Switzerland wins Eurovision after politically charged song contest overshadowed by Israel controversy

By Rob Picheta, CNN

CNN  — 

Switzerland’s Nemo won a chaotic and politically fraught Eurovision Song Contest, triumphing in a competition overshadowed by controversy and booing over the presence of Israel.

The typically jovial event – one of the most watched in the world’s cultural calendar – descended into turmoil in recent days, as organizers in host country Sweden tried and failed to contain anger aimed towards Israel’s delegation.

But Nemo, a favorite throughout the process, won over crowds with a stunning rendition of “The Code,” a genre-bending anthem about their journey towards accepting their non-binary identity.

“I hope this contest can live up to its promise and continue to stand for peace and dignity for every person,” Nemo said after accepting the trophy.

“I have to say this whole experience was really intense and not just pleasant all the way. There were a lot of things that didn’t seem like it was all about love and unity, and that made me really sad,” Nemo said.

Their win – the first for a non-binary person – was Switzerland’s first triumph since Celine Dion won in 1988.

Malmo hosted the competition on the 50th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision breakout, but the event quickly found itself facing political controversy, and tension grew in the hours leading to the final.

Protesters said the event was “artwashing” Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since being launched in the wake of the militant group’s October 7 attacks on Israel.

But organizer the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) defended Israel’s presence, and insisted the contest is non-political – a line that became increasingly untenable as artists, broadcasters and fans clashed over the presence of Israel’s singer Eden Golan.

Golan was booed by some members of the crowd during her performance, while a few turned their backs or left the arena, but more attendees cheered the Israeli performance.

And outside the arena, police surrounded a small group of pro-Palestinian protesters, keeping them separate from crowds arriving for the event as they chanted “Free, free Palestine!” and “Boycott the Eurovision.”

Ireland’s Bambie Thug meanwhile told CNN in the build-up to the event that it was “the wrong decision” not to exclude Israel, as Russia had been two years ago.

Nemo told CNN before the final that Eurovision was “even bigger and crazier than I expected it to be. There’s so much depth to Eurovision that I didn’t know of before.”

“If I win, I will throw a big party on the lake of my hometown, Biel,” they told CNN.

Just hours before the event, it was thrown into added turmoil when the EBU disqualified the Dutch entrant for a backstage incident involving a female crew member.

The EBU said police were investigating the incident involving the singer Joost Klein and that it would not be appropriate for him to participate. Some fans made their anger at the decision clear during the final by booing EBU representatives when they appeared onscreen.

The Saturday-night showpiece event featured celebrations of ABBA and other Swedish musical stars, and performances from 26 finalists that spanned genre, language and style.

Next year’s event will take place in Switzerland, after Nemo’s win. The date and city hosting the contest will be announced in the coming months.

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