• 2002-05-29
There's an old Estonian saying: you never get a bump in the same place twice. But this time it happened.

With innovative costumes, a sharp sense of style, and a thumping Latin American rhythm, Latvia won the latest Eurovision Song Contest in fine fashion. But even as "Marie N" returned to a heaving crowd and a presidential embrace in Riga's central Dome Square, it was clear that the real winner was Estonia - for pulling off such an entertaining show.

In this, the mother of all music talent shows, where young musicians get discovered, Estonia, too, got discovered by Europeans who know nothing about the tiny country in this little-known corner of Europe. Certainly, by the cries and shrieks during the event and the partying afterwards, none of the 900 foreign journalists - the most ever accredited for the event - looked eager to go home.

More than half of the $7.2 million budget for the contest was covered by Estonia, the rest by the European Broadcasting Union. But Estonia may have already earned about $4 million back in direct income as each of the guests is estimated to have left on average $1,000 in spending behind on hotel rooms, food, souvenirs and entertainment. Latvia take note. Apart from the 50 delegation members and journalists, 3,000 foreigners bought tickets to the event.

As the show began, and first-up Cyprus launched into some stomping Europop, it was clear that musically this would be a Eurovision like every other.

But with outrageous costumes like the starship trooper gear worn by the (middle-aged) boy band from Greece, and some suggestive golden body armor donned by Macedonia's singer Karolina, it was hard not to be infected by the theatrics of it all.

But, more than anything, Eurovision 2002 proved that Baltic unity is possible.

As Lithuania and Denmark vied for last place, Latvia, which gave out its points penultimately, awarded a much-needed "6" to haul Lithuania up into 22nd position. Lithuania, the last country to award points, had the decisive vote on who should win: Latvia or Malta. It gave Latvia the maximum douze points. It brought cheers from the entire crowd.