging snipers for Eurovision

Tonight is Eurovision! Sweden should win, right?

Or failing him, France?

Great, glad we agree!

In tribute to the world’s greatest song contest, I thought I’d put up a few quotes from an interview I did once with Dino Merlin, Bosnia’s answer to Paul McCartney and a man who’s been to Eurovision three times.

Dino stayed in Bosnia’s capital of Sarajevo during the war of the 90s, when the city was under siege.

He had little electricity or water, Serb mortars were dropping on the streets, but he still got the energy to write both Bosnia’s first national anthem, Jedna si Jedina, and its first Eurovision entry. The Eurovision song was called Sva bol Svijet, All the Pain in the World, which is understandable if somewhat inappropriate for a competition that relies on glitter canons and showgirls.

While chatting to Dino, I asked if he ever managed to escape the siege and he said this: “The first time I went to Eurovision, I had to run across the airport. Have you heard anything about the airport during the war? There were UN soldiers patrolling the runway and if they caught you, they’d dump you back in the city. And from the other side, from the mountain, you had snipers – Serb snipers – shooting anything they saw move.

“So I got there and saw everyone was running one way round. But something told me not to follow them, so I ran straight across. Terrified. Scared. Everything like that. But somehow I did it. I got to Ireland!”

“How was Eurovision?” I asked.

“We came sixteenth,” he replied deadpan, then burst into laughter.

After the contest, Dino immediately returned to Sarajevo – running back across the airport – which either says he was insane at the time or really loved his country.

I don’t think any of this year’s Eurovision entrants will have gone through anything like that, but feel free to make up a hideous backstory about Sweden’s Robin Stjernberg if it’ll help you vote for him!