Is North Macedonia the unluckiest country at Eurovision?
Today, August 2, is Republic Day in North Macedonia, which is a national day that marks a major religious holiday, the Linden Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1903 and the 1944 declaration that the People's Republic of Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia.
This national day reveals the tumultuous but ultimately triumphant history of the Balkan nation. When it comes to Eurovision, North Macedonia has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, from missing out on Eurovision Grand Finals a dozen times to triumphantly winning the jury vote in 2019.
The Macedonians have experienced their fair share of misfortunes and successes at the Contest, and to mark Republic Day, we explore why North Macedonia might just be the unluckiest country at Eurovision.
Failing to represent Yugoslavia (1961 - 1991)
North Macedonia became an independent country in 1991, but before that it was part of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav selection for Eurovision often consisted of the various socialist republics (SRs) that made up the country sending representatives to compete in the national final. The SRs were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and Macedonia (North Macedonia today).
Yugoslavia competed at Eurovision a total of 27 times, but never did an entry from SR Macedonia represent them.
Maja Odžaklievska was an example of how close they came. She competed in Yugoslavia's national selection Jugovizija three times in a row between 1982 and 1984, finishing 2nd, 3rd and 2nd respectively.
In contrast, performers from SR Croatia flew the Yugoslav flag 13 times. The Yugoslav entries were sung in Serbo-Croat 23 times and in Slovenian in the other four times. According to historian Dean Vuletic, who wrote the book 'Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest', this illustrates a cultural marginalisation of the poorest parts of Yugoslavia which included SR Macedonia.
Delayed debut (1996-1998)
North Macedonia first attempt at Eurovision as an independent country came in 1996. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was generally no semi-final system at Eurovision, with countries relegated for one year if they had a poor result the previous year. However, if a country wanted to debut they could often do so straight away.
The only exception was North Macedonia, as the year they tried to debut the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) experimented with a new system. In order to whittle the number of countries from an excessive 30 to a more manageable 23, in 1996 the EBU introduced a qualifying round. Hosts Norway automatically qualified for the Contest, leaving the other 29 countries to battle for the remaining 22 slots in the main show. Juries from each of 29 nations listened to audio recordings of all the entries and voted in the same manner as in the televised Contest.
The entry hoping to make North Macedonia's debut at the Contest was 'Samo ti' by Kaliopi. The song finished in 26th place in the qualifying round and therefore did not make it to the main show. Kaliopi would later represent North Macedonia at Eurovision in 2012 and 2016 with 'Crno i belo' and 'Dona' respectively.
The Macedonians then tried to enter the 1997 Contest. However the EBU reverted back to choosing qualifiers based on the results from the previous years. North Macedonia's poor result in the 1996 qualifying round meant again they had to miss out. The Balkan nation would finally make their debut at Eurovision 1998 with Vlado Janevski performing 'Ne zori, zoro'.
No guaranteed Grand Final (2004 - 2007)
From 2004 to 2007 the EBU introduced a semi-final system to allow all the countries that wanted to participate the opportunity to do so.The four largest Eurovision financial contributors Spain, Germany, France and United Kingdom (colloquially called "the Big Four") and the top ten other countries from the previous year's Contest, automatically qualified for the final of that year's show. The remaining countries would battle it out in the semi-final, with the top ten moving to the Grand Final.
On paper this period would appear quite successful for North Macedonia because they qualified for the final every year. However on all four occasions they did not perform well enough to automatically qualify for next year's Contest. North Macedonia was one of the few countries to make the final every year between 2004 and 2007, but the only one who had to qualify from the semi-final each time. Their best result during this period was Elena Risteska with 'Ninanajna' who finished 12th in 2006.
Consistent 10th Place in semi-finals (2008 - 2009)
In 2008 the EBU moved to the double semi-final system we know today. However, an odd method was used to decide the ten qualifiers from each semi-final. The first nine qualifiers would be from the televote with the final qualifier decided by the highest scoring song, yet to qualify, from the professional juries.
This would prove frustrating for North Macedonia because in both 2008 and 2009 they finished 10th in the televote in their respective semi-final, but got pipped to the Grand Final by the juries.
In 2008 Tamara, Vrčak and Adrijan with 'Let Me Love You' were beaten by Sweden's Charlotte Perrelli with 'Hero' who came 12th in the televote. This result is all the more remarkable because Charlotte won Eurovision in 1999 with 'Take Me to Your Heaven' and would have been the first Swede and former Eurovision winner to not qualify for the Grand Final.
2009 saw the Macedonian band Next Time with 'Nešto što kje ostane' lose out to Finland's Waldo People with 'Lose Control' who also finished 12th in the televote. Needless to say the Macedonians were quite displeased with this system of qualifiers.
Australia edges out North Macedonia (2016)
2016 marked the first year Australia had to compete in the semi-finals of Eurovision, having automatically gained a place in the Grand Final the year before as a special guest. Dami Im cruised through and won her semi-final with 'Sound of Silence'. This was however at the expense of Kaliopi with 'Dona', who finished in 11th place in the semi.
One could therefore argue had Australia's Eurovision contract not been renewed after the special guest appearance, North Macedonia would have made it to the Final in 2016.
Not recognised as the jury winner (2019)
In 2019 North Macedonia's Tamara Todevska with 'Proud' not only broke her country's seven year Eurovision non- qualification streak, but also gave them their best ever result of 7th place.
She also topped the jury vote that year, however this was not revealed in the broadcast. This was because the Belarusian jury's votes were miscalculated at the time. That nation's jury was disqualified before final because how the jury had voted in the first semi-final was publicly released, which contravened Eurovision rules.
Therefore for the final, Belarus' jury score was made up of an aggregate of jury results of countries with similar voting tendencies. However, instead of the top ten scores of the Belarusian jury being shown on the televised broadcast, human error led to the bottom ten scores being awarded points.
When the results were corrected after the broadcast, North Macedonia - which had initially finished second with the juries - was revealed to have actually topped the jury score. However, on the night of the broadcast Sweden was shown as the country who won the jury vote, and received their televote last.
Withdrawal due to financial constraints (2023)
2023 marked the first time ever North Macedonia voluntarily withdrew from the Contest. Their Eurovision broadcaster MRT cited financial difficulties as the reason. MRT did broadcast this year's Contest though and are hopeful of returning next year.
As demonstrated North Macedonia has had an unlucky history at Eurovision. We at Aussievision sincerely hope that not only can North Macedonia return to Eurovision next year, but that they can turn around their fortunes at the Contest.
We would like to wish all our Macedonian readers and followers a happy Republic Day.
For continued updates on all Eurovision Song Contest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Threads. Links can be found at: https://linktr.ee/aussievisionnet