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In Sweden, tens of thousands demonstrate against Israel participating in Eurovision


In the Swedish city of Malmö, thousands of people joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration today, not at a university but at the Eurovision Song Contest, where Israel is competing tonight. The public anger about Israeli actions in Gaza has also been directed at Israel's entrant into the contest as Willem Marx reports.


WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Twenty-year-old Israeli singer Eden Golan began her final rehearsal amid a hail of boos and occasional shouts to free Palestine. She's one of dozens of artists competing in the annual Eurovision Song Contest, one of the world's largest live music competitions that's celebrating its 68th year. It was founded in part to find common cultural ground on a continent still scarred by the Second World War. But international geopolitics, as Eden Golan learned, is often hard to avoid.


EDEN GOLAN: (Singing, inaudible).

MARX: Her song, "Hurricane," has already been retitled and reworded after an earlier version seemed to hint at the horror of Hamas' attacks in southern Israel on October 7. You see, politics at Eurovision are at least in theory prohibited. This morning, Israel's national broadcaster said it had complained to the organizers about the booing. But in a statement, it said the jeers, quote, "did not silence her, and they will not silence us."

Golan has reportedly faced death threats because of her participation, and so spent most of her time in Sweden inside her hotel with the head of Israel's domestic intelligence service even visiting to oversee safety preparations. The police commander for the venue in Malmö, Lotta Svensson, acknowledged these extra precautions were because of the Israeli presence.

LOTTA SVENSSON: We have a high security around the Israeli delegation, but we also have a high security for the other delegations from the other countries - so Israel, absolutely a little bit extra eye on them, of course.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting, inaudible).

MARX: But away from the arena, thousands of people at a noisy demonstration shared their anger that Israel has been allowed to participate at all.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What we expect and what we would like to see is that they disqualify Israel like they did with Russia when Russia invaded Ukraine because that's - it's not true that the Eurovision is not political. It has always been political, and it will always be. So it's just a face excuse.

MARX: Listening to that was climate activist Greta Thunberg, wearing a Palestinian headscarf. She said she supports such protests.

GRETA THUNBERG: I think they should be everywhere. And once again, young people are leading the way, showing the world how we should react to this.

MARX: So far, the protests and counter protests have remained peaceful, in large part thanks to a massive police presence, which includes canine units, checkpoints and surveillance cameras, according to Swedish police spokesperson Jimmy Modin.

JIMMY MODIN: There's going to be a lot of police officers working in Malmö during this week. We've also - have police officers from Denmark and Norway who's going to help us and assist us in our work.

MARX: A police helicopter briefly drowned out his words.

MODIN: The right to demonstrate is highly protected in the Swedish Constitution. So it's been a part of our planning work since the beginning, so we feel prepared to handle any demonstrations that are going in Malmö.

MARX: Israel is just one of 16 countries competing in tonight's semifinal with the grand final slated for Saturday. Organizers and police officers like Lotta Svensson say they hope a distant conflict does not disrupt the competition.

SVENSSON: This is song contests for love, I would say. So most people go here to have fun and enjoy themselves and show love to each other, no matter what country you're from.

MARX: But for many in Malmö, that distant war remains difficult to ignore. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENAO SONG, "LIFELINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]