Debts force nations to quit Eurovision song contest
'Sick list' growing as song contest strikes wrong note during financial meltdown
One after another they are calling in sick. First, Portugal and Poland and now, short of an economic miracle, Cyprus and Greece.
For an event that is meant to be one of the most unifying in Europe, next year's Eurovision song contest, to be held in Malmo, Sweden, is starting to look unusually thin on the ground. In quick succession this week, all four countries announced, or intimated strongly, that they would not be taking part.
With the exception of Warsaw, each cited the debt crisis.
"It's a great shame," said Greek singer Nana Mouskouri, who was discovered when she performed A Force de Prier, Luxembourg's entry in 1963.
"I couldn't perform for Greece back then as we didn't have television," she said. "But the whole thing has just got so big and so expensive."
That is why the competition that has come to be associated with kitsch costumes and iffy music has had to take a back seat for recession-hit nations.
"Public television ought not to participate in this year's Eurovision contest in correspondence with overwhelming public sentiment," said a Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou.
"It is very unlikely that Greece will take part."
With Greeks brought to their knees by the cuts demanded in return for keeping their economy afloat, officials insisted it would be "distasteful" to be seen to be competing in a contest "that is all about sequins and stage effects".
An official at the state-controlled channel said: "It's not just that we don't have the money to pay for the broadcasting rights and participation fees - which, at €120,000 (HK$1.2 million), we simply don't have - at this time it would be morally wrong."
In Cyprus, where financial woes were triggered by its banking sector's exposure to Greece, the state broadcaster PIK went so far as to describe participation as a "possibly provocative" move.
Poland issued a statement saying: "After a very careful analysis we made the difficult decision not to take part in the contest in Malmo."
Just days after tickets went on sale, there are even mutterings as to whether, after 58 years, the institution Europeans love to lampoon can survive.
Organisers brush off such suggestions, saying 38 countries have already signed up for the event, which is the most-watched show on European TV.
But agent Yannis Koutrakis, who has represented Greek celebrities who have participated in the show, beg to differ.
"You've got so many countries, like Azerbaijan and Georgia, that are not exactly European which are now participating," he said. "If countries at the heart of Europe leave, what is left? Is it really a European song contest?"