Murad Ismayilov: State, identity, and the politics of music: Eurovision and nation-building in Azerbaijan

Albeit often – and fairly – degraded in the world of high culture as a populist and politicized representation of music, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) – by sheer virtue of the populist and politicized nature of its essence – stands among the most consequential cultural encounters to which post-independence Azerbaijan has been exposed, in that the extent to which Baku’s victory in the ESC-2011 – and the further developments this victory has generated – can potentially impact on, and contribute to, the very process of nation-building and national identity formation, with which this post-Soviet Muslim-majority country is currently struggling, is unparalleled by any of the state’s earlier encounters of the kind. This paper focuses on, and examines, four intimately related ways in which the ESC and Azerbaijan’s successful involvement with the latter worked to interfere with the country’s nation-building: as a dubious factor in the evolution of the Western sense of self among Azerbaijanis; as a unifying force within the structure of the country’s rapidly maturing civil society; as a medium working to open up a channel through which Western popular cultural elements could interfere with the evolving dynamics of, and work to globalize, indeed de-endogenize, indigenous Azerbaijani culture, on one hand, and unify the discursive realm within which the country’s cultural domain is to further evolve, on the other; and, finally, as an important element serving to decouple the evolving processes within the country’s cultural domain from the unfolding dynamics of conflict settlement and hence conducive to the diversification of public discourse in Azerbaijan.

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