Eurovision in Liverpool
Two Ukrainian girls celebrating Eurovision 2023 in Liverpool. Photo by the author, used with permission.
On Saturday 13 May, I joined a group of pro-Europeans for the last day of Eurovision. The team had started handing out thousands of flags during the previous two days. The same group distributes the blue flags with yellow stars at the Royal Albert Hall in London at the Proms.
I have never been a great supporter of Eurovision as my musical tastes differ from most of the songs presented there. But the day in Liverpool, which I had not visited before, became one of the most memorable days I have experienced.
After an arduous seven hour drive from Kent, caused by several accidents and heavy traffic, I had a relaxing night’s sleep in the spare bedroom of a Liverpool pro-European. Two other co-campaigners were staying in the house and we all agreed that, for us, a benefit of Brexit was the amazing friends we had made. We would not have met if it wasn’t for our common vision of bringing us back to a close relationship with our European friends and neighbours.
The second positive experience for me was that a parking site close to the bridge and the wheel where most Eurovision visitors and performers would enter the event offered us parking and space for our boxes of flags and t-shirts. The slogan on the t-shirts was apt for Eurovision and the Proms alike: it said “Thank EU for the music”.
Thank EU for the music and others prepare to hand out European flags in Liverpool. Photo by Bruce Tanner, used with permission.
Liverpool Eurovision fans
The first thing that struck me when I took up position at the entrance to the Eurovision site was the amazing array of costumes that people were wearing. Glittering dresses and suits. Faces painted in blue and yellow to honour Ukraine, which was to host this event, but sadly had to pass on to Liverpool. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a free hand to take photos. I was holding the flags which were packed in cellophane and, to my astonishment, I couldn’t unwrap them fast enough.
Everybody, apart from two unpleasant men in Union Jack hats, was keen to carry a flag into the arena. Families with toddlers, babies in prams and groups of teenagers alike were grabbing flags and fixing them in their hair, on the handles of prams or giving them to children holding out their hands. I must admit that I had something in my eyes from time to time. It was so moving to see how the slogan of Eurovision, ‘United by Music’, was demonstrated so clearly. All ages, races, nationalities were represented. All faces were smiling. It was a carnival of Europe.
Remainers hijack Liverpool?
A tabloid had warned the day before that ‘Remainers’ would hijack Eurovision. Well, there was no need to hijack anybody. Liverpool showed that it was a pro-European city whose majority had voted to remain in the EU. The two obviously anti-EU men who complained that I was distributing EU flags despite the fact that we had left the EU would not agree with me when I told them that the blue flag with yellow stars was the flag of Europe.
It had been the flag of the Council of Europe which was only later adopted by the EU as well. Whether we are members of the EU or not did not change the fact that the UK is on the Continent of Europe. The only way to stop us being Europeans is to shift the island. To Asia, maybe… .
Liverpool welcomes Europe in support of Ukraine
Beside the European colours, there were obviously a lot of Ukrainian flags to be seen. I spoke to several Ukrainians and many people asked us for the country’s blue and yellow flags too. Sadly, we didn’t have as many as we could have distributed. But, since Eurovision is a European song contest, and Ukraine has applied to join the EU, carrying both flags made common sense.
Maybe the organisers could have supplied Ukrainian flags to demonstrate that the UK was hosting the event since Ukraine was not able to. Blue and yellow, ie both the Ukrainian and European colours dominated the Eurovision site.
European city of Liverpool
As I was reading up on the history of Liverpool, I discovered that since 1952 the city has been twinned with Cologne. I decided to look into the background of this link between the two cities. After WWII, twinning was a way to bring European people into a closer understanding of each other and to promote cross-border projects and peace.
Liverpool was not the first UK city to reach out to Germany after the war. Portsmouth City Council in 1950 decided on twinning with Duisburg as a gesture of reconciliation. It was to make the reconstruction after the destruction of WWII not just about buildings but also about rebuilding relations between former enemies. It was part of the ‘never again’ motto.
Liverpool reached out in 1952 and twinned with Cologne (Köln) as a sign of reconciliation. The relationship has since then led to many collaborations between institutions of the two cities, particularly arts organisations and faith groups.
Adenauer Prize for Liverpool
As a gesture of recognition of this special relationship, in 2017, the year after the UK voted to leave the EU, Cologne (Köln) decided to award the Konrad Adenauer Prize to Liverpool. This is normally awarded to individuals who work to contribute “towards the development of a liveable conurbation worldwide, towards European integration or towards preserving and strengthening local government in a tighter-knit Europe.”
The award was presented at a ceremony in the historic City Hall, thanking Liverpool for its “magnificent gesture of friendship.” It thanked the city as it “opened the door to a common Europe for us then (editor’s note: 1952). In these difficult times for Europe we would like to continue to pursue the effort of European integration together with you and extend and intensify our close relationship and our City’s friendship with Liverpool, now more than ever.” It adds: “As European Capital of culture in 2008 and member of Eurocities, Liverpool has for many years been actively engaged in shaping the common European house.”
At the Eurovision 2023, I believe Liverpool demonstrated that it has kept the same 1952 spirit of European integration and delivered a fantastic event to show the world that it is a true European city. It made me think of Ursula von der Leyen’s words when she took on her position to lead the European Commission: “Long Live Europe!”