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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
The politics of Eurovision
Dana International
Transsexual Dana International divided Israelis
The Eurovision Song Contest - a showcase of schmaltz we love to hate, or a competition reflecting the great issues of the day?

Scoff if you will, but behind the bloodless declarations of undying love and dire dance beats there are unexpected insights into the Middle East peace process, transsexuals' battle for equality, even Anglo-Germanic rivalry.

This year's Israeli entry, by the self-proclaimed bisexual group PingPong, is a song about a woman dreaming about her lover in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Ro'i Arad of PingPong
PingPong's singer with the Israeli and Syrian flags

Syria and Israel are officially in a state of war.

PingPong's song - entitled Happy - has left the Israeli Broadcasting Authority anything but.

Officials had threatened to ban the group from taking part in Saturday's proceedings after the plucky popsters waved the Syrian flag during rehearsals in Stockholm.

The authority eventually gave in on Thursday, but director general Uri Porat grumbled that "Ping-Pong was sent to represent Israel, not Syria".

The previous year, Tel Aviv transsexual Dana International braved a chorus of disapproval from Orthodox Jews to strut her way to the top spot.

Dana, born Yaron Cohen to Yemenite-Jewish parents, braved death threats and recriminations to represent Israel.

Her aim? To campaign for the right of others to live unconventional lives.

"I represent liberal Israel, an Israel that accepts human beings whoever they are, no matter what they look like, no matter what sex or race they are," Dana said.

Animosity

Eurovision critics have long claimed that voters did not so much choose a "Song for Europe" on merit, as voted according to historic international ties or grudges.
Guildo Horn
Dressed to impress: Germany's Guildo Horn

Greece and Turkey, long at loggerheads over territorial disputes in the Aegean and the divided island of Cyprus, made no secret of their national juries' refusal to back each other's entries.

But it is a rivalry that will not be played out on Saturday - Greece has spurned the spotlights and sequins of Eurovision 2000 after being forced out of last year's competition for failing to reach a respectable average score.

Ahead of the 1998 contest in Birmingham, German fans feared their British counterparts would not appreciate the talents of their candidate for pop glory.

In order to spare the balding parody singer, Guildo Horn, the ignominy of scoring "nul points", the Germans unveiled plans to indulge in a spot of vote rigging.

To get around the rule that prevents voters from nominating their home country's tune, the Germans planned to phone in their ballots from abroad.
Abba
Battle of the bands: Agnetha, Bjorn and friend in 1974

Ralph Becker, a Guildo fan and DJ at the Cologne radio station Einz Live, outlined the plot.

"The real Guildo Horn fans will go over the border to Denmark or Belgium, the Netherlands and so on - maybe also to Great Britain, to vote for Guildo. Because Guildo Horn is a kind of hero for them."

The flamboyant caped warbler romped into seventh place.

But perhaps the most famous conflict played out in the battle of the bands dates back to 1974, when Swedish supergroup Abba first shot to fame.

All together now: "Waterloo! I was defeated, you won the war."

See also:

13 May 00 | Entertainment
Waxing lyrical for Europe
12 May 00 | Entertainment
Eurovision hopefuls get set
20 Feb 00 | Entertainment
UK Euro entry has French flavour
09 May 98 | Eurovision
German plot to rig Eurovision result
29 May 99 | Entertainment
Religious rows disrupt Eurovision harmony
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