What if… there hadn’t been so many Balkan withdrawals?

Evening Eurovision fans! 🙂 Tonight, in the latest of our 2014 “What If” series, I’m going to be exploring an aspect of the Copenhagen contest which has been mostly overlooked, but stood out to me as a potential game-changer pre-contest… Would things have been any different without the notable absence of so many Balkan countries in 2014? I’m on a mission to find out!

Sergej Cetkovic reached Montenegro's first final without much Balkan help... but could he have done even better?
Sergej Cetkovic reached Montenegro’s first final without much Balkan help… but could he have done even better?

I am, and pretty much always have been, a self-confessed devotee of anything Balkan. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I was distraught to learn that 2014 would see the withdrawal of Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria, to add to Bosnia-Herzegovina, who were already M.I.A. as of Malmö! However, Copenhagen wasn’t such a disaster in the end, as the remaining countries brought a few awesome entries to the table, restoring my faith in my spiritual home for another Eurovision year.

However, with so many missing Balkan nations in Copenhagen – from the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere on the peninsula – I always wondered whether their absence would perhaps influence the results somewhat. So, this got me thinking: with just four traditional Balkan countries this year, as opposed to the usual seven or eight we’ve been used to in the past, what exactly did we miss in Copenhagen? Without diving too deep into the ‘political voting’ stereotypes, there are a few things we can generally expect from a Eurovision featuring many Balkan countries:

  • One or more of them will send a MEGA-FAMOUS established artist
  • One or more of them will send a typical Balkan ballad
  • They’ll all be… um… ‘generous’ with their votes for each other (this is for cultural reasons, not political ones, before anyone bites my head off…)
  • They’ll very likely feature their national language to some degree
  • They’ll be split between the semi-finals, though as 2012 proved, not always equally
  • There’ll be that one Balkan entry that will overshadow all the others from the region, hoovering up the lion’s share of neighbourly votes, and a lot of the external ones too. [see. Bosnia 2006, Serbia 2007, Bosnia 2011, Serbia 2012 etc.]

2013 proved that none of this will guarantee success, of course, but (excluding 2013 and 2014) in the years since Yugoslavia split into multiple participating nations, there have only been six contests which didn’t feature an ex-Yugoslav nation in the top ten. If we extend this statistic to include nations from across the peninsula such as Romania, that figure drops to just three. The Balkans are an undeniable powerhouse at Eurovision, and in missing so many of them this year, it was always going to be interesting to see how those remaining would fare. As Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia all entered big-name artists with (in my mind anyway) very credible songs, one may think that additional Balkan participants would simply boost the results of all three. I’m not so sure this would be the case.

Of course, any discussion in this article can be nothing more than speculation at best, since there’s no way we will ever know how ESC 2014 would have panned out with more Balkan nations involved. Even looking at the precedent from the last few years, it would still be dependent on which artists and songs the missing nations potentially selected, which semi-finals they were allocated to, and a whole host of other factors besides. However, there are a few notable differences I personally think would have been very likely, had we not had so many Balkan withdrawals…

1. San Marino would not have qualified.

Whether we liked the song or not, I think it’s fair to say we were all shellshocked and delighted in equal measure when San Marino’s flag emerged from one of semi-final 1’s ten virtual envelopes. Valentina Monetta FINALLY brought her country into the Saturday night final, however she did so by the smallest of margins – squeaking into tenth place by just one point over Portugal’s Suzy. As a result, I am pretty confident that one more Balkan country in that semi-final would have been enough to stop this from happening. Either by qualifying themselves, stealing votes that San Marino actually managed to pick up, or giving Portugal that crucial two points to leapfrog ValMon into tenth, I believe more Balkan countries would have prevented San Marino’s historic qualification.

2. Montenegro would have finished higher than 19th.

This year, the leading Balkan song was Sergej’s archetypal “Moj Svijet”, a Balkan-ballad-by-numbers which ticked all the boxes and came complete with a Lane Moje key change, a Lejla final-chorus-unison-walk and … and it came from the most luckless Balkan nation of them all: Montenegro! Now, they’re surely pleased with their first qualification and everything… but with the support of a few neighbouring countries who are already fans of Sergej’s music, surely they could have done a lot better?

