The rivalry between Western and Eastern Europe during the Cold War led to a process of replication where one block would create a counterpart to something in the other.

This is evident with NATO and the Warsaw Pact or the European Common Market and COMECON. But interestingly enough, the Eastern countries also had a response to something much less serious.

In 1977, the ISC, the Intervision Song Contest, was born, which, as you can guess, was a copy of the Eurovision Song Contest in the communist bloc.

Intervision was the name of the television network of the OIRT (International Radio and Television Organization). It was founded in 1960 by state broadcasters from Hungary, Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia to facilitate the exchange of programs among Soviet European countries. Over the next two years, it was joined by the USSR, Bulgaria, Romania, and even Mongolia, along with some non-aligned countries like Austria’s ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) and Finland’s YLE (Yleisradio).

The ideological division of the world in 1980, with the Cold War still ongoing
The ideological division of the world in 1980, with the Cold War still ongoing. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It was the counterpart to the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), created in 1950 in imitation of the aforementioned OIRT (which began in 1946), comprising 23 broadcasters from Western Europe, as well as Yugoslavia, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon.

The EBU’s television branch was called Eurovision and aimed to exchange news, programs, sports broadcasts, and live events, among other things. In 1956, it created the Eurovision Grand Prix, later renamed the Eurovision Song Contest, which has been held annually ever since.

Despite some changes, the success of the format—it is the longest-running show in the world—led Intervision to create a similar event that brought together countries from the Soviet sphere. However, it took some time to come to fruition, as it wasn’t until 1977 that the SOPOT ISF or Sopot International Song Festival, which was Poland’s most important event alongside the National Polish Song Festival in Opole, became the basis for the new contest. Sopot continued to host the event.

In green, participants in the Intervision festival at least once since 1977. In yellow, those who never participated but could have
In green, participants in the Intervision festival at least once since 1977. In yellow, those who never participated but could have. Credit: Alex Great / Wikimedia Commons

The rules weren’t as stable as in the Western contest and changed over time. In some editions, there were two awards, one for the best song from the broadcasting network and another for the best from the record companies. Sometimes the awards were given for song quality and other times for the artist’s performance.

Another difference was that the competition accepted countries of all types, not just communist or European. This is why Belgium, New Zealand, Cuba, Peru, or South Africa, among others, participated, though not regularly. And there was a unique way of voting: due to the limited number of people with phones, voters had to leave the lights on or off, depending on whether they liked a song, and then the electricity company would measure the results.

Czechoslovakia was the first winner in 1977 with the song “Malovaný džbánku”, sung by Helena Vondráčková. The following year, the USSR won with “Vsyo mogut koroli”, performed by Alla Borisovna Pugacheva, followed by Poland with “Nim przyjdzie wiosna” (by singer Czesław Niemen), and Finland with “Hyvästi yö” (performed by the young Marion Rung).

Intervision logo
Intervision logo. Credit: public domain / Wikimedia Commons

But the festival came to a sudden halt due to the tumultuous political and social context in Poland as the 1980s began, with the Solidarity union clashing with the military government.

The suspension lasted until 1984, when Polish television revived the previous contest, the SOPOT ISF.

But it wasn’t the same, and international audiences lost interest to the point that the contest also ended in 1999; after all, the communist regime had collapsed, and neither the Warsaw Pact nor the Soviet Union existed anymore. For almost a decade, Polish television limited itself to inviting famous artists like Whitney Houston, The Corrs, or Elton John. However, in 2008, a first attempt was made to revitalize the Intervision Song Contest with a new location: the Russian city of Sochi, where Tajikistan won with the song “Hero”, performed in English by singer Tahmina Niyazova.

But it didn’t catch on. The following year, Vladimir Putin suggested that Russia could resume it along with China and countries from the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), most of which are Asian (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, plus India and Pakistan since 2016).

But it didn’t materialize, and in 2014, there was a proposal to expand participation to the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), comprising a dozen ex-Soviet republics, and extending to all those that were once part of the USSR, as well as the Baltic states.

Ultimately, the idea was canceled. Why bother when all Eastern European countries were already part of the Eurovision Song Contest? The West won the musical Cold War.

This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on August 16, 2019: Intervisión, el festival del bloque soviético que replicaba Eurovisión y se votaba apagando y encendiendo la luz

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