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Monday, March 4, 2024

Pressure grows on Eurovision entry

The Norwegian folk-rock band Gåte is hyped as having a solid chance of winning the even-more-hyped Eurovision song contest in May. The band’s members are under huge pressure, though, over whether to perform at all if it means sharing the stage with a country that’s killed more than 25,000 civilians and children in Gaza in the past four months.

Gunnhild Sundli, vocalist in the Norwegian folk-rock band Gåte, delivered an explosive performance of the band’s song “Ulveham” that helped them win last weekend’s Norwegian finals for the Eurovision Song Contest. Now the band, like many Eurovision contestants, is grappling with the issue of sharing the stage with a country that’s waging war in the Middle East and even been accused of genocide. PHOTO: Espen Solli/Gåte/NRK

Opposition to Israel’s war on Gaza’s Hamas leaders is strong in Norway, where the government condemned Hamas’ initial attack on Israeli civilians but also has claimed that Israel’s leaders have “gone too far” in responding to it. Four months later, there are no signs of a ceasefire.

Israel went ahead, meanwhile, with its own qualifiers for Eurovision and chose 20-year-old singer Eden Golan as its candidate for the song contest’s finals in May. Golan, who was born in Tel Aviv but grew up in Moscow, is also a well-known pop star in Russia, which has been banned from Eurovision since it invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Golan’s ties to Russian producer Grigory Leps have also been questioned, since he’s a defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. “My Ukrainian friends are already upset because now it seems as if Russia will also be in Eurovision in a way,” Morten Thomassen, leader of the Norwegian Eurovision qualifiers’ Melodi Grand Prix club, told newspaper Aftenposten. As opposition to Israel’s bombing mounts, he added that it doesn’t help “when Golan also has ties to Russia.”

She has firmly stated her support for Israel as her original homeland, and she’s fully aware that many want Israel banned from the show like Russia has been. “I will do all I can to bring pride to Israel,” she told the Israeli website Mako, while admitting that it was “emotionally demanding” to take part in Eurovision with the war going on. Three other Israelis who auditioned for the show were later killed in Hamas’ attack on a music festival while a solider who’d also taken part in the Israeli program was later killed in Gaza.

It’s all brought the violence in the Middle East into the Norwegian finals, which have attracted pro-Palestinian demonstrators and prompted more than 300 Norwegian performing artists to petition for a ban on Israel’s participation. Organizations representing Norwegian composers, lyricists and around 3,000 musicians have also asked that Israel be excluded from Eurovision. The leader of the GramArt musicians’ association, Ivar Peersen, told newspaper Dagsavisen that it “has room for conservatives, liberals, all political persuasions, but what we all share is a humanist view.” That makes it easier, he said, “to make our statement in the midst of an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.”

Such strong feelings from within the Norwegian music industry have also landed the winning band Gåte (roughly pronounced go-tuh) in what Aftenposten commentator Robert Hoftun Gjestad calls a “terribly difficult” situation. It’s not, he noted, what the members of Gåte expected when they entered the competition.

The band’s vocalist Gunnhild Sundli, meanwhile, has already decried the “extreme and intolerable situation in Gaza” and said she hopes it “ends as quickly as possible.” Sundli told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) before Gåte won as Norway’s representatives at Eurovision that band members agreed it will be “very problematic if Israel participates given the current situation.”

On the day after they won, Sundli and fellow band member Magnus Børmark told NRK they were now “in a new position” and would need “to take a new round of discussions and find out how we will resolve this in the best manner. We have to take one thing at a time and sort them out. There’s a lot of pressure and noise, so we’ll approach it calmly.”

The band, known for combining traditional Norwegian folk music with explosive rock, has vowed at the very least “to find a way” of expressing their own calls for “peace in the world.” Sundli and Børmark told NRK that they have a way of doing that, “but we won’t say any more about that now.”

A lot can also happen between now and May, when the Eurovision final is due to be broadcast from Malmø in Sweden, since it won Eurovision last year. The allegedly non-political contest is once again a stage for massive political debate among artists most keen to spread their music in a manner that, as Gåte puts it, “removes divisions that politics, religion, culture and nationality creates among people. Music has that quality, and that’s where we operate,” Børmarkk said.

Commentator Gjestad is among those who don’t think Gåte should withdraw from the contest. While some political parties in Norway called on NRK to withdraw, or even for the government to “instruct” NRK to withdraw (a proposal from the Socialist Left Party, SV, that was firmly rejected), it’s ultimately up to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that’s behind Eurovision to do so. Israel can also withdraw itself, or everyone can compete and let the public decide who wins.

“It’s NRK and Eurovision’s responsibility to find a solution here,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told news bureau NTB on Thursday. Even though his government has condemned both Hamas’ attack and Israel’s response, and there’s lots of unrest over the situation also in Norway, Eurovision “is not something we’ll get involved in.” He was quick, however, to congratulate Gåte with their victory at the Norwegian finals in Trondheim last weekend and wish them well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The band Gåte later decided to take part in the Eurovision final for a variety of reasons. Read the follow-up story here.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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