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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 May, 2005, 01:10 GMT 02:10 UK
Euro-unity and divisions in Kiev
By Michael Osborn
BBC News entertainment reporter in Kiev

Witnessing the 50th Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev's Sports Palace was a strange mixture of excitement, camaraderie and political division.

Greek flags greet Helena Paparizou's win
Despite partisan flag-waving, all the acts got a warm reception
The vast arena was filled to the brim with both seasoned fans and Ukrainians enjoying the musical spectacle on home soil for the first time.

While the flag-waving was distinctly partisan, there was a palpable sense of harmony in the arena.

I spent the long event next to a Ukrainian, who said she knew nothing of the contest and simply came to enjoy the show.

Nearby was a party of Irish fans, who came to be entertained and were not disheartened by their country's failure to qualify for the final.

As the slick and colourful show wore on, we exchanged notes on which songs we favoured, clapping to some and standing up to dance for others.

Every one of the 24 hopefuls were greeted with a rapturous reception as they attempted the tricky task of persuading voters across Europe that they had the winning formula.

Maltese balladeer Chiara struck the right note with her soaring voice - sending a collective tingle down the spine of the vast crowd.

Voting blocks

But it seemed there were no performances which were unengaging, each with their own beguiling charm.

Moldova's Eurovision entry Zdob si Zdub
Old and young had a great night out
The Eurovision experience took a dramatic shift when the music stopped and it was time for the lengthy and highly controversial votes to come rolling in.

Some people began to file out of the arena, convinced the show was over, and the crowd fell into an almost reverential hush as countries delivered their intriguing verdicts one by one.

This year's voting patterns suggested that Eurovision unites Europe less than ever.

The Scandinavians stuck together, while the mighty Balkan block vote proved more powerful than ever.

The audience expressed their distaste at certain decisions, such as when Greece gave Cyprus their perennial douze points.

Upbeat ending

Turkey, however, caused the auditorium to erupt when they presented their old adversary Greece with full marks.

Albanian entry Ledina Celo
Albania were way out of running, but they still entertained
But another Eurovision club we hear remarkably little about was on good form this year.

The UK, Malta and Cyprus exchanged goodwill points, while Ireland's eight points to its nearest neighbour saved singer Javine from nul points shame.

As the contest drew to a close with a convincing victory for Greece, seasoned Eurovision pundits were suggesting that it is time for the biggest contributors to the contest to pull out.

Spain, the UK, France and Germany were sat glumly at the foot of the table as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko handed Helena Paparizou her prize.

The appearance of Ukraine's head of state put the whole contest into perspective.

The voting temporarily paled into insignificance when the event closed on a exuberant note of celebration.




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