ESC Insight

ESC Insight

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Minsk, Wednesday 21st November

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Minsk, Wednesday 21st November

ESC Insight is on the ground in Belarus for this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Before the  rehearsals start, there’s the official opening ceremony to cover, discussions over the running order, and an illustration of how Eurovision sometimes does not fully capture an artist’s power.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Minsk, Wednesday 21st November

A joyous show of lights, a delightful wall of sound, and a medium sized Parisian bench Ewan Spence, Sharleen Wright, and Richard Taylor review the first rehearsals in Minsk at Junior Eurovision 2018.

Now we are reporting from backstage at Junior Eurovision, remember to stay up to date with all the Eurovision news by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


Junior Eurovision Voting’s Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities

Junior Eurovision Voting’s Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities

How We Decide The Winner

To a regular viewer of the Eurovision Song Contest, the voting system in place for Junior Eurovision is incredibly familiar. The voting is be revealed in two parts. Firstly there will be spokespeople from each country presenting how their country voted. This part of the vote has been decided by a jury of five people. Three of those people are music industry professionals and two of those are aged ten to fifteen.

They even give douze points to their favourite. So much, so similar.

The last half of the points is presented in one big block, but isn’t made up from a combination of the cross-continental televote. Instead it comes from an online vote. The way the online vote works is that from the Friday before the show until the show begins visitors to can access a special voting page. Here they can cast their vote with two unique differences. They can only vote for between three to five songs and can vote for the country they are voting from.

Voting re-opens after all songs have been performed for a window of about fifteen minute and these votes are added to those previously cast. The final results are converted into points based on the percentages of votes cast.

Junior Eurovision in the last decade has been a source of innovation, a place for the EBU to trial and test new ideas, with kids’ juries, juries in the arena, and the now steadfast 50/50 voting split which began in 2008. Online voting is definitely a creative step into the 21st century, but how does this compare in practice to a good old televote?


One Time That Fits All

Junior Eurovision, this year with a record twenty entrants, covers vast distances from east to west from Ireland and Portugal to Kazakhstan and Australia.

The chance of finding a timezone capable of staging a televote for a children’s television show? Pretty much as close to zero as possible.

One key benefit of the online vote is that it starts from two days before the show, meaning there is ample time wherever you are in the world to click on the link and cast your vote. This is great for getting potential viewers engaged even before the show broadcasts and extends the reach that Junior Eurovision can have.

There’s also another benefit in that it means Junior Eurovision can reach out beyond the twenty countries that compete this year. Countries such as Spain and Croatia, previous winners that no longer take part, can still give their Junior Eurovision fans an opportunity to engage and vote for their favourites.

Online Voting Doesn’t Cost A Thing

Televoting prices across Europe range quite a surprisingly large amount depending on which country you are voting in, I’ve seen prices in Denmark at around ten eurocents but Malta is ten times more than that.

Cost can be a barrier to getting your democratic voice heard. A free-to-use platform should in theory encourage a more representative result.

Another benefit is that it can be linked in very easily from social media. Online voting is easier because all you have to do to vote is follow a shared link. Televoting requires you to remember or write down the number, come off whatever app your are using and head into your SMS or call system. That extra step is also a small hurdle that some people would not cross.

Reducing The Power Of The ‘Bloc’

With online voting there comes the extra possibility to limit the number of votes given. The lower limit of 3 and upper limit of 5 seem arbitary at first glance, but do seem to be completely sensible limits.

Forever it has seemed that the Eurovision Song Contest has been dogged by political voting, regional voting, diaspora voting. Whatever one calls it, people always find ways to complain that X country always votes for country Y.

In Junior Eurovision one may vote for their own country. They may also vote for a country they come from or border or any of that. But they have to make at least one other choice. Excepting those young people with more passports than one can fit into your Ryanair hand luggage at least one of those votes has to be for a different country.

The beauty here is that for every vote for your own country, or your diaspora country or whatever – you also need to make a vote for somebody else that you want to support. By spreading out this love we can make the Junior Eurovision voting more reflective of who people believe to be best.


The Voting For Yourself

One of the dilemmas that this voting system creates is the ability to vote for your own country. One big fear of such a system is that it means countries with far higher populations will score higher.

