As I type this the Eurovision Song Contest is playing in the background. It was easy to stop watching - Norway is so far ahead in the voting its hard to imagine anything will change.
A lot of Europeans cringe at the mention of the contest. The music is often so bad, the lyrics so unoriginal, the emotion so fake that's all pretty understandable. But in Australia its treated as high camp - hugely popular in the Gay and Lesbian community and ironic inner city inhabitants who wouldn't be seen dead at this sort of music the rest of the year. If I'd slept more last night I might be at a fundraiser where you could watch it on the big screen.
But whether you love or hate the clothes, music and presenters, its worth spending just a minute to consider the real benefit of the event. It was created in the 1950s, when Europe was desperately searching for a way to prevent another war. The European Union was the most important product of this search, along with the court of human rights and other bodies that managed to pull in even more of the continent's nations. Besides these Eurovision might seem pretty trivial. But it is all a part of the process of building a common European identity. The hope was that the more one saw of another nation's culture, the less likely you were to invade.
Modern technology and the fall of the Wall has given the whole project a renewed lease of life. Western Europe doesn't need it any more, and aside from the Scandinavians they don't much care either. But for Eastern Europe, so recently at war and with unresolved conflicts still to be address, anything that instills fondness for the neighbours has value. The fact that everyone gets to vote these days is important too - when you've just voted for Bosnia to win the contest you probably don't feel so much like bombing them back to the Stone Age. It's even better if they've just given you 12 points - but even 5 or 6 will do.
It's hard to prove that Eurovision works. It's a pretty flimsy basis for continental peace after all. But these things build up. Once Europe was in a continuous state of war. Peace for any nation was a temporary aberration, and for the whole place to be free of war at once was almost unimaginable. Last year, when Russia and Georgia went to war, the first conflict anywhere west of the Urals for 9 years, it was like an event from another era. Which in fact it was.
You may, like me, think that the Norwegian entry was so boring it ranks as three minutes of your life you'll never get back. But spend some time in the cemeteries of Flanders if you need to be reminded there are worse things than boredom.