Protests and an expulsion: The controversy and chaos in Malmo ahead of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest | Ents & Arts News

Consistently billed by organisers as non-political, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest had become mired in controversy before the first act even took to stage

As thousands protest against Israel’s inclusion while its war in Gaza continues – despite international calls for restraint – organisers resisted pressure to exclude Israel.

While Israeli artist Eden Golan was asked to change lyrics organisers felt referred to Hamas’s deadly 7 October attacks, large protests have continued in Swedish host city Malmo throughout this week.

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Waving Palestinian flags, demonstrators shouted “Eurovision united by genocide” – a twist on the contest’s official slogan “united by music”. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously dismissed genocide claims as “outrageous”.

Calls to ban Israel

Ahead of Saturday’s final, between 6,000 and 8,000 people joined a demonstration, according to police estimates.

Security has been ramped up in the city, which expected to welcome 100,000 Eurovision fans on top of the thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters.

More than 10,000 campaigners, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, staged a non-violent protest ahead of the semi-final on Thursday.

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Pro-Palestinian protests in Malmo

A smaller group of pro-Israeli supporters, including members of Malmo’s Jewish community, also staged a peaceful demonstration on Thursday, defending Golan’s right to take part in the contest.

This week, former Swedish contestant Eric Saade, who is said to be of Palestinian origin, wore a keffiyeh – a traditional scarf that has become a symbol of support – tied around his wrist as he sang.

Organisers at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) put out a statement expressing “regret” over Saade’s actions.

Dutch act expelled

As preparations on the day got into full swing, organisers would be hit with two major blows from two of this year’s hotly-tipped performers.

The first of those came from the Netherlands, with organisers announcing Dutch entry Joost Klein had been expelled from the competition after a complaint by a production worker.

Joost Klein. Pic: AP
Image:
Joost Klein. Pic: AP

According to Dutch broadcaster AVROTROS, Klein was filmed despite clearly made agreements, just after getting off stage after his performance at Thursday’s semi final.

“This wasn’t respected,” AVROTROS said in a post on social media platform X, adding: “This led to a threatening movement from Joost towards the camera.”

Klein did not touch the camerawoman, according to AVROTROS, who said it found the artist’s penalty “very heavy and disproportionate”.

Irish act calls for ‘urgent attention’

Barely a few hours later, Ireland’s entry Bambie Thug missed the flag parade in the show’s final rehearsal due to a “situation” needing “urgent attention” from organisers.

The singer has previously hit out at Golan competing in the contest and been outspoken about their pro-Palestinian views before becoming the first Irish qualifier since 2018.

Pic: Reuters
Image:
Bambie Thug. Pic: Reuters

Irish broadcaster RTE reported that the singer called on organisers to address commentary made on Israeli television before their performance in Tuesday’s semi-final.

They told the broadcaster: “I’m angry with other teams breaching their rules of the EBU, and still being allowed in.

“So there’s definitely a war drum sounding in my heart to push the performance even more than I have done before.”

Earlier this week, Bambie Thug told reporters they had been forced to change writing painted on their body ahead of the semi-final performance.

The 31-year-old said the painted script in Ogham – an early Medieval alphabet – had translated to “ceasefire and freedom”.

‘United by love’

While Bambie Thug missed a chunk of rehearsals, another act used his practice on stage to make a statement.

In an apparent reference to Eurovision’s motto, French contestant Slimane stopped mid-way through his rehearsal to say “united by music, yes, but for love, for peace”.

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His chant appeared to be met with a loud round of applause in the auditorium.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Alessandra Mele, who was scheduled to award her country’s points during the show, withdrew due to the “inflamed situation in Malmo this year”, according to broadcaster NRK.

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