The data from last year however does not suggest that countries with a bigger population do better in the online vote. The below graph plots online voting score (X value) against population (Y value) and you can see relatively little correlation between the two. Russia, the eventual winner, only placed sixth in the online vote despite being over 100 times the population of Malta, the online vote’s runner-up.

The above graph plots population against online vote from Junior Eurovision 2017. The correlation is very weak between both variables.

It is likely more important how popular Junior Eurovision is in the country that you are watching in. This is especially true with many larger nations sidelining the show to dedicated children’s channels with a smaller audience.

I have previously been on the ground in Malta for both their Junior Eurovision hostings and I can safely say that no collective country is more Junior Eurovision mad than the little Mediterreanean island. The Dutch boy band Fource dominated online voting, but had at their disposal a big following from Dutch TV and on social media after plenty of airtime following their journey to Tbilisi.

Even before hearing the song many Junior Eurovision fans are tipping Poland’s chances of success. Poland’s representative Roksana Węgiel’s Instagram followers total over a whopping 242,000. By being able to vote for your own country allows all of Roksana’s followers to support her in her quest for the title.

50/50 Voting In Name Only

One potential balancing act to this though is the nature of the online vote. Each time you vote you have to choose between three to five countries. The results of this is that your voice is spread across a larger spread of options. This voting is not ranked, so your favourite song would get the same number of votes as your third, fourth or fifth favourite when you vote. This makes more songs cluster in votes around the middle of the scoreboard.

The below box-and-whisker-plot shows the differences between last year’s jury voting and online voting. The jury votes have a much wider range of scores – bottom placed Cyprus scored 5 points and jury winner Georgia took 143. The online vote scores ranged from 35 to 112.

The box and whisker plot shows the much smaller range of scoring with the online vote compared to the jury vote

This is far from likely to be a one-year trend, and as Melodifestivalen fans will know the App system used in recent years has led to a similarly small spread of votes from the public. It may be 50/50 in terms of the total number of votes, but the reality is that the jury show is significantly more important.

It’s also really boring. Even those without A grades in maths it’s easy to recognise that last year there was no chance of Malta and the Netherlands catching Russia for the victory, there wasn’t enough points left on the table. The whole idea of the modern presentation of jury and televotes in the Eurovision Song Contest is that it heightens the suspense and the drama, always ending on a cliffhanger. However in the Eurovision Song Contest usually it is the televotes that are more diverse than the jury results, which makes that last reveal exciting. In Junior Eurovision more often than not the final minutes of voting will appear as a damp squib.

Does the performance actually matter?

With a voting system giving more variance to the jury vote during the Saturday rehearsal, and the ability to vote for your own country – how much is the Sunday performance worth on the final leaderboard?

Due to the fact that online voting is open before the voting period is very possible we could have a winner of the show decided before the sun rises in Minsk on Sunday morning. In one sense there is the safety net for the children that not everything is relying on one pressure-filled performance.

However we all know through Eurovision history there are songs that work really well on radio or music video format that just don’t translate across to the stage. Such songs have an advantage in modern Junior Eurovision, and I question if that change in direction is a positive step. A song winning on November 25th that doesn’t work well on the stage might open the question on this balance again.

Opportunities For Improvement

Rehearsal Clips Are The Real Deal

One issue with the online vote being taken before the show is that the performances used for people to choose from are taken from the rehearsal footage.

On the official YouTube channel from last year you can find one performance of the full song from the first rehearsal recorded from cameras not used in the TV broadcast. In addition there is a one minute section from the second rehearsal taken from the TV broadcast feed, and when viewers log in to vote they are shown a short recap of all the competing entries.

The problem is that they are all rehearsal footage. We are watching and judging practice performances. Camera shots show empty arenas and metal barriers rather than the rainbow cacophony of colour a Junior Eurovision audience creates.

It somehow feels wrong that a practice performance should be used for judging a show. I fully recognise that there isn’t another alternative with the earlier online vote (it is a more level playing field than showing music video clips would be, for example), but for both the kids and the voters using these performances is clunky at best, with the performances not yet tweaked to 100%.

