Eurovision bugs Cyprus

NICOSIA (Combined reports) – If anyone thought the Eurovision song contest wasn’t about politics, they should think again. Soul-searching has begun in Cyprus after the island, divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since 1974, gave an unprecedented eight points to Turkey in the annual Pan-European pop music competition. Turkey’s entry, Sertab Erener, belly-danced her way to victory in the contest in Latvia on Saturday. The longtime rivals traditionally snub one another in the glitz and kitch-fest, but telephone voting by the Greek-Cypriot public this time around has set the island abuzz with speculation. Was it rigged? Was Cyprus trying to win favor with Ankara after the recent easing of checkpoint crossings on the island? Was it taking the moral high ground as a future European Union member or was it simply a matter of musical taste? Media speculated yesterday about a conspiracy to send a political message to Turkey, which occupies the island’s northern third, a month after Turkish-Cypriot authorities lifted the barrier on crossings between the two sides. The nationalist newspaper Machi asked why the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation’s (CyBC) presenter said when revealing the points distribution: «Europe, peace to Cyprus, Turkey eight points.» There were allegations that the tele-voting was rigged by CyBC, the state-run channel of the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government in the island’s south. The corporation hit back by publishing the results of the public tele-vote, which, as usual, gave Greece the top spot with 2,243 of the total 6,792 cast, followed by Russia with 506 and Turkey with 489 votes. A straw poll in the right-wing daily Simerini indicated mixed feelings among Greek Cypriots, with some calling the points awarded «unacceptable,» while others thought it was a good move to help improve relations. «It’s a harmless way of sending a message without incurring any real political cost,» sociology professor Nicos Peristianis told AFP. He said feelings of rapprochement are running high since Turkish-Cypriot authorities eased decades-old travel restrictions on the divided island last month. So, was it a conspiracy or did Greek Cypriots simply enjoy Erener’s explosion of rhythm – along with the rest of Europe? Views differed on the streets of Nicosia. Many said they liked the song, others were critical of the vote. «Why should we help them when they have brought so much distress to Cyprus?» one woman told the Simerini newspaper. «If it was youngsters who voted for Turkey, I can only assume they don’t share the same nationalist feelings others have had since the invasion,» said music producer Philippos Pavlou. Turkey, meanwhile – which is ambivalent about a reunited Cyprus – stayed true to form, giving the Cyprus entry no points. With Turkey’s success, political fallout is possible next year, when Ankara hosts the 2004 contest, including Cyprus, a country Turkey does not recognize. Turkish troops seized northern Cyprus in 1974, responding to a coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece. The island’s future has become a live issue again with the failure of a UN-sponsored peace plan coupled with the Republic of Cyprus’s imminent entry into the European Union, which Turkey also has aspirations of joining. (Reuters, AFP)

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