The great Norwegian composer Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843-1907) refused to give concerts in France until the famous case against Captain Dreyfus had been dismissed. I cited this example in a letter, addressed to Mr. Jon Ola Sand, a Norwegian Eurovision producer. In August 2011, Azerbaijan authorities started mass demolition of houses in Baku in order to hold the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) there. I requested that letters of protest be sent to the authorities, demanding the refusal of a song contest built on the ruins of houses where blood was shed, accompanied by tears of women and children beaten by the police and forcedly displaced from their apartments. Mr. Sand replied:
“I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the EBU is not involved with, nor requested or commissioned any construction work to be done in Baku in relation to the Eurovision Song Contest […]. The EBU firmly holds the belief that the Eurovision Song Contest should remain clear from political messages or influence, and we strongly protect the event from being used as a political platform […].”
ESC-Organizers do not want to know about the situation of human rights and the clan-mafia regime deeply rooted in Azerbaijan. But we have to talk about it. At the Institute of Peace and Democracy (IPD), we did research on torture, based on surveys. The results are shocking: In 2006, 40 people were tortured, 13 of them to death. In 2007, 74 people were tortured, 11 of them to death. In 2011, 136 people were tortured, 4 of them to death.
When entering the Council of Europe (CoE), Azerbaijan committed to fulfilling 21 obligations, one of them demanding to “prosecute personnel of law-enforcement agencies involved in torture […].” Despite the fact that human rights defenders regularly disclose names of torture-involved personnel of law-enforcement agencies in the media, none of them has ever been prosecuted. One of the CoE obligations (only four obligations out of 21 were fulfilled by Azerbaijan) was to address the issue of political prisoners. However, there are 61 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, 14 of them were recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.
Words are the only weapon of citizens against violence and unlawful actions of the authorities. Journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders are severely persecuted. Murderers of journalists are still not prosecuted: Elmar Huseynov, editor in chief of Monitor Journal, was killed in March 2005, publicist Rafig Tagi in November 2011 – seven media reporters are currently in prison.
On August 11th 2011 authorities demolished the office building of three NGOs: the IPD, the Women Crisis Center and the Azerbaijan Campaign to ban Landmines (ACBL), as well as all of the office equipment. The General Prosecutor’s Office refused to investigate this case.
Immediately after it became known that the ESC will be held in Baku in 2012, a large-scale demolition of residential buildings started. Residents received letters from the mayor of Baku or the State Property Committee, demanding the abandonment of their apartments within a week. There are about 60.000 residents who were unlawfully deprived of their apartments.
Edvard Grieg would surely refuse to give concerts under these circumstances. But modern show business is indifferent to violence. There will be happy people singing happy songs where others are beaten, tortured, and where houses are demolished.