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Eurovision no politics ban a struggle

Associated Press Associated Press 12/05/2016 Karl Ritter

You can croon about unrequited love, dance with unbridled passion or dress up in drag. Just keep politics out of it.

Organisers of the Eurovision Song Contest say the annual kitsch-fest, which is watched by almost 200 million people in dozens of countries, is about having a good time, not making political statements.

Yet it didn't take long for someone to break the no-politics rule at this year's competition in Stockholm.

At Tuesday's semifinal, the first of two leading up the grand final on Saturday, Armenian singer Iveta Mukuchyan waved the flag of Nagorno-Karabach, a separatist region that is officially part of Azerbaijan but currently under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces.

"I just want peace on our borders," Mukuchyan said at a news conference after the show.

The European Broadcasting Union, the alliance of public service broadcasters that produces the show, said it would discuss the flag-waving with Armenia's delegation.

"Given the ongoing tensions and instability in the region this may be perceived as a political gesture," the group said in a statement.

In the run-up to this year's contest, the EBU warned both performers and fans not to use flags as political tools.

The general rule is only the national flags of participating nations and other full members of the UN are allowed. Two non-national flags are exempt - the star-studded banner of the European Union and the rainbow-coloured gay pride flag - as long as they are not displayed in a political way.

"It's how you wave the flag and when you wave the flag and how many flags are waved at the same time," EBU spokesman Dave Goodman said.

At last year's event in Austria, the rainbow flag was waved with particular intensity during Russia's act in an apparent statement against the country's views on gay rights.

Eurovision officials were embarrassed when an internal document with examples of banned flags was published online by accident ahead of this year's event. It included the Basque, Kosovar, Palestinian and other flags as well as the black banner of the Islamic State group.

Some fans took offense at their regions and territories being mentioned in the same context as militant extremists, and contest officials quickly apologised, saying they weren't making any comparisons.

"It was merely for guidance," Goodman said.

Last week the EBU agreed to relax the flag policy "to allow national, regional and local flags of the participants."

It also promised "a more tolerant approach to other flags as long as the audience respects the nonpolitical nature of the Eurovision Song Contest."

The politics ban also applies to song lyrics, and this year Eurovision judges paid special attention to Ukraine's entry.

In her song 1944, Ukraine's Susana Jamaladinova describes the hardship of Crimean Tatars, including her great-grandmother, as they were deported to central Asia by Soviet authorities in that year.

The gloomy subject matter stands out among the 42 contestants, most of whom explore lighter themes like love and desire, accompanied by techno beats, swirling dancers, pyrotechnics and hypnotic digital graphics.

Jamaladinova, who performs under the stage name Jamala, opens with the English lyrics "When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say 'We're not guilty'."

The focus on Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, could be considered a swipe at Moscow, but Jamaladinova insists there's no political subtext.

"For me personally, music is about feelings. Politics doesn't have feelings," she said.

Contest officials agreed, saying the lyrics allude to history rather than politics, and allowed the entry.

Songs that are deemed too political can be banned from the glitzy show.

That happened in 2009, less than a year after Georgia and Russia fought a brief war, when Georgia's entry "We Don't Wanna Put In" was disallowed because it was seen as lampooning Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last year Armenia could compete only after changing the title of its song from "Don't Deny" to "Face the Shadow." The judges found the former could be interpreted as a reference to the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, which Turkey denies was genocide.

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