Where an opportunity could lie is to change which performance is voted on, by reducing the voting window prior to the show to 24 hours. This means that the show rehearsal on which the Jury bases its decisions on is also open to the public to make its judgement on.  There is the concern that it would add pressure to the performer, but it also ensures the artist has had the chance to take advantage of the more informal rehearsal period to tweak the staging and camera work away from the many eyes of the world.

The Contest Where Online Voting Failed

Last year in Tbilisi was, and is remembered as, ’the Contest where online voting failed’. As soon as the voting window was open after the show social media erupted with fans worldwide unable to log in and cast their votes.

I was one of those back home frantically refreshing only to be greeted with blank screens ad finitium.

Voting not possible for me after the live show in Tbilisi last year

Yes, the online vote that was recorded was deemed ’valid’ by the EBU, and plenty of votes were recorded before the show itself. However the comments during the show of ‘we have experience some problems with the online voting, but we are checking’ was never going to be enough to appease viewers at home. It appeared like it was an inconvenience, when instead the voting itself should be the competition’s most sacred factor.

While one can argue it is no surprise to see the same system return for 2018, the EBU’s press release about the format does not highlight any measures made to ensure no problems arise this year.

There will be question marks about whether this will happen again or not this until the voting window opens on Sunday November 25th.  Clearly the opportunity here is to demonstrate that they have learned from previous issues and can reassure viewers of the integrity of the voting system, as well as delegations and artists in Minsk more confident of its reliability.

In Conclusion

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest is a place where things should be tested and new innovations should be trialled. Online voting is a revolutionary idea. It is a step in a new brave direction. And mistakes are going to happen in using new technology. I don’t object to taking those risks.

Were these puzzled looks from the green room our artists in bemusement at being unable to vote? (Photo: Thomas Hanses, EBU)

The impression the voting system has on the artists involved is my biggest concern. I am thirty years old now. Gone is much of my idealism about fairness and equality. Maturity has helped me understand how much the world works and how much people make decisions with hands tied behind their back.

I didn’t think like that as a teenager, you probably didn’t either. As we age human beings look to rationalise the ”unfair” around them.  Younger children are more likely to create a fairness that is equal, and as we age we allow social conditions, such as the value of somebody, decide who gets what rewards.

Online voting allows those with more home support to flourish on the leaderboard. Judging before the live show makes it harder for your performance to sway opinion, so the young people on stage may give the performance of their life on Sunday November 25th and it may make zero impact on the final vote.

Yes, we should use Junior Eurovision for innovation at all levels. However it is a show aimed at younger people, and younger people demand a higher level of fairness and equality than anybody else.

Categories: ESC Insight


Running Order Analysis Of Junior Eurovision 2018

Running Order Analysis Of Junior Eurovision 2018

This year’s running order for Junior Eurovision was predominantly decided by the production team, with some minor exceptions. Firstly the position of the host country was randomly drawn, and Belarus’ Daniel Yastremski performing position eight. Secondly a draw was to decide who would open the show (Ukraine) and who would close (Poland). Unlike in the Eurovision Song Contest, here at Junior Eurovision there has been no drawing for first half and second half of the show, so all the other countries could have been placed anywhere from 2 to 19 (8 of course was taken).

I always base my running order analysis on three factors:

  • Absolute running order. The later in the show, the better.
  • Immediate side-by-side comparison. You have more chance of being consider great and getting votes if your song is easy to compare to others around you in the draw, and you do what they do better.
  • Energy crescendo of the show. Usually producer-led running orders amplify effects of high-energy and more gentler songs. Does your song come at the right time when the audience are looking for a winner?

As Junior Eurovision is the place to try new ideas, I’m going to try and present my opinions in a graphic style this year. In the image below you will see my running order thoughts for each song based on my criteria.

My analysis of these three criteria in Junior Eurovision 2018 (Image: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)

The Winners

It’s far too easy to congratulate Poland on drawing the prime position for ”Anyone I Want To Be”. I feel this track easily bounces around as a great show closer. Poland feels more energy, but is actually a more accessible lower tempo compared to Malta previously (80 compared to 100) and sounds far more empowering for it. That said, I think Malta’s position second last isn’t just crescendo fodder to Poland, ”Marchin’ On” to its credit has a rich sound and compliments what should be a very strong back half to the show.

