By Ashley Husband Powton
The international spotlight shining on Azerbaijan provided its citizens a golden opportunity to draw attention to the widespread corruption and violation of human rights which have characterised the authoritarian government of the country since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
As the Eurovision song contest was beamed out from the capital city of Baku, opposition activists seized on the increased media presence and took to the streets to demonstrate.
An estimated 125 million people tuned in to watch on Saturday evening, blissfully unaware or consciously ignorant as the Azerbaijani police aggressively made arrests and violently crushed the anti-government protests taking place throughout the host city.
The nominally democratic government of President Ilham Aliyev, whose landslide victories are marred by voter intimidation, police violence, media bias and rigging of results, has come under consistent attack from bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director For Europe and Central Asia John Dalhuisen announced the continuation of “serious human rights violations” throughout the run-up to the Eurovision event, reporting a “stern crackdown on freedom of expression, dissent, NGOs, critical journalists, in fact anyone who criticizes the Aliyev regime too strongly.”
The contempt demonstrated by the Azerbaijani regime towards human rights and democracy along with the political prisoners currently being detained in Azerbaijani jails were all overlooked in the name of tawdry euro-pop on Saturday night.
Next Saturday’s events may not rank anywhere near as highly as the violation of human rights in Azerbaijan, but democracy will once again be scrutinised as the modern nations of Europe renounce their proudly held progressive ideals in their rush to dignify another embarrassing event; this time in the name of mindless medieval tradition as Britain celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of our long reigning monarch.
Union-jack bunting and portraits of our sovereign adorn the aisles of every supermarket; councils are inundated with applications to hold street parties; competing television channels air endless documentaries about the life and the palaces of our Queen, and newspapers give away glorious and patriotic soundtracks to the whole grandiose event.
Regally ceremonious events and grand displays of imperial power will be graced by the presence of the monarch over the course of the Diamond Jubilee weekend before she embarks on a tour of the rest of her realm, meeting and greeting the herds of lowly and loyal subjects eager to lay down at her feet in devout deference.
The leaders of this nation claim to champion equality and social mobility, yet emerge as the head cheerleaders in celebrating hereditary birth right. They claim to champion democracy and the voice of the people yet lavish praise upon our state of constitutional monarchy as being the best of British.
The people of Britain are implored and encouraged to celebrate the life of one fortunate enough to emerge from a royal womb and to get down on their knees in submission to unearned wealth and privilege and power.
Their answer? Without protest.