Eurovision: mass demonstrations in the face of imperialist hypocrisy

The Eurovision Song Contest kicked off on 7 May in Malmö, Sweden, at the same time as Israel launched its assault on Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinian refugees are now living. In a powerful show of solidarity, Malmö responded with one of the biggest demonstrations Sweden has seen in decades.

[Originally published in Swedish at]

The atmosphere in Malmö was not one of celebration – it felt more like a besieged city, with more police than tourists on the streets. Along the so-called ‘Eurovision street’, Palestinian flags hung from windows. Streets and walls were covered with pro-Palestinian messages, despite the municipality’s frantic clean-up efforts.

The organisers did their best to ban any evidence of support for Palestine inside the arena, but failed miserably. During the opening act for the semi-finals, Swedish artist Eric Saade (a former contestant whose father is a Palestinian from Lebanon) wore a keffiyeh around his wrist, which was condemned by both the Swedish national broadcaster SVT and the EBU as going against the “non-political nature of the contest”.

The hypocrisy was answered by Saade himself: “In my eyes it’s just racism. I just wanted to be inclusive and wear something that is authentic to me – but the EBU seems to think my ethnicity is controversial. It says nothing about me, but everything about them.”

He also commented on the hypocrisy behind the ban on Palestinian flags and symbols on his Instagram story:

“The EBU’s handling of Eurovision is shameful. They don’t allow any Palestinian symbols in the arena, while symbols representing all other ethnic groups in the world are welcome. Their slogan ‘united by music’ (if you are not Palestinian) is already a joke. By broadcasting Israeli propaganda on primetime to the whole world, yet focusing on banning the Palestinian flag?”

Ever since it became clear that Israel would be allowed to participate, and with a song adapted from a composition specifically about 7 October (‘Hurricane’, originally ‘October Rain’), the anger against Eurovision has been growing. The more EBU or SVT representatives have tried to explain why it was reasonable to ban Russia from participating but not Israel, the more their hypocrisy has shone through.

Almost 20 percent of the booked artists, including Medina, Dotter, Titiyo and Magnus Carlsson, dropped out in protest. 10 percent of all volunteers refused to work. Even the venue Moriska Paviljongen and Malmö Pride withdrew from collaborations around Eurovision, as did the jury spokesperson from both Norway and Finland.

France’s entrant Slimane and Ireland’s Bambie Thug also showed their support for Palestine during the rehearsal. There is also the curious story of Joost Klein from the Netherlands. During a press conference, he interrupted a question directed at Israel’s Eden Golan and then refused to pose for a photo with the artist. The Joost Klein problem was solved just hours before the final when he became the first ever act to be disqualified from the competition, with the excuse that he had engaged in “threatening behaviour” towards a camera operator.

During the finals, loud boos (clearly audible on the live broadcast) against Eden Golan and Eurovision director Martin Österdahl turned this year’s Eurovision into a modern and particularly unsuccessful version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where the forbidden support for Palestine was constantly in evidence. In Belgium, the Flemish public service channel was interrupted by the ACOD-VRT trade union, which broadcast a message saying: “We condemn the violations of human rights by the State of Israel. Moreover, the State of Israel is destroying freedom of the press. That is why we pause the video for a moment. #CeaseFireNow #StopGenocideNow.”

Against the intentions of EBU and SVT, the spectacle itself became yet further proof of increasingly determined support for Palestine.

Largest Palestine demonstrations in Sweden

Demonstrations and protests took place during the whole event. On Thursday and Saturday, large protest marches were organised by the campaign Stop Israel – For Peace and a Free Palestine, endorsed by 66 organisations, including the RKP (Revolutionary Communist Party, Swedish section of the RCI). We estimate there were between 15,000 and 20,000 attending the marches on Thursday and Saturday, and we can safely say that these were some of the largest demonstrations in a very long time and certainly the largest demonstrations for Palestine organised in Sweden since October.

Spontaneous protests also broke out around the Eurovision arena and the so-called “Eurovision Village” in Folkets Park. On Thursday, the demonstration at Folkets Park started at 18:30 and continued well into the night. On Friday, it started already at 16:00 with the inauguration of the Gaza Roundabout, where activists painted graffiti in solidarity with Palestine, also lasting until after midnight. Protesters took over street after street, with a massive police presence desperately trying to keep up. Motorists who got stuck in the middle of the demonstrations honked enthusiastically in support.

The mood at the demonstrations was very radical. Slogans such as “Long live Palestine”, “The people united will never be defeated” and “Intifada, revolution – stop, stop occupation” echoed along the streets. Everyone that we in the RKP talked to agreed with our message: we need a revolution in Sweden and the whole world to crush imperialism. The RKP's newspaper Revolution, with the front page “Free Palestine – Crush Imperialism – For a Socialist Middle East – For a Socialist World”, was met with an enthusiastic response. We sold hundreds of newspapers and dozens signed up to join the party. This undoubtedly angered the right wing, with Kristianstadsbladet’s political editor Sofia Nerbrand, among others, tweeting about the “extreme views” displayed at the demonstrations with a video of our contingent.