Also showing up well in my analysis are both Australia and Georgia. I think there is huge potential for something to stand out well on Sunday’s show between these two. Both have big vocals and I believe are more accessible than the songs surrounding them. The best performance of these two here could do better than expected.

The Losers

I feel quite bad for picking out Portugal here as blatantly as it appears in my graphic. Number two has the history of being Eurovision’s most failed position, a history that despite not existing in Junior Eurovision is hard to shake off. Sandwiched between two pre-contest favourites in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the Portuguese track is such a little ditty that it may sounds out of place to the intimidating vocals from the East.

I similarly highlight Albania in-between Kazakhstan and Russia, with Russia’s pop track in comparison favourable for accessibility and, in Minsk, probably picking up some favourable support as well. Azerbaijan’s low score in my table is due to the smaller sound after the big lift at the end of the Dutch song ”Samen” and that performing before hosts Belarus easily deflects attention from it during the show itself.

The One I Don’t Really Know About

The quirks of Junior Eurovision mean that first and last place in the show. Poland has already been discussed and will be very happy. Ukraine is a very unnatural opener to a Junior Eurovision contest in this producer led era, but that is the beauty of the random draw.

Say Love” is an aggressive song. It is abrasive. It stirs emotions. None of that is critical to it. However I note from my recent appearence on Juke Box Jury that many people have a perception of Junior Eurovision. That word ’Junior’, and the age of these performers, influences our opinion of what to expect.

I suspect few would turn on their TV for Junior Eurovision and expect song no. 1 to be an anti-war chant. I can’t work out if this is a positive or not when it comes to scoring, but remember I was similarly befuddled by ”Mzeo” closing position in 2016. Of course ”Mzeo” won the show in Malta that year after blowing everybody away with an amazing performance.

Remember Though

With ESC Insight, we have previously run analysis which makes us incredibly confident that running order does have an impact in both Junior Eurovision and the Eurovision Song Contest. This impact exists for both juries and voters at home.

However the actual impact of running order is small. There is a narrative of a show that helps tell the tale, but the performers on stage still sell the story. Good performances do well at Eurovision and that performance is always the biggest factor.

Do you agree with my analysis this year? Who do you think has got the best running order for Sunday’s show? Please leave your comments below!

Categories: ESC Insight


Ten Reasons Why Junior Eurovision Is Bigger Than Ever

Ten Reasons Why Junior Eurovision Is Bigger Than Ever

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest a few years ago seemed in jeopardy. I left my first Contest I attended in 2012 unsure if there would even be a 2013 edition. That 2013 edition for the second year running scraped together twelve countries (the minimum to keep our iconic voting system) which competed in the shadow of the protests and riots that dominated Kyiv.

The Junior Eurovision of today has recovered and at first glance with a clean bill of health. Not only from the record number, but from a variety of countries and cultures spreading out eastwards, westwards and southwards from Minsk’s central point on the European landmass. From the abyss Junior Eurovision seems now cosy and warm, ready to shelter everybody from those impeding November winds travelling westwards across the Eurasian plains.

The question I am asking though is why is it cosy now? What has changed that led to make this edition of Junior Eurovision the most popular one ever? I couldn’t really put my finger on one reason, so here is a list of ten different ideas floating around my head.

Money Talks

The Junior Eurovision of 2014 was the start of the long revival for the competition. Malta was a willing and eager host country and the number of participants grew to 16. Executive Supervisor at the time, Vladislav Yakovlev, ensured fees to the European Broadcasting Union could be reduced for struggling broadcasters.

The impact was that it allowed countries to try out the competition that may never have taken the plunge otherwise. There were three debutants in 2014, including eventual winners Italy who have been ever present since. You may suggest that cost might not impact a nation as big as Italy, but remember for many larger nations Junior Eurovision is placed on dedicated children’s channels without big bucks to spend on cross-country Contests.

There’s another way that pure money may be a factor as well.

