On March 5, the Latvian host broadcaster for the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, LTV, wrote a letter to the Norwegian broadcaster NRK with an official complaint concerning the interval act of the national final Melodi Grand Prix 2003. Yesterday, apologies were delivered from the performing group itself, Cheezy Keys, the head of NRK, John G. Bernander, and even a face to face apology from the Norwegian ambassador in Riga till Latvia's president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
The general director of LTV, Uldis Grava, wrote that, on behalf of the host broadcaster, he could not understand why “Latvia�s image was linked to Russian balalaikas, dolls dressed in Russian costumes, so-called matrioshka dolls pictured and military medals.” He also asked NRK, when talking about Latvia in the future, to use three films about Latvia and Riga which were produced specifically for this purpose and were sent to Norway last week.
From the very beginning, the Norwegian ambassador in Latvia, Jan Wessel Hegg, has used strong, undiplomatic words to describe the embarrassing occurence. Norway's most popular tabloid paper, VG, reported that yesterday he took personal contact with Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the current president of Latvia, and asked Latvia's forgiveness. To this Vaira responded: “I understand. It's such a pity that a thing like this can happen.” After the incident, Wessel Hegg added the following to VG: “The head of the Latvian broadcaster has thanked me for giving a clear message to NRK. The interval act made me furious.”
Cheezy Keys in Oslo Spektrum
The members of Cheezy Keys admit that they didn't do any kind of research before they entered the stage last Saturday: “We don't know much about Latvian culture, so we were kind of playing with different folklore expressions. We tried not to draw any clear lines, but rather create an Eastern European folklore. … The interval act was meant to be ironical towards the typical Norwegian prejudices of Latvia which most of us possess, and in no way meant as pestering or a malignant joke. We promise to do better research in the future.”
Also the head of Melodi Grand Prix 2003, Stina Greaker, is sorry for the consequences the matter brought: “It makes me sad when somebody feels hurt. Of course we don't want that people should need to eat nerve pills after having watched our interval act. But I've never said that I consider this a blunder. On the other hand, I know for certain that we will not use humour while presenting Latvia in the preview programmes which will be produced.”
John G. Bernander, head of NRK, expressed the following in an interview with his own broadcaster: “I apologize for everything, I have no excuses. The act caused grazes on our knees. This will of course lead to an internal evaluation in NRK.” Bernander also wrote a letter to the Latvian ambassador in Norway were he explained that the performance was not meant to represent Latvian culture or history, but was meant as a funny vaudeville act variety show . Parts of the letter read as follows: “On behalf of NRK and our team, I would like to express my apology. … I'm afraid this has embarrassed us in the highest degree. … I can assure that we are looking forward to the song contest in Riga. We know that this will give us an excellent opportunity to broadcast from today's Latvia with respect and understanding for a unique people and its historical heritage.”
NRK article 1: Deploring interval act blunder
NRK article 2: Bernander deplores
VG article: Sorry, Latvia
eurovision.tv article: Latvian Television sends letter to Norwegian Television