The Eurovision Song Contest never really wanted to be political. He wants to be the big show with flashy costumes, the colorful party with songs from ballads to quirky techno. A pan-European Rambazamba of music.

The intention is honorable, but in reality the ESC was never really apolitical. There was the haggling of points between well-disposed countries, patriotism and nationalism, despite the European idea – and songs that were then understood to be protest songs. Be it against the annexation of Crimea or the Falklands War. And this year the 68th ESC in Malmö is more politically charged than ever. The war in the Gaza Strip casts a dark shadow over the competition.

Months ago there were calls to exclude Israel from the ESC due to its military action in the Gaza Strip. Critics even referred to the competition as the “Genocide Song Contest.” However, the head of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which belongs to Israel and is therefore allowed to take part, rejected this and emphasized the apolitical nature of the ESC.

Nevertheless, the matter is not off the table. Organizers and security forces fear pro-Palestinian protests, and in the worst case, attacks. The terror alert level in Sweden was raised as early as August 2023.

The Swedish police had drawn up a situation report in advance of the ESC, and the SVT radio station has the 23-page document. The report covers cyberattacks, civil disobedience, airtime hijacking and overload attacks. And also warns of possible threats from Islamist terrorist organizations.

According to SVT, police and organizers are expecting up to 40,000 demonstrators on Thursday and Saturday who want to protest against Israel, its war against Hamas and participation in the ESC. The authorities even believe that these could be the two largest demonstrations in Malmö since the Hamas terrorist attack.

In order to ensure safety at the 68th ESC, where around 100,000 fans are expected, the precautions have been significantly increased. It is expected to be one of the largest police operations in Sweden’s history. Officials from Denmark and Norway are also on duty.

From May 4th to 11th, the police will monitor the city extensively with cameras and drones. In addition, a temporary flight ban was imposed over large parts of Malmö during the ESC. Bag bans apply in the venues. The police are partly equipped with submachine guns, writes the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Nevertheless, security authorities emphasize that the ESC should remain a public event and “people can feel safe,” said Per Engström, the national commander of the police operation.

However, in Malmö the atmosphere is characterized by tension, nervousness and fear. This is particularly true for the Israeli ESC hope Eden Golan. According to media reports, the 20-year-old and her team were instructed by the Israeli domestic secret service Shin Bet to only leave their hotel room for official events and broadcasts during their stay in Sweden.

According to Dagens Nyheter, several artists who were supposed to perform at side events of the song contest have canceled. They were put under pressure on social media. The EBU has also banned Palestine flags and political messages or symbols from being displayed at the arena in Malmö during the competition.

The residents of Malmö are also worried, as the newspaper Aftonbladet reports. “I probably won’t be outside if something happens during the demonstrations,” said a Malmö resident. According to the SVT, the city has activated its crisis and intervention service, which is intended to provide psychological first aid.

The Swedish ESC manager in Malmö, Martin Österdahl, does not believe that the protests will dampen the mood, as he told the TT news agency: “Come to Malmö, I would say. Because that’s not the feeling you have here .” One hopes to be able to concentrate on the positive. “If we can put everything aside for a while and unite across borders in our art and music, there is still hope for the future.”

Sources: Police Sweden, City of Malmö, SVT, Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Times of Israel, Deutsche Welle, Express