Broadcasters Bouncing Back Economically

One correlation that I find interesting at least is in this graph below. Here I have plotted a crazy graph with some crazy data points. The x values are GDP output for the Eurozone (as percentage growth) and the y values are the number of entrants in Junior Eurovision.

Now the Eurozone is definitely not the Eurovision zone but it the best data set easily available. I’m staggered that the correlation figure is +0.5843 which shows a moderate positive relationship. Further statistical tests means I can be 95% confident that there is a correlation between the economy of Europe and the number of countries in Junior Eurovision.

The slump in 2012 could be seen as being correlated to the deep cuts made by national broadcasters after the 2008 global financial crisis. And, right now, in a pre-Brexit calm before the storm, broadcasters are stable enough to be looking outwards for new projects rather than preserving what they already have.

There are plenty of countries that have been looking out for new ventures too.

The graph shows a general trend that more countries enter Junior Eurovision in years when the economy is growing

Forcing Into Europe’s Human Geography

Junior Eurovision’s growth has been somewhat fuelled by nations beyond traditional continental borders. First came Australia which first showed up to the circus in 2015 and have been stalwarts since. I would assume as long as their participation in the ’adult’ Eurovision Song Contest is decided on a year-by-year basis there is no danger of Australia leaving out Junior any time soon.

Kazakhstan’s debut is fascinating geopolitically. As football fans or language nerds will know, Kazakhstan’s political leadership use plenty of opportunities to culturally tie the country further to Europe. The mineral wealth will not last for an eternity. Eurovision fans make a not daft connection that successful entry here could be considered a trial for Tel Aviv or another future Song Contest debut.

Wales, allowed to enter as a regional broadcaster without the United Kingdom taking part, has like Kazakhstan taking advantage of the chance to showcase itself on the big stage. The move might not have the huge political will of the Kazakh debut, but Wales loves any chance to promote itself as a proud singing nation.

There’s another reason why Wales and other regional broadcasters may look glowingly on Junior Eurovision.

Do You Understand Me?

A quirk to the Junior Eurovision rulebook is the requirement for the majority of the song to be performed in a native language to your country.

For Wales and broadcaster S4C, Welsh would undoubtedly be the only option, but in Junior Eurovision it feels like a more level playing field. It’s celebrated to sing in your native tounge, and everyone is doing it.

Ireland set the ship on course for the Celtic languages debuting in 2015. However I can also imagine it being advantageous to countries like Portugal and Albania – countries with far less English language in their Eurovision culture – to feel this is a welcoming show for them.

Portugal’s entry in 2017 came after ten years in the dark. I wonder what convinced them to return?

You Win It You Host It

Of course, Portugal’s appearence in Junior Eurovision 2017 came apparent after Salvador Sobral won the Song Contest in Kyiv a few months prior. I anticipate a scenario when after the EBU came to visit the team in Lisbon for the first time, the EBU approached the Portuguese team and recommended they entered Junior Eurovision as well.

Hosting Eurovision is serious business. Why not get some first hand experience of a slightly smaller gig and see how it all works from a different perspective? Heads of Delegation are unlikely to think about the show logistics as in-depth until they realise all the skills on show will need to be delivered by their team in the very near future.

The same story is true for Israel, a late entrant to Minsk’s party after winning Eurovision with ’Toy’ in Lisbon. Watch out for any Israeli delegation members going cross-eyed looking both in-front and behind the stage.

The extra part to this story is…who invited them?

He’s The Head of Live What?

For years the head honcho of all things Eurovision was the Executive Supervisor. Since January 1st 2011 the main Eurovision Song Contest has had Jon Ola Sand from Norway in this role.

However his title today goes by the more intriguing and overarching Head of Live Events, meaning he oversees all five EBU events within the Eurovision Family (the others are Young Dancers, Young Musicians and Choir of the Year if you were scratching your head).

One can’t underestimate the influence of a central co-ordinator more easily convincing other members to join his other parties throughout the year. Previously while I have attended press conferences at the Eurovision Song Contest by the Junior Eurovision team where all the staff presenting were completely separate from the other show. Making it part of the same family moves your feelings to “why am I not doing this as well?” instead of “what is this other, extra thing?”.

Especially true when the hosting is in stable hands.

