Norwegian fans cheering their ethnic Sami candidate at the Eurovision Song Contest next week will be able to fly the Sami flag along with the Norwegian flag after all. Contest officials are dropping their ban on any flags other than those representing participating countries, bowing to critics who felt the ban was unreasonable.
“This is more about urging the public not to use the Eurovision Song Contest to make political statements,” said Jon Ola Sand, the Eurovision chief at the European Broadcasting Union, who’s Norwegian himself. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that the Sami flag is “respected and accepted” as a representative of the Sami people, and “not controversial.” Security guards thus won’t confiscate any when Eurovision airs live from Stockholm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Agnete Johnsen, a 21-year-old singer from Nesseby in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark, is of Sami heritage and waved the Sami flag when she won Norway’s Eurovision qualifier, Melodi Grand Prix. She even won both the Norwegian and Nordic Melodi Grand Prix Junior contests in 2008 with a Sami-Norwegian song, Oro jaska beana, and both she and her fans are proud of their roots among the northern area’s indigenous people.
Many supporters from Finnmark had planned to have Sami flags along with Norwegian flags when they attend the semi-final on Thursday to cheer Johnsen on, but last week, they were told that wouldn’t be allowed. Eurovision rules allow only national flags but there have been exceptions: Both the EU- and gay pride’s rainbow flags have been allowed.
The Sami flag ban sparked protests from the Sami Parliament in Karasjok and from some members of the Norwegian Parliament including Helga Pedersen of the Labour Party, a former government minister from Alta who’s also Sami. Some Sami threatened to ignore the ban, but on Friday it was lifted.
“Eurovision is the world’s largest and finest arrangement, with the slogan ‘come together,'” Espen Nystad, Johnsen’s manager, told NRK, which airs Eurovision every year in Norway. He suggested that means all countries and ethnic groups must be included.
Sand said Eurovision organizers wanted to limit the number of flags, but also noted that Great Britain’s representative, Joe Woolford, is from Wales. “It would have been idiotic not to let them wave the Welsh flag,” Sand told NRK.
Sami leaders were relieved, and gratified. “This is good news, we all want to support this fantastic artist (Johnsen),” Silje Karine Muotka of the Sami Parliament told NRK. Johnsen has appreciated the support but otherwise has been staying out of the media spotlight, after candidly explaining last winter that she has a history of mental health problems and needs to concentrate on her performance alone. She thus has refused all interview requests and won’t be attending pre-Eurovision press events.
“It’s natural for us to wave the Sami flag, but we will be in Stockholm first and foremost to support Agnete,” Muotka said. “She is a fine representative.”