ROMANIA (BEST: 3RD IN 2005 AND 2010)
Romania was among the first batch of Eastern European nations gagging to enter Eurovision when the barriers came down in 1993. Their first efforts met with mediocre results to put it mildly. It wasn’t until 2002 that an incredibly old-fashioned ballad landed them in the top ten, but this marked a major turning point. The Romanians backed up that result with another top ten finish, followed swiftly by consecutive top four results in 2005 and 2006, something quite unthinkable just a few years before. It’s true that they’ve had their share of help from diaspora and neighbours (hello Moldova!) but they’ve also submitted contemporary, competent songs that have been rewarded, such as the 2010 song which secured a second third-place. Up to and including 2015 Romania hadn’t missed a final in the semis-era. However in April 2016 their entry for the Stockholm contest was unceremonially thrown out just weeks before the contest as Romanian TV had defaulted on monies owed to the EBU. In 2018 their entry was eliminated in the semf-final for the first time.
RUSSIA (BEST: WON IN 2008)
Russia (or as originally tagged at Eurovision, “Russian Federation”) strode into the contest in 1994 and have made quite an impact since. In their first years their entrants stood out visually from the competition, with amazing vermillion frocks, men with make up and, well, Alla Pugacheva (who made Terry Wogan think of Dick Emery!). As time went on the quirkiness turned into regular solid results. Highlights were undoubtedly the second place in 2000 for Alsou and third for faux-lesbians Tatu in a photo-finish in 2003, although in other years they were far from the worst performing “new country”. The addition of more and more of their former co-republics (with full voting rights even if eliminated in the semis) meant a top five finish was virtually guaranteed, and a first Russian victory in 2008 surprised few. A feeling of “mission accomplished” saw them miss the top ten the next three years, but from 2012 to 2016 they were clearly in it to win it again as those five contests saw two runners-up and a third place. Recent contests have also seen Russian entries openly booed by the audience, this has been attributed to Vladimir Putin’s homophobic politics and to a lesser extent Russian aggression in the Ukriane. They say out the 2017 contest in Kyiv as their chosen performer Julia Samoylova was banned from entering the Ukraine. A year later she was sent to the Lisbon contest where Russia failed to advance from the semi-final for the first time.
SAN MARINO (BEST: 20TH IN 2019)
The tiny nation surrounded by Italy made its debut in 2008. It finished last in it’s semi despite some critical acclaim and they decided not to return in 2009 or 2010, but have happily been back in the mix since 2011. Valentina Monetta sang for them three years in a row and it was third time lucky in 2014 as they finally squeaked into the final for the first time, only to finish third last. All Monetta’s songs plus the 2015 effort were written by Eurovision evergreen Ralph Siegel.
SERBIA (BEST: WON IN 2007)
Former Yugoslavia sent its last entry in 1992 and as the constituent republics split away, by 1998 four of the six had entered Eurovision. Serbia (still hitched-up with Montenegro) remained the political pariah and it was not until 2004 that they had the chance to debut at the contest. The combination of a famous performer, ex-pats and neighbours helped them to a second place. Two years later the Serbs and Montenegrins fell out over the national final result and no song was sent to Athens. A year later they were separate entities and Serbia’s first individual entry swept to victory, managing to even see off Verka Serduchka in an interesting “ex-Yugo” vs “ex-Soviet” voting battle. Recent years have seen more average results until 2004 man Željko Joksimović returned to the fray in 2012 and joined the select band of performers with two top-three results. After a years absence one of the standout nations of Eurovision’s sixth decade returned for the sixtieth Grand Prix.
SERBIA & MONTENEGRO (BEST: 2ND IN 2004)
Serbia/Montenegro, as the core of the dying Yugoslavia, was the last part of the old country to make its debut at Eurovision. It did so with a moody ethnic ballad with strong visual elements and a long instrumental intro, and hey-presto, the country that had been the pariah of Europe for much of the 90s sailed to a close second place on it’s very first Eurovision appearance. In 2006 a squabble between Serbian and Montenegran television prevented an entry being sent to Athens. By 2007 each were sending separate entries.
SLOVAKIA (BEST: 18TH IN 1996)
The Slovak Republic was one of the very first Eastern countries to enter the contest and competed in three finals between 1994 and 1998. They never finished higher than eighteenth and withdrew after the Birmingham contest. Happily they returned to the fold in 2009, but after four DNQs withdrew after 2012 and no sign of a return.
SLOVENIA (BEST: 7TH IN 1995 AND 2001)
Slovenia were one of the three “new” countries who came through the rather patronizing 1993 pre-qualifier and they soon established a competent record in the next few years, two seventh places being the best returns. Always a bit more “middle Europe” and a bit less “Balkan” than their ex-Yugo colleagues, the new millennium saw a decline in fortunes. Since the semis started they have only qualified for five of the fifteen contests and not bested 13th in a final.
SPAIN (BEST: WON IN 1968 AND 1969)
Spain’s Eurovision journey began rather badly as two of their first four entries claimed “Nul Points” but much better was around the corner. Their Eurovision heyday was definitely the late 60s and early 70s, the absolute zenith being back-to-back triumphs in 1968 and 1969 and top four finishes in three of the next four years. Success since then has been harder to come by, despite another surge in their results at the turn of the 90s. As that decade wore on, rather like neighbours France, they did suffer some very poor times, but due to a high profile “Pop Idol” type casting show fortunes improved in the new millennium. However the last few years have seen less enthusiasm from broadcaster TVE, and Spain has joined the other big four countries in populating the lowest rungs of the scoreboard. In 2009 they couldn’t even keep their promise of showing the semi-final live and while the rest of the big four put more effort in, TVE if anything put in even less. In 2010 they had two goes on final night after an idiot invaded the stage but the extra exposure didn’t help. Having said that 2014 saw their second top ten result in three years, both with power ballads.