Welcome To My Belarus

The idea of describing Belarus as stable may surprise many, but in Junior Eurovision terms it is a very rational phrase. The two times winners have also hosted once successfully in 2010 in the very same Minsk Arena.

Belarus is also very experienced in terms of the personnel managing this year’s Junior competition. Olga Salamakha has been responsible for the Belarussian delegation for many years and has been a core part of Junior Eurovision’s Steering Group during that period as well.

Plus with Belarus, there’s a reputation desire politically to showcase great event management in the country. Next year the country hosts the 2nd ever European Games in many brand new stadia across the city. A good Junior Eurovision hosting will be a springboard to the potential PR gains the national government will see in hosting such major events.

Changing The Time

One of Jon Ola Sand’s first changes to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest was to move the start time from primetime Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. This was a change requested by the broadcasters, we understood, and meant Junior Eurovision was no longer competing for primetime slots against programming often programmed for many weeks or months at a time.

However another benefit was that Junior Eurovision is now in a timeslot far more applicable to Eastern Europe and beyond, which usually would need to tune in post-midnight local time for a show where all the stars’ friends should be sound asleep. It is a 16:00 start time CET, which will be 18:00 in Minsk itself. It even is a late but doable 21:00 in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

Maximising the number of countries that can have the target audience tune in live is another key factor to getting countries taking part. Kazakhstan might have said yes even starting at four in the morning, but I’m sure the time slot is one factor that suits Azerbaijan’s return as well.

These are factors that help to make Junior Eurovision more child friendly.

A Cultural Shift in Working With Children

One other consideration is that Junior Eurovision means working with children and making them perform on a big stage infront of an audience of thousand in the arena and millions at home. Scary stuff. I have felt the cultures about this have shifted slightly over the last decade and cultures, especially western ones, are are increasingly more comfortable with kids performing on television.

Taking the UK as an example, where the commercial successes of brands like The Voice Kids, Britain’s Got Talent and even the X Factor (14 year olds have been allowed to take part in previous series) have put children stage centre. Those children are seen to excel not just for their age level but for just having bucketloads of talent.

The normalising of kids on TV, and even more specifically kids singing on TV, has changed conceptions about Junior Eurovision. Some broadcasters have concerns still, most notably Denmark and Norway despite running large national contests. However overall the trend is now far more positive.

It It Also The Community

I will be in Minsk covering Junior Eurovision this year.

However it is not the only reason. Junior Eurovision will be full of people I know and love – friends in the press room and delegations and new friends I’ll meet along the way. Part of my fun will be working in the Press Centre and part of it will be in the hotel bar afterwards catching up with long lost friends.

Why wouldn’t that be the same for the delegations themselves? Maybe they just all want a little bit more Eurovision in their life. Junior Eurovision is one awesome antidote to the November blues as you enter this little lovely community. It can’t just be us press people that feel that, can it?

Well there you go, my ten reasons why I think Junior Eurovision has got a record number of entrants this year. What do you think? Just why is Junior Eurovision so strong that this year is the biggest edition ever?

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Minsk, Tuesday 20th November

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Minsk, Tuesday 20th November

ESC Insight is on the ground in Belarus for this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Before the  rehearsals start, there’s the official opening ceremony to cover, discussions over the running order, and an illustration of how Eurovision sometimes does not fully capture an artist’s power.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Minsk, Tuesday 20th November

A surprise concert full of flowers, the opening ceremony, and the running order. Ewan Spence, Sharleen Wright, and Richard Taylor talk over the first day in Minsk at Junior Eurovision 2018.

Now we are reporting from backstage at Junior Eurovision, remember to stay up to date with all the Eurovision news by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


Make Your Way To Minsk: The Top Five Things To See

Make Your Way To Minsk: The Top Five Things To See

Belarus is currently buzzing as a new destination to visit with its relaxed visa laws. The capital Minsk has a good art and cafe scene, and a party atmosphere in the evenings for the locals. Centered around it’s restored Old Town and town hall, revellers erupt out of beer halls and fashionable cocktail bars till late in the night.

But it’s not all about drinking and Junior Eurovision; both the capital and the rest of the country has much to offer for a discerning tourist.