Despite widespread concerns of a clampdown, especially given the history of racist abuse by the Malmö police, there were no big outbreaks of violence. It’s clear that the police had been ordered not to interfere with the large demonstrations in the city, while at the same time being extremely heavy-handed with the few protesters who made their way to the arena. There, protesters were pepper-sprayed and arbitrarily arrested. The tactic was obvious: go after the most radical Palestinian activists when they are isolated from the masses, but avoid scenes like those during Limhamn 2014, with police horses and police cars running into large crowds.

The majority does not support Israel

Media outlets are now trying to make a big fuss out of the fact that Israel received the second-most public votes of all entries – with Swedish viewers giving them the highest score of all the acts. Some Israeli and pro-Israel media outlets have tried to use this as evidence that ‘the people’ support Israel. But as The Times of Israel admits, this was obviously the result of an “organised, dedicated effort by Israel supporters to give their votes to Golan”, while it is “much easier to vote in support of a country than against it”. While Zionists and other right-wingers mobilised for Golan, many who sympathise with Palestine simply boycotted the contest because there was no single ‘pro-Palestinian’ alternative.

For a more accurate picture, we can look at the results of the April 2024 YouGov survey, which found that 46 percent of Swedes agree with the statement that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, while only 26 percent disagree. 50 percent support an arms embargo on Israel (with 23 percent opposed), 49 percent think Israeli officials should be prosecuted for war crimes (with 25 percent opposed) and 41 percent support economic sanctions against Israel (with 31 percent opposed). This shows the true mood of the Swedish population, where there is strong opposition to Israel's brutal policies, especially among young people and people of non-European heritage.

The real balance of forces can also be seen in the fact that the Zionist demonstration on Thursday attracted only 120 people, protected by a massive police presence, compared to the tens of thousands who gathered over several days for Palestine.

More and more people see through the propaganda. This is perhaps best reflected in the wave of university occupations that has swept the world over the past month – and which has also begun to connect with the most radical layers of the working class.

With this in mind, the protests in Malmö should have been even bigger. One limiting factor was the scaremongering by police, politicians and media in the months leading up to Eurovision, with speculation about the risks of terrorist attacks inside the stadium, violent clashes between Zionists and pro-Palestinian protesters, and more.

But it is also a question of lack of mobilisation. No posters had been put up before the demonstrations. If you didn’t know which social media accounts to check for information, it was impossible to find out when the demonstrations would take place. The main responsibility for this falls on the labour movement. Either siding with Israel (the Social Democrats), remaining on the sidelines of the movement (the Left Party) or remaining completely silent (the trade unions) has meant that there have been no organisations with the capacity for the kind of large-scale mobilisation that would be needed.

World School banner

Next step for the Palestine movement

The question many are now asking is: what is the next step? Increasingly, we hear slogans about the need to escalate at demonstrations. This is absolutely right – but it would be a mistake if it only resulted in isolated direct actions by a few activists. We need to “shake up the status quo” as people say, but we need to do so in a way that connects with and mobilises the working class, who are the ones with the power to cut off western imperialism’s support for Israel.

On 30 April, the Dockers’ Union published an open letter to the government demanding that they suspend “all military cooperation and trade with the Israeli Defense Forces and defence industry”. But the dockers should not wait for Ulf Kristersson’s pro-Israeli right-wing government to act. Instead, they should follow the example of the Barcelona dockers and impose the blockade on their own.

The Swedish dock workers too have a history of militant action. In 2010, they imposed a blockade on all Israeli goods after Israel attacked ships that were supposed to break the blockade of Gaza. As the dockers' union points out in their letter, Swedish-based companies such as Aimpoint, SAAB, Hägglunds and Micropol have a partnership with the Israeli defence industry and the Swedish military buys billions of dollars worth of military equipment from Elbit, one of Israel’s largest arms manufacturers. The dockers can stop this, without waiting for Zionists in the government like Ebba Bush or Johan Pehrson to change their minds after months of open support for Israel's war.

The fact that many of the demonstrations have become smaller this spring does not mean that support for Palestine is declining – on the contrary. More and more people support Palestine, as the YouGov survey and Eurovision debacle also show. The more Israel escalates the war in Gaza, the more the anger against them will increase across the working class. But to really escalate the movement, other methods are needed than just calling for spontaneous demonstrations. It requires more careful mobilisation and that we, with the lessons from the student movement in the US, bring the movement into schools, universities and workplaces. The encampments set up outside some of the largest universities can become an important first step.

It is not the pro-Israeli politicians in Sweden, the US or the UK, nor the UN or the International Court of Justice in The Hague that will stop the Israeli war machine. It is the working class. We in the Revolutionary Communist Party, together with our comrades in the Revolutionary Communist International, will continue to participate in this movement and explain the need for class struggle against the war and oppression of imperialism. The working class has the power to not only cut off economic aid to Israel, but to abolish the capitalist system that gives rise to war, oppression and poverty. That is the escalation that is needed.