Conflict follows Russia, Ukraine into Eurovision song contest

Fri May 9, 2014 9:45am EDT
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By Teis Jensen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Singers from 26 nations will compete on Saturday in the kitschy cocktail of pop and politics that is the Eurovision song contest, with a bearded Austrian drag queen battling twin sisters from Russia and a 21-year-old crowd darling from Ukraine.

Swedish Sanna Nielsen's new-age pop song "Undo" is the bookmakers' favorite. A win by her would be the second in three years for Sweden. Overall, Sweden has won the contest five times, mostly notably with ABBA's Waterloo in 1974.

But the geopolitical echoes of Russia's conflict with Crimea may dominate the song contest, which launched the careers of ABBA and Celine Dion. Many in the Copenhagen audience booed on Tuesday when Russia's, the 17-year-old Tolmachevy twin sisters, qualified for the final.

Adding to controversy, the contest's organizers said votes from Crimea - annexed by Russia - would count as Ukrainian votes, because tallies are based on existing national telephone codes.

It has been widely speculated that Russia's entry could suffer for its annexation of Crimea and intransigence on gay rights. The event is hugely popular in the gay community.

The Tolmachevy sisters, Anastasia and Maria, who won the Junior Eurovision in 2006, have not commented on the politics.

Ukrainian singer Mariya Yaremchuk, who got huge cheers when she was also voted through on Tuesday, said her preparation for the contest has been affected by the crisis in her country.

"Actually, when I was preparing in Ukraine I even couldn’t focus on working because we all were influenced by that," she told Reuters television.   Continued...

Conchita Wurst, representing Austria, performs the song "Rise Like a Phoenix" during the second semi-final at the 59th annual Eurovision Song Contest at the B&W Hallerne in Copenhagen, May 8, 2014.  REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz