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Eurovision 2024 may be politically charged, but it always has been

Political statements and tensions have been common at the Eurovision Song Contest since its inception.

Political statements and tensions have been common at the Eurovision Song Contest since its inception. Photo: AP

Eurovision’s history of protest and political activism is set to be tested this year in Sweden, with the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict and war in Ukraine providing as controversial a backdrop as ever.

Julie Kalman, associate professor of history at Monash University, said the competition was launched for two reasons in 1956.

“The European Broadcasting Union had new technology and wanted to create forums to try it out, which allowed them to transmit to several countries at the same time,” she said.

“At the same time, it was in the wake of the Second World War and everyone was looking to create this sense of Europe so that there wouldn’t be another war.”

She said countries are projecting an idealistic version of their country to the rest of Europe and the world during their performances.

“At its very inception it is political, in the way countries represent themselves and make their reputations on the Eurovision stage,” Kalman said.

“There is this uneasy relationship between nationalism and this idealised kind of European identity.”

History of protest

Organisers announced that Palestinian flags will be banned from the stage, maintaining a long-standing rule on political statements.

Iceland’s representatives were fined for infringing on rules banning political gestures when they brought scarves with Palestinian flags onto the stage in 2019.

Iceland’s Hatari brandished the Palestinian flag at the Eurovision show in Tel Aviv. Photo: Hatari

Israel’s hosting in 2019 also sparked protests, while Ukraine winning the 2022 contest was seen as a political statement against Russia’s war of aggression.

Sweden has already tightened security in preparation for the event because of large demonstrations and potential terrorism threats.

Kalman said there is a chance of protests and activism outside the event and on stage.

“It’s sitting beneath the surface and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it from the performers themselves,” she said.

“There have been lobby groups singling out performers. I know the English performer [Olly Alexander] was contacted by a community group, Queers for Palestine, to put pressure on him to boycott.”

The contest’s organisers forced Israeli singer Eden Golan to change the lyrics and title of her song October Rain to Hurricane because it referenced the October 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas, ahead of the competition.

Malmo, the host city, has a strong Palestinian community, with community organisers of protests telling the BBC that “Israel is not welcome to Malmo because they are bombing civilian people in Gaza”.

Australian staple

Australians were introduced to Eurovision in 1983 and it has been a hit ever since.

About 299,000 Australians tuned in live to watch the 2023 finals, with another 181,000 watching the prime-time replay, on Eurovision’s long-term broadcaster partner SBS.

Australia’s entrant Voyager performs at the 2023 Eurovision. Photo: Getty

Kalman said Australia has some of the largest viewing numbers in the world.

“For the same reason ABBA did well in Australia, we love camp and we get that this is wonderful and not serious,” she said.

“Americans will never truly understand Eurovision because they think they have to take it seriously.”

Australia entered the competition for the first time in 2015, originally as a one-off, but has participated every year since.

Electric Fields will become the first duo to represent Australia when they perform their song One Milkali (One Blood).

The Eurovision final will be held on Saturday May 11.

Electric Fields - One Milkali (One Blood) Australia

Source: Eurovision Song Contest

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