Georgia snubs Moscow Eurovision with own festival

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia stages its own music festival this weekend in a snub to the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow after the country’s entry was rejected for mocking Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Georgia pulled out of Eurovision after organizers said it should revise the lyrics of its entry, a disco anthem by Stephane & 3G called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” -- a barely disguised swipe at Putin, whose country defeated Georgia in a brief war last August.

Stephane & 3G will instead perform the song on the final night of Tbilisi Open Air, a three-day music festival in the Georgian capital starting on Friday.

Its theme is “Alter/Vision,” or an alternative to Eurovision, which holds its 54th song contest final in the Russian capital on Saturday.

“With what happened to Stephane & 3G’s participation in Eurovision, it caused great interest not just in the media, but among musicians too, who were and are eager to see an alternative to Eurovision,” said organizer Achiko Guledani.

Organizers planned to launch the festival -- which they hope to hold annually -- at the end of June, but brought it forward to coincide with Eurovision after Georgia’s withdrawal from the contest.

“There are thousands of festivals all over the world, and it would be very difficult to create interest without that ‘hook’,” Guledani said at the Tbilisi racecourse, the festival venue.

Tbilisi Open Air -- a festival rather than a competition -- will feature more than 20 acts from 10 countries, including Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, in the biggest such music event in Georgia since independence in 1991.

With acts ranging from pop to rock, jazz, funk and electronic, the promoters say it will cater for music lovers in a way the glitzy Eurovision does not.

“Our audience cares about music, while Eurovision is just a contest between countries, a mix of music, politics and sport,” said Guledani. “It’s full of political cliches, it’s just a political show.”

But politics is never far away.

Georgia’s opposition has been rallying in Tbilisi for the past month, demanding President Mikheil Saakashvili resign over his record on democracy and last year’s war, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia.

Some protesters have taken exception to the festival plans at a time of such political turmoil.

Guledani’s partner in the project said they were relying on Georgians’ renowned hospitality to cool tempers.

“We hope that one of our main traits, which is hospitality, will stop anyone disrupting the festival, despite the political temperature in Georgia right now,” said Vakho Babunashvili.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan