EDITORIAL – After fifty years, after fifty long years since 1964 of waiting for our moment in the spotlight, Portugal had grown very sceptical. Not only of itself as a participant in the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) but of the ESC in general. A strong, doubly negative and defeatist disdain had instilled where, on one hand we could never send any song to the ESC worthy of winning because Europe didn’t appreciate our talent and on the other, we could not win for structural reasons ranging from winner rigging to political and economic interests which excluded us off hand; to the fact that we have only one neighbour, Spain and that ESC was all about neighbour voting. It was commonplace to hear “I’ve stopped paying attention to the ESC. We’re never going to win …” usually followed by one of the reasons above mentioned and that would be the extent of the conversation. OGAE-Portugal seemed ever more isolated and small in numbers as compared with chapters in other countries and my range of people with whom I could have any type of lengthy or at least non-cynical ESC conversation seemed ever more limited to OGAE-Portugal.
However, 2017 seems to be a turning point and one full of curious coincidences. The ESC final was held on May 13th, if you are a devout catholic, then your will probably have heard about the miracle of Fátima, but I will come back to this later. In my case, I was in the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev, Ukraine watching the ESC in anticipation. Whilst happy about Salvador Sobral’s performance, nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
I had gone to the bar in the Exhibition Centre during the interval acts as the votes were being collected, to calm my nerves. While I was ordering, the counting started and I did not hear the first few voting results. When I finally returned to the main hall, Israel was sadly bidding farewell to the ESC and I was stunned and baffled upon seeing that Portugal was at the top of the voting results when the Israeli announcer announced twelve points for Portugal and in Portuguese. I tried to ease the tension by telling myself that this was only the beginning and anything could still happen. Providing temporary relief, to my state of anxiety, the twelve points just kept rolling in from country after country.
The public votes were in, Portugal was ahead, the jury votes were still to come. Terrified of raising my hopes too high and ending up bitterly disappointed, I reminded myself of ESC 2016 when the Ukraine unexpectedly (for me) won. The jury vote could be a game changer and the public votes themselves were not enough to secure victory.
The tension of the jury vote kept me on the edge of my seat as the final points were being attributed. At any time, Portugal could have been called out and other close contenders could have walked away with victory. I kept hearing what sounded to me like a battle cry; the three familiar syllables POR-TU-GAL being cried out as the final result came closer. In the end, only Bulgaria and Portugal had yet to be attributed jury votes. I am no expert in math nor had I done the math but from what I was thinking at the time, victory could have gone either way. I was hoping and praying “My dear Lady of Fátima, please let victory be ours, just this once.” While “POR-TU-GAL” was being cried out ever louder and sure enough, the second highest attribution of points went to “BULGARIA” meaning the highest went to Portugal. At this point I almost lost my voice screaming and cheering for my country. Yes, after 50 years of participating, victory came as a shock.
Meanwhile, Lisbon was celebrating Benfica’s football triumph on the street. Large mobile monitors had been placed for fans to watch and celebrate. Even the football transmission was suddenly interrupted and switched broadcasting to the ESC, at the point when the voting was being announced. For Portugal, this was epic. Nothing, no NOTHING gets in the way of a football celebration … nothing except for an ESC victory.
Unexpectedly and perhaps even miraculously, Portugal, won on the 13th of May, coinciding with the anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Fátima where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared on the 13th of May, 1917, to three young shepherds near the town of Fátima in Portugal. Ironically too and please let me highlight the following coincidence, Portugal won the ESC a year after winning the Euro Football League in 2016, in Kiev, Ukraine, as did Greece in 2005 after winning the Euro Football League in 2004, in Kiev, Ukraine.
Today, suddenly and unexpectedly, it is possible to again talk about the ESC to someone you may not know very well. Portugal’s victory has rekindled broader interest in Portugal in the ESC, no longer is perceived as our nemesis. For the first time in a decade, victory was attributed to a song not sung in English to a country which had never sent a song in English to the ESC on year of the start of Brexit negotiations.