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The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Azerbaijan in 162nd place out of the 179 countries on its Press Freedom Index.

Activists and independent journalists are subject to repression.

Though he speaks with practiced composure and distances himself from the controversy, he also ends up sounding like somewhat of a spokesman for the Azerbaijani government when he says that the people being forced to relocate are being fairly compensated. Granted, those who still live in the building say they aren't fighting to be able to stay there.

But, says Zadir Gulamirov, a retired army captain, "We just want the compensation the law entitles us to." His wife, Kadiya, then adds, "For the money they're offering, we can't find an apartment we can live in." The residents have copied documents that they say testify to their rights.

It also symbolizes the arbitrariness of a corrupt country in which rights often only exist on paper, as well as the ambivalent role that an event like the Grand Prix of pop music plays when it takes place under these conditions.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organizer of the song contest, says that it isn't responsible for what happens to the apartment building.

For the authoritarian regime -- which opposition members describe as a "mafia" -- it is a coup that makes an impression on the Azerbaijani people and boosts national pride in a country that only regained its independence 20 years ago, after seven decades as a Soviet republic.

In describing the image Azerbaijan wants to project to the world, Mikhail Jabbarov, a former member of the government and current adviser to the pro-government television station Ictimai, which will broadcast this year's song contest, calls it "a modern, secular country that is proud of its roots." Of course, whether this assessment holds true depends in large part on whether one defines modernity as not only involving Western-style urban development and consumption, but also the rights of free expression and free assembly.

National Flag Square, where a giant Azerbaijani flag flies atop a 162-meter (531-foot) flagpole, is directly in front of the building.In May, Baku expects thousands of visitors to attend the ESC, the world's largest non-sporting television even, which brings singers from around Europe and farther afield together to compete for the title.By then, a large thoroughfare and an elegant waterfront boulevard will lead to Crystal Hall.Indeed, it's gotten dangerous to live in this building -- but the dangers are intentional.The government wants the remaining residents to move out.

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