  • IF “Moj Svijet” had still been the ‘top’ Balkan song (that is, assuming any prospective Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian entry wasn’t more favoured in general), one could almost guarantee 8/10/12 points from five or six nations. That’s a theoretical sixty points basically in the bag right there. In reality, Montenegro got a total of 37, 25 of which were from Balkan countries. Playing it safe, and saying Sergej picked up an 8 and two 10s from the three absentees, he would finish with a total of 65, just enough to overtake Sebalter for 13th place. Three twelves would put him on 73, just one point shy of the top ten. And this is overlooking the odd point which Bulgaria might have awarded too…
  • Alternatively, if Montenegro’s song played second fiddle to a theoretically superior Balkan neighbour, the result would likely have been improved, but not by as much. The example I’d give here is Kaliopi in 2012: even in other Balkan results, her entry was often ranked below Zeljko Joksimovic’s Serbian song, however she managed to garner enough support to finish a joint 12th/13th with Mandinga from Romania.
  • Or… imagine one of the absent nations sent a similar Balkan ballad that was also drawn in semi-final one? Would we see a repeat of the “Verjamem” effect; whereby all the support for a particular genre goes behind one song and the other similar song is left floundering towards the bottom of the scoreboard? I find it hard to believe that could have happened to Sergej’s spectacular entry, but there’s always room for doubt where Eurovision is concerned…

3. Greece would probably have done a little better

Bulgaria and Serbia in particular have thrown a fair few points Greece’s way since their respective débuts, so it follows that Freaky Fortune would have potentially picked up a few more had these two countries both participated – nothing that would drastically improve their result, but maybe enough to leapfrog Elaiza and/or Molly. A similar thing could be said for Malta, judging by the past voting records of the absent Balkan nations.

4. Slovenia…

Oh, Slovenia. Here’s the real sticking point in my speculation – I honestly have no idea what would have happened to Tinkara from Slovenia in our hypothetical situation. She scraped into the final in tenth, and despite a really strong live performance, she languished in 25th place by the end of the night. Here’s what I think may have happened with a few more Balkan countries…

  • IF she still qualified… then I believe she would have finished a little higher in the final. Her total of 9 comprised of 8 from Montenegro and 1 from Macedonia. As ever, we’re talking about adding Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria into the mix here, all of which could potentially award anything from 0 to 12. Even if Tinkara only managed low scores from all four, say 1,2,3 and 4 points, she would finish with a total of 19 in 24th place. Unfortunately, there was a huge gap between ValMon’s score of 14 and Firelight’s score of 32 above her, so in all honestly, I doubt Tinkara’s final position would have been particularly improved.
  • However, do remember that Slovenia only JUST made it into the final. One or two additional nations in semi-final two (which, since it only had 15 participants, would likely have been the primary receptacle for extra countries) would have potentially been enough to push Tinkara down to 11th. I believe this is the most likely situation in the question of Slovenia, unfortunately.

5. Macedonia and Albania probably still wouldn’t have been able to qualify

Assuming that extra Balkan countries equals extra Balkan points is fair enough, but in some cases from Copenhagen, a few extra countries still wouldn’t have been enough. Hersi needed an additional 30 points to reach tenth place; Tijana Dapcevic needed 20. Given that they would be competing against a couple of potentially more popular new songs, I doubt even four extra Balkan votes would have boosted their scores enough to reach the Saturday night :/

6. The winner?

One final thing to consider would be, of course, the winner. Unfortunately, I don’t think even four additional Eastern European countries could have stopped Austria from taking the victory. In fact, I think the extra points would have just made Conchita’s lead even bigger – judging by what little past data we have to go on, Austria would be slightly more likely to pick up Balkan points than its nearest rivals The Netherlands. The only plausible situation whereby our missing Balkan nations could have altered the 2014 winner would be if one of them sent an entry with more winning potential than Austria. A big ask when you’re competing against a bearded drag queen with a flaming backdrop and a simply stunning voice.

Some may say of these Balkan nations that if they didn’t change the winner, then their absence was not felt in the 2014 contest. I beg to differ. Besides the fact that they always bring unique and interesting pieces of music to the contest, I believe the effect they can have on others was sorely missed this year, and I really hope we can welcome most if not all of them back to the 60th anniversary edition in 2015!

Your Views:

What do you think would have happened if we hadn't had so many Balkan withdrawals?
What do you think would have happened if we hadn’t had so many Balkan withdrawals?

Mariusz Wadowski from Poland: Well,I fear that the results could have been a bit different. I’m almost sure that San Marino wouldn’t qualify because of Some Serbia or Bosnia. 😛

Nick van Lith from the Netherlands: It’s difficult to say, but we could say that all except Croatia would’ve done well. Slovenia only got points from Macedonia and Montenegro in the final, Montenegro got most points from the region. They would’ve done better. And I’d say there would’ve been a chance for Macedonia to qualify. It’s always guessing to think how Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia would’ve done, as nothing would save Ljubav Je Svuda or Celebrate…

Tim Mathieson from Norway: No change. Europe had decided to vote politically correct.

Gijsbert Groenveld from the Netherlands: I’m sure Serbia would have won!

Of course, this is a very difficult question to try and conclude upon, and we will never really know how much of a difference – if any – the Balkan withdrawals had on the 2014 contest. The fans here seem to agree that some qualifiers may have been a little different, and some of the results in the final could have been too, however beyond that, it seems there’s very little we can realistically conclude. One thing’s for certain though: we missed the musical contributions of the region this year, and I’d love to see them all back next time!

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