Bosnia & Herzegovina 2016

Eurosong.be is publishing a series of 30 posts looking at how prepared the #escdk participants are to host Eurovision 2015 in the event of a victory in Copenhagen – or in this case Eurovision 2016 and somewhere else entirely, as B&H aren’t #joining us…

Posts published Mondays and Thursdays – we’re still just one country behind! Below is a translation of Bosnië en Herzegovina 2016

the Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch in Sarajevo
the Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch in Sarajevo

B&H basics are quickly checked off – only one city, the capital Sarajevo, and only one venue are in contention. But the national broadcaster’s dire financial situation means the country is absent from Eurovision again this year, and the state of the country’s technical infrastructure also raises doubts.

It’s sometimes claimed that certain countries only participate in Eurovision to fly their flag – winning is secondary or not even desirable. This might be the case for Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) in recent years, but sometimes they have taken a risk.

A difficult start

It took a few years for B&H to find their feet. The sympathy vote (because of the war) saved their first few entries from outright embarrassment, and in 1996 the country was happy just to get out of the pre-selection. But from 2000 onwards it’s shown good form, one of the few countries to get to the final every year since the introduction of semifinals in 2004.

B&H provided the participant for the former Yugoslavia a few times (eds: make that four: 1964, 1973, 1976 and 1981, the last Lejla v1), but Serbia and Croatia were rather more successful at Jugovizija, the Yugoslav national final.

In the last 10 years five of their entries have made the top 10. They came closest to victory in 2006 with third place for Hari Mata Hari’s Lejla, behind Dima Bilan and the monsters from Finland.

No alternative to Sarajevo

B&H’s second city, Banja Luka, has a population of about 200,000, but its airport has only two international routes (four flights a week to/from Zurich and three flights a week to Belgrade). A three hour journey to the airport in Sarajevo is not an insurmountable factor, but the death knell for any bid from Banja Luka would be its limited hotel capacity – the city simply does not have enough hotel rooms to meet the conditions imposed on the Eurovision host city by the EBU.

Sarajevo would not simply be host city due to the absence of any alternative – the Bosnian capital has a lot to offer and was included in Lonely Planet‘s 2010 Top 10 Cities.

Eighteen years after the end of the siege that lasted nearly four years and cost the lives of some 15,000, the people of Sarajevo remember little of the horrors of its recent history. Despite the devastation of the siege Sarajevo remains one of the most historically interesting and diverse cities in Europe, but more importantly – for the contest, at least – are the facilities that the capital city can offer. There is – as I said – an international airport, plenty of hotels and a suitable venue.

A hall with a story

The Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch, the largest sports and events arena in B&H, was built for the 1984 Winter Olympics. The concert hall can accommodate 18,000 spectators, but bearing in mind the size of the Eurovision stage, commentary booths, cameras and other equipment, capacity would probably be around 12,000.

The arena was completely destroyed in 1992 by shelling, mortar fire and bombs from Serb forces. The underground chambers were used as a morgue and a repository for medical equipment and other supplies, while the stadium’s wooden seats were used to make coffins for civilian casualties.

After the war the SFOR peacekeeping force helped in the reconstruction of the arena. The project was supported by the International Olympic Committee, with a contribution of more than $11 million.

Economic sense of reality

The Bosnian broadcaster deserves praise for its economic sense of reality. Last year they decided not to send a song to Malmö for financial reasons. They stayed at home in 1998 and 2000, but that was due to poor results in the previous year. So up to last year the country had participated every time it was permitted to.

One can of course query whether a country that for two consecutive years has not participated for financial reasons would be in a position to organise the contest in 2016 – the fee to participate is only a fraction of what it costs to organise the contest. Simply taking part involves the ‘risk’ of incurring costs in the future. 

Money, money, money

It was far from certain whether B&H’s absence last year would remain a one-off. The country initially announced its return for 2014,  providing they could find the necessary funding from sponsors, but on 18 December 2013 the broadcaster announced that they had not been able to find sponsorship and would be staying at home for another year.

It remains questionable whether the country will be back next year – the broadcaster’s financial situation has not significantly improved. BHRT ended last year with a very modest profit,  but falling sales for several years in a row means they are currently about € 11 million in the red (with loans from the government as well as from domestic and foreign banks). B&H is therefore likely to have to wait a little longer for a victory.

OSCE and EBU worried

In addition to the countrywide BHT 1 there is a channel for each of the two entities which make up the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina: RTVFBiH for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, broadcasting in Bosnian and Croatian, and RTRS for Republika Srpska, broadcasting mainly in Serbian.

The Organization for Security and Resistance in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern last year about changes in Bosnian media law permitting the creation of a fourth public broadcaster again focused on a single group of the population. As well as representing a further financial burden for BHRT this would mean a further fragmentation of not only the media landscape but also of society. The EBU had earlier expressed its concern at the inadequate funding of the broadcaster concerned and the legislative process itself.

Missed symbolism

The reason BHRT – despite its dire financial situation – wanted to take part in 2014 is primarily symbolic. In 1964, fifty years ago, a Bosnian singer (on behalf of Yugoslavia) took part in Eurovision for the first time – in Copenhagen. Despite Sabahudin Kurt’s last place with nul points, his participation still has a special symbolism for the country.

Technical upgrade on hold

Bosnian television viewers are still waiting for broadcasting on 576 lines in 4:3 format.  HD and 16:9, the norm for Eurovision, were scheduled for September 2013, but have been postponed for financial reasons. Good news for audiovisual services companies in the event of a Bosnian victory, with a lucrative contract to be swept up, but less good news for the already financially ailing broadcaster.

In addition, and a further worry for the EBU, it looks likely that B&H will miss the digital boat completely and remain a sole analogue black hole in Europe.

In conclusion, a victory would give the managers of Bosnian broadcasting a lot of headaches and create a significant (additional) financial burden for years. However, if BHRT were to appeal to external broadcasters all the conditions  imposed on the organising broadcaster could be met, so the EBU need have no fears about a Bosnian victory. Current EBU president and Administrator General of the RTBF Jean-Paul Philippot knows only too well that you can organise a festival on credit – ‘his’ broadcaster did that in 1987, and later, in 2006 (eds: surely 2008), the Serbs had to do the same.

Favourite entry from B&H at Eurovision? Strong competition from Dino et al in 2011 and the knitting brides in 2008, but let’s give the Les Miz rip-off another run-out, in a less polished version via our friends at Eurosong.be:

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