SWEDEN (BEST: WON IN 1974, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2012 AND 2015)
Sweden absolutely loves Eurovision, so much that their annual selection process often collects higher ratings than Eurovision itself. After a very patchy start, things started improving in the late 60s, and come 1974 the historic victory of Abba was well deserved. Things died down after that for a while, but the early 80s saw the Swedish “dans-band/schlager” style reap great rewards, and with only one or two exceptions, they remained at the very forefront of Eurovision contenders until the first years of the new millennium. Their exceptional consistency took a downturn after 2004 and the advent of the semis, with only one entry troubling the left hand side of the scoreboard, and hit a nadir in 2010 with a shock DNQ. Since then however they’ve been sensational. In the last eight contests they’ve won two, finished third in two and fifth in another. Streets ahead of the opposition this decade and now just one win behind Ireland.
SWITZERLAND (BEST: WON IN 1956 AND 1988)
Despite Ireland’s protestations, Switzerland is the home of Eurovision (it was hatched in 1956 on the edge of lake Lugano), and Switzerland is arguably, alongside Ireland, the most conservative Eurovision nation. They won the very first contest and were major players in the early days, and settled into a pattern of very positive results through the 60s and 70s. In the 80s they tended to veer between great and awful. Like many of the old-timers, the 90s and new millennium saw a slow but steady decline in their fortunes with four relegations. In 2004 they managed to score “nul points” in the pre-selection, even with 33 countries voting. Since then they’ve only featured in four of fourteen finals.
TURKEY (BEST: WON IN 2003)
No country has seen such a sea change in it’s Eurovision fortunes as Turkey, and much of that is due to the advent of telephone voting and the entry in recent years of neighbouring countries. Turkey have been in the contest, on and off, since the mid 70s although they usually occupied a place near the foot of the scoreboard. These mediocre results continued until 1997 when they achieved third place (at the time only their second top ten in nineteen goes). After that their record dramatically improved, capped with a victory in 2003. This has been down to a combination of cleverly tapping into the appetite for “ethno-lite pop” together with the voting influence of the Turkish diaspora across Europe, meaning that they were virtually assured of a top ten result every year under total televoting or 50/50. Having said that in 2011 they managed to miss the cut and after just one more contest Turkey withdrew from Eurovision, apparently in protest at the 50/50 voting system.
UKRAINE (BEST: WON IN 2004 and 2016)
The European Broadcasting Union bent the rules for the Ukraine when it allowed them into the 2003 contest despite having told the likes of Albania and Serbia & Montenegro that they would have to wait until the advent of the semis a year later. Such is the influence of one of the largest ex-Soviet republics! A solid mid-table start was followed the next year by an total victory!. Ruslana was a heroine of the Ukrainian revolution and her win, and the 2005 hosting of the contest was heavily symbolic politically. A blip on home soil, when an overtly political dirge was shoe-horned in as their entry was followed by further success, including the infamous Verka Serduchka who cracked several singles charts (including the UK top 30) with the 2007 runner-up that far outsold and outshone the contest winner. Another second place the year after placed them at the very top of the all-time Nul Points Rankings. Their 2009 entry was though seriously below-par and their top ranking spot under threat until top ten results the next two years cemented their place, until twenty-first century juggernauts Azerbaijan and Serbia qualified for the list. Sadly Ukraine did not participate in the 2015 contest as their broadcaster confirmed that they didn’t have the resources and (understandably) had other priorities. Just a year later though Jamala gave them their second Grand Prix and restored them to the top of our ranking. In 2019 Ukraine pulled out of the Tel Aviv contest after the winner of their national final refused to comply with strict contractual conditions relating to performing in Russia.
UNITED KINGDOM (BEST: WON IN 1967, 1969, 1976, 1981 AND 1997)
The United Kingdom’s record in the early decades is without parallel; from 1959 to 1977 they only once finished outside the top four! The contest was in it’s heyday and the BBC as able to persuade many of the leading names in easy-listening and pop to fly the flag. The next decade saw a general decline in fortunes, but a top ten result was still virtually a given. As the 80s ended, singing in the English language continued to be a massive bonus as six top two results in eleven years signalled a marked revival. The language rule change of 1999 was the trigger for a dismal decline in UK Eurovision results (2002 and 2009 excepting), culminating in “nul points” in 2003 and two other last places. All this despite the BBC’s frequent attempts to revamp the selection process, before dispensing with it altogether until 2016 when they revived a national final. Loads more about the story of the UK at Eurovision is here.
EX-YUGOSLAVIA (BEST: WON IN 1989)
Former Yugoslavia stood out from its neighbours by being part of Eurovision almost from the start and had a reasonable sequence of results in the 60s but some abysmal scores in the 70s. After a short break, they eventually managed fourth in 1983 but it wasn’t until the latter half of the decade that their hottest period came, topped by taking the crown in 1989. The last contest of the old country was just three years later. The constituent parts of the old Yugoslavia are now competing as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.