Within Minsk

Great Patriotic Museum

The Belarusian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War was the world’s first museum to tell the story of what most know as World War II.  It is one of the most important and biggest war museums in the world, and was actually originally curated during the years of Nazi occupation – starting in June 1942.

The museum has over 8,000 exhibits that tell the story of the ‘Great Patriotic War’, with a further 145,000 rarities in the museum’s storage. They were collected during military operations in Eastern Europe and Germany and were presented by embassies of various countries in time of peace.

Ultimately, the museum aims to tell the story of Belarus during that period when more than 3 million people died, including 50,000 partisans and underground fighters. Throughout the country there were 250 death camps, including the infamous Trostenets, one of the largest after Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka.

It is located in a specially built area in the central square of Minsk (Oktyabrskaya Square), and also has a unique open-air exposition of military equipment and weapons.

The tickets cost from 6 to 10 BYN (for using photo and video cameras).  Opening hours are from 10am to 5.30pm, except on Mondays and national holidays when it remains closed.

To get a further sense of what to do in Minsk, take a look at this video from travel blogger Kyle Le –

Close to Minsk


This is the second most visited museum in Belarus, behind the Great Patriotic War Museum.  It highlights ancient crafts and technologies, with tourists offered the opportunity to step back in time and interact with craftsmen, cooks and folkspeople.  You can purchase items and also taste test the likes of bread, vodka, pickles and honey for free.

It is located 40 kilometres from Minsk, in a picturesque location near the river Ptich; making for a wonderful day tour opportunity.  The entry fee for an adult is from 10 BYN per person.

Mir Castle and Nesvizh Palace

Whilst these are two separate attractions, they are generally visited in conjunction with each other.

Located approximately 100km from Minsk, fairy-tale Mir Castle, is an impressive architectural monument that is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Dating back to the 15th Century, it is a combination of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, which used to belong to several aristocratic families.

The magnificent Nesvizh Palace is the former residence of the aristocratic Radzivilli family, located on the grounds of a beautiful park. The complex once numbered around 170 rooms, with a series of underground passages connecting it to the town’s monasteries. Today the exposition of the Palace includes more than 30 exhibition halls, including Prince’s apartments, Golden and Star halls, Hunter’s hall and others.

Mir Castle

The best way to reach Mir and Nesvizh is via pre-arranged day tour that includes transport and entry.   Operators Viapol offer a regular group departure to the locations every Thursday, with English-speaking guide, transport, entry and lunch for just 105 BYN per person.


Brest is a city in southwest Belarus on the Polish border, dating back to the 14th century and has a rich Jewish heritage.  It is known for two main things – its fortress and its national park.  You can reach it via a 4-hour train ride from Minsk, so well worth an overnight exploration from the capital.

Brest Hero Fortress

The 19th-century Brest Hero Fortress is a celebrated site of Soviet resistance during WWII.

In June 1941, heavy fighting between the German and Red Armies occurred, with some 2000 people killed.  The defence of the fortress by the Red Army lasted more than a month, and it is now celebrated throughout Belarus for the heroics.

The facility itself was erected in 1965, including a museum detailing the armed heroes of the region, a bullet-riddled Kholmsk Gate and the huge Thirst Monument, depicting a parched soldier.   Walking the grounds of this great fortification is a truly moving experience.

It is free to enter the complex.  It can be reached in around 25 minutes by walking from the centre of Brest town, or catching one of the city buses travelling West from the Brest central station. 

Brest Fortress


Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park (Belavezhskaya Pushcha) is an ancient woodland straddling the border between Belarus and Poland, located 70 km north from Brest. It is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest which once spread across the European Plain. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with mammals such as bison, wild boar, elk and wild horses.

In addition to the rare nature spotting opportunities, you can also visit the Father Frost Estate, which celebrates all things Christmas.  It is decorated with hand carvings and sculptures of fairytale characters, and strings of lights, which creates a festive atmosphere.

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest will be held on Sunday 25th November in Minsk, airing through selected broadcasters and online from 16:00 CET.   Join us on ESC Insight for our week-long on-ground coverage of the event from 19 – 25 November.

Categories: ESC Insight

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