Serbia’s Marija Serifovic has claimed victory in the 52nd annual Eurovision Song Contest, held in Helsinki on May 12. This is the first win for Serbia and the first time in the contest for the Balkan nation since separating from Montenegro. In 2004, the combined Serbia-Montenegro returned to the contest for the first time since Yugoslavia broke up and claimed second place.
Serifovic, 22, delivered a stirring performance of “Molitva” in her native language. Composed by Vladimir Graic with lyrics by Sasa Milosevic Mare, the title translates as “Prayer,” and it is the first non-English song to win since 1998, when Israel’s Dana International triumphed with “Diva,” sung in Hebrew.
This is the sixth consecutive year that a country has won Eurovision for the first time. After Sweden placed first in 1999 and Denmark scored its second win in 2000, the countries capturing the annual trophy have been first-time winners Estonia (2001), Latvia (2002), Turkey (2003), Ukraine (2004), Greece (2005) and Finland (2006).
Ukraine almost had another victory this year, with “Danzing” by “Verka Serduchka,” a popular character in Ukraine created by Andrei Danilko. His entry was the polar opposite of Serifovic’s simple and powerful song, with a chaotic circus-like performance. It was good enough for second place.
A record-setting 42 countries participated in Eurovision this year, breaking the old record of 38. The Czech Republic and Georgia took part for the first time. The song contest began with a semi-final, broadcast live on May 10. There were 28 countries competing for 10 spaces in the final.
The top 10 semi-finalists joined the 14 pre-qualified entries, which were the top 10 nations from the 2006 competition and the “big four”: the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Germany. Because those four countries contribute the most to the budget of the pan-European broadcast, they automatically qualify for the final.
It was a shocking finish for Ireland, which has won the contest seven times, more than any other country. While the U.K. song “Flying the Flag (For You)” by Scooch didn’t fare much better, it did enter the British singles chart the day after the contest at No. 5. That’s the highest-ranked U.K. Eurovision entry on the British charts since 1997, when Katrina and the Waves went to No. 2 with “Love Shine a Light,” that year’s winning song.
Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary and Moldova along with the “big four” are pre-qualified for the 2008 final, to be held in Belgrade on May 24. The other countries, and any newcomers, will have to compete in the semi-final, to be held May 22.
Next year’s format will follow this year’s, but the European Broadcasting Union is planning to hold two semi-finals in 2009, with all countries having to qualify. It has not been decided if the “big four” will go through automatically.