[Originally published on Reason]
Last year, singers from Azerbaijan won the 2011 Eurovision Singing Contest, meaning that their country would host the international competition this yearin late May. To celebrate, authorities decided to forcibly evict some residents of Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku, destroy their apartments and build a performance venue in their place. In a February 17 report, Human Rights Watch questions whether illegal expropriation is the best course of action in preparing the capital for a celebratory, feel-good international contest:
“Hosting Eurovision means the Azerbaijani government can showcase Baku to thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “However, the event is overshadowed by the illegal evictions, expropriations, and demolitions for hundreds of local residents forced out of their homes.”
Indeed. There is a vast difference between the citizens’ reality and the government’s fantasy of hosting Eurovision 2012 in Baku, apparent from the videos below.
The government’s version of the capital city, a glamorous convertible-topped hybrid of East and West, ancient and modern:
And the reality of Eurovision in Baku, courtesy of Human Rights Watch:
Some already doubt the country’s qualification to host Eurovision based on its gay rights record. A group of Armenian pop singers are also considering boycotting the contest because of their home country’s marred history with Azerbaijan.
Nevertheless, the Azerbaijani government has pressed on in the demolition while residents, many of them military service members and their families, are still living in the complex.
Notes the Human Rights Watch report:
The Gusseinov family had entered into the forced sale of their apartment, but the family remained because the sale had not been finalized. Meanwhile, the demolition of the roof and 9th floor caused a giant pipe to fall into Gusseinov’s apartment. Gusseinov, who had celebrated his daughter’s wedding on February 12 in the apartment, had to abandon many of his possessions because he did not have enough time to pack and move. …
The authorities offered Gusseinov 300 manat (approximately US$380), to rent a temporary apartment.
The Azerbaijanis can’t seem to get a break. Spiegel Online reports that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organizer for the Eurovision contest, denies any responsibility for the forced evictions:
EBU officials insist that they didn’t ask anyone to build new venues or to raze old buildings. In fact, they say, they have only now approved Crystal Hall, on a site that was previously wasteland, as the venue for the event. Besides, they add, the city has shown them that the redevelopment plans that require tearing down existing structures were made before Azerbaijan won the contest last May, thereby securing the right to host this year’s contest.
The company in charge of producing the contest is also washing its hands of uprooting the lives of Azerbaijani families just to put on on a pretty face for the international community:
Jörg Grabosch, the head of Brainpool, the German company that will produce the giant television show for the Azerbaijanis, has nothing but praise for the speed at which the arena is being built. “The loss of the buildings isn’t a tragedy,” he says, suggesting that the gray apartment towers didn’t look pretty anyway.
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