Originally from Australia, Liam Clark studied at the University of Tartu as an exchange student during the 2011-2012 academic year. Liam is the editor for Estonia on the fan-run Eurovision news site escXtra.
At around 06:50 on Wednesday morning I woke my entire house up with a triumphant cheer. It’s not every Australian who would react such a way to the qualification of Estonia to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, nor for that matter would many Australians be awake at that time watching it live. For most Australians, Eurovision is a quirky, cheesy thing that for one weekend a year shows us just how strange Europe is and reminds us that countries like Moldova and San Marino exist. For me however it is my life, my biggest passion, to a certain extent my job and it is because of Eurovision that I ended up as an exchange student in Estonia.
The first time I saw Eurovision I was a relatively naïve, sheltered 16 year old living in the rural city of Albury-Wodonga in south-eastern Australia. I had never thought about most of the countries who took part in Eurovision that year, and a few I had not even heard of.
From the moment the show began I knew this was something special and one of the three songs I loved most from that evening was the Estonian entry − ‘Eighties Coming Back’ by the Vaiko Eplik fronted band who were then called “Ruffus”. Here was a country that I can only remember ever hearing about once before in my life (A singular mention from my grandmother’s bridge partner, a woman from Latvia) and I was intrigued. This is what Estonian music sounds like? It’s so cool! That flag is really pretty! Where is Estonia anyway?
The next few years my journey into Eurovision love became deeper and deeper as I researched the history, made contacts, left my hometown and found other likeminded friends and eventually travelled to Serbia to see the 2008 running of the contest where Estonia hit rock bottom with the dismal ‘Leto Svet’. But Leto Svet was needed, because it caused a shakeup which resulted in Estonia’s Eurovision selection show Eurolaul transforming into something much cooler and Eesti Laul was born.
As I saw it, with the creation of Eesti Laul, the focus of the competition had changed. It was no longer about selecting a song for Eurovision. Estonia had gone wrong for years by trying to pick something they thought Europe might like, but now it was more self-centred. It was about picking something Estonia liked, and that was cool. The result was the ethereally and completely enchanting Urban Symphony ballad ‘Rändajad’. It is because of this song that I became obsessed with Estonia. To me, it was the most beautiful language I had ever heard and I wanted to hear more. I started listening to the Estonian songs of the past and one by one I fell in love. Keelatud Maa, Mere Lapsed, Kaelakee Hääl and even the ill-fated Nagu Merelaine, I fell in love with them all.
Now these days I’ve spent enough time in the alleyway outside Zavood at 03:00 to know how ugly Estonian can sound, but to me it still sounds like the absolute perfect language for song. I knew I had to get to Estonia, and when in my first week at University in February 2010 I discovered that we were partnered with University of Tartu, I immediately set to work making my dream a reality. Around the same time I began working as a writer for a Eurovision news website which allowed me to interact, predominately by email but occasionally Skype with those who were taking part in Eurovision. I was in Eurovision fan paradise!
Upon arriving to Estonia I was hit with a sobering realisation. Nobody liked Eurovision as much as I did, Eesti Laul wasn’t considered as cool as I thought it was and most people thought I was entirely strange. In the halls of Raatuse 22 I was famous as “That Australian guy who loves Eurovision”. This didn’t deter me, and my “Eurovision Parties” in which we’d all gather to watch an older edition of Eurovision became a bit hit and I learnt my next lesson: People pretend they don’t like Eurovision, but they all love an excuse to party and watch it anyway.
In my second semester I had the pleasure of reporting on Eesti Laul from actually within Estonia, meeting several of the singers in person. This further cemented my love of Estonia. Who else can say they’ve eaten breakfast foods with August Hunt’s Norman Salumae? Had coffee with Mia? Lost at football to Loss Paranoia’s Vilho Meier and been teased by Paul from Mimicry? And it was not just Estonia that I got to report on, but I got to go to Belarus’ Eurofest, Latvia’s Eirodziesma and Finland’s Uuden Muusikin Kilpailu too.
Predictably when Ott Lepland eventually won Eesti Laul, I fell in love with the song and was fully supporting the Blue, Black and White. On the day of my 25th birthday I travelled to Azerbaijan and many people who couldn’t figure out whether I was Estonian or Australian. “Estralian” I told most people, to further exacerbate the confusion. One of the greatest moments for me was travelling back to my hotel after the final and Estonia’s 6th place. My taxi pulled up aside a car full of Estonians, so I wound down my window and started waving my flag and they did the same; we ended up driving down the Baku Boulevard next to each other for about five minutes cheering and waving flags, much to the annoyance of my very tired colleagues who I was sharing the taxi with.
So Eurovision led me to Estonia, and Estonia cements my love of Eurovision. In the end I even found a few Estonians who share my love of Eurovision. Granted one of them was my friend’s 16 year old sister, but I suppose there are worse things in the world than having the same music taste as a 16 year old Estonian girl.
So when Birgit takes to the stage in Malmö this Saturday evening, I will once more be decked out in my Estonian colours with a flag in my hand and another draped over my shoulders feeling a sense of pride for a land that I have been so inexplicably been drawn to. So aitäh Estonia, for allowing me to join in your beautiful culture, for allowing me to indulge myself with your Eurovision journey and for allowing me to share you as my adopted homeland. I may have ‘Australian’ printed in my passport, but Estonia is always in my heart.
EDU BIRGIT, EDU EESTI!