We are in 1980. It is the height of the cold war. The Berlin Wall still divides one of Europe’s largest cities. In the summer, the Olympics would be held in Moscow, but many European countries boycotted them in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.
Meanwhile, that other big international competition, the Eurovision Song Contest, is still a club for Western Europe – eastward expansion wouldn’t happen for more than a decade.
So the Eastern Bloc countries are actively planning the fourth – and, ultimately, the last – edition of their own singing competition: Intervision.
The Intervision Song Contest ran from 1977 to 1980 and was held in Poland, replacing the long-established Sopot International Song Festival.
The format was familiar: Eastern Bloc countries connected via the Intervision television network could each send an artist to Sopot, where a jury picked the winner after watching the performances.
The top three winners were Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Poland, and, because other European countries (including the Netherlands and Spain) sent entrants from time to time, the song contest Intervision of 1980 was won by Finland.
“It was live, and it was in a beautiful open-air theatre. And it was very big, I think 15,000 people or maybe even more,” recalls Marion Rung, the Finnish singer who won the latter Intervision Song Contest.
“It was very much like Eurovision. It was a fantastic orchestra and a fantastic conductor,” she told Euronews from her home in Helsinki.
By the time she went to Intervision, Marion was no stranger to major singing competitions.
In fact, she had represented Finland twice in the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing in the top 10 both times.
At the 1962 Eurovision in Luxembourg, she was the youngest competitor – at just 16 she sang Tipi-Tii (which translates to Chirpy-Chirp) in a bright yellow dress.
“It was really overwhelming; so exciting and I couldn’t believe it. I was so young then,” Marion said. “My mum used to sing when I was young and she helped me a lot with singing and performing things. We used to do everything in our kitchen, so she helped me helped a lot to introduce the song.”
More than a decade later, Marion was in Luxembourg again, representing Finland for the second time at Eurovision – this time in a maroon dress with orange stripes, the epitome of 1970s style.
“I was an established artist in 1973 and I was more confident, I can say that. We had a lot of Finnish press with us and it was the same concert hall as in 1962,” she recalls .
Preparation for the competition saw cocktails and press conferences, including a sauna event with Swedish contestants The Nova, which Marion remembers as “very interesting”.
“I had all my clothes and some journalists only had a towel. It was really fun! I don’t remember what the Swedes wore, but I was the only one who wore all my clothes – and a hat!
His song Tom Tom Tom – sung in English – finished in 6th place, just one point behind Sweden, and it would remain Finland’s top Eurovision finisher until Lordi won the contest in 2006 with Hard Rock Hallelujah.
Intervision Song Contest 1980
When the Eurovision Song Contest took place in the spring of 1980, Finland had high hopes of success, sending established actor and artist Vesa-Matti Loiri to represent the country with his song Huilumies – which means Flute Man.
The undeniably eye-catching look didn’t resonate with the judges, who only awarded it six points, and Finland came in last out of 19 countries. So, in an attempt to salvage some national pride, Finnish public broadcaster Yle threw everything it had at Intervision.
Marion was chosen as the singer and given 10 songs to perform on the national pre-selection show, with Hyvästi Yö – which would ultimately be sung in English as Where is the Love at the contest – chosen as the winning track.
“I just remember thinking all week, like I always think of course, when I go on stage, I’m going to walk like a winner,” Marion said.
She recalls there was no time to dwell on the East vs. West geopolitics surrounding the contest; the emphasis was on the music.
“When we were there, we didn’t really think about it. There were a lot of people and they took very good care of us. We lived in a luxurious hotel. We didn’t really walk around the city. I know what was going on outside, but we were just working and chatting with all the other attendees.
Marion performed with a full orchestra and backing vocals, wearing a long black and gold dress, and the audience loved it. The jury did the same, placing her in first place.
“There was a lot of applause and a few shouts if I remember correctly. It was really very, very nice,” she said.
And what was the prize for winning the Intervision Song Contest?
“If I remember correctly, it was a lot of Polish money, which you couldn’t take outside of Poland!”
Marion spent her winnings (locally, of course) on jewelry, before returning to Finland to regain her fame.
“In a way, it was a terrible prize, but it gave me so much. It was wonderful, I felt like a queen everywhere when I came home,” she recalls. “There had a lot of media attention, and people, it was amazing how much they loved me.”
Since rising to fame in the 1960s, Marion has become a household name in Finland and continues to perform (into the late 70s), with a string of Finnish festival and concert dates on the calendar this year.
The last days of Intervision
The year after Marion’s Intervision triumph, the competition was cancelled, amid the rise of the Polish Solidarity movement and growing unrest in Warsaw Pact countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to relaunch Intervision for the 21st century, with a new competition planned for Sochi in 2014, involving former Soviet Union states and members of the Shanghai Cooperation Council. It was in response to Russian anger at the “moral degradation” of Eurovision, after bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst claimed victory for Austria that year.
But those plans never materialized, so Marion Rung and Finland remain the latest winners of the Intervision Song Contest, the Cold War rival to Eurovision.