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Music vs. Morals: When Eurovision's apolitical mask slipped

May 14, 2024 at 5:41 pm

People protesting carrying a banner against the participation of Israel in Eurovision contest during a demonstration in support of the Palestinian people in Madrid, Spain Nakba on 11 May 2024 [Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images]

In the world of music, there exists a singular event that annually brings together nations from across the globe.

That event is Eurovision.

Or, one might say, was Eurovision.

In 2023, the Eurovision Song Contest shattered previous records for online engagement, captivating no fewer than 162 million viewers.

Why then, has this once dominating cultural event struggled to sell out tickets this year?

Central to the controversy is the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)’s glaring inconsistency in applying its moral and ethical standards.

Many will remember that, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the EBU did not miss a beat and swiftly banned Russia from participating. This decision appeared straightforward, positioning the event on the side of the oppressed and against the oppressor.

In that case, the decision was apparently “apolitical”, simply a question of right versus wrong.

Eurovision’s Executive Supervisor, Martin Osterdahl, commented on the decision at the time, stating: “When we say we are not political, what we always should stand up for are the basic and ultimate values of democracy.”

However, it has become evident that such decisions are only as straightforward as Western governments allow them to be.

Indeed, there appears to be no consistent criteria for determining who violates the moral principles they claim to uphold.

Considering the precedent set with Russia, one might expect Israel would have faced a similar exclusion due to its ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Yet, this was not the case.

Despite over 54,000 individuals signing a petition demanding Israel’s exclusion from the contest, the EBU chose not to take the decisive action it has previously shown itself capable of.

Read: Israel issues Sweden Eurovision travel warning amid planned protests

In Finland, more than 1,400 music industry professionals called for a ban. They urged the Finnish public broadcaster, Yle, to withdraw Finland’s participation if Israel is not banned and accused Yle of double standards, noting its proactive role in excluding Russia in 2022 and stating that they “expect[ed] the same active defending of values from Yle now as well.”

Similar requests were made by Icelandic artists to their broadcaster, Rúv.

Read Musicians urge Iceland to boycott Eurovision contest unless Israel banned

The numerous protests against Israel’s participation were ignored, and the Grand Final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest took place, as scheduled, on Saturday in Malmo, Sweden, with pop star Olly Alexander representing the UK.

A letter circulated by Queers for Palestine, which had garnered signatures from thousands including actors Indya Moore, Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Maxine Peake, had urged the Years & Years frontman to withdraw from the competition.

In response, Alexander, along with fellow Eurovision contenders such as Ireland’s Bambie Thug and Denmark’s Saba, issued a joint statement in March, saying that while they advocated for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire,” they stopped short of boycotting the competition.

Notably, Greece’s contestant, Marina Satti, attracted significant attention when she openly yawned and displayed signs of boredom while Israel’s contestant, Eden Golan, was speaking at a press conference.

This mirrors the reactions of many viewers both at the rehearsals and during the final, where Israel’s contestant, Eden Golan, was met with boos from the audience during her performance, reflecting the broader tensions within the contest.

Read Eurovision act rebuked by organisers for displaying pro-Palestine symbol in protest of Israel

Despite the controversies, Israel managed to secure the second-highest number of votes in the televote, placing it 5th overall.

The results suggest that political views may have influenced those casting votes from home, particularly in light of the calls for pro-Palestinian groups to boycott the event.

The result was no doubt closely watched by many around the world and underscores the Eurovision Song Contest’s intricate position at the juncture of entertainment, political expression, and international diplomacy, highlighting just how deeply interconnected these realms can be.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.