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Switzerland's Nemo wins Eurovision Song Contest

By Camille BAS-WOHLERT / AFP Published May 12, 2024 9:37 am

Switzerland's Nemo won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, becoming the first artist identifying as non-binary to claim victory, in a competition marked by controversy over Israel's participation during the war in Gaza.

Twenty-four-year-old Nemo's "The Code" won the highest score from nations' juries, and enough of the popular votes to get 591 points, edging out Croatia in the final, held in Sweden's Malmo.

"I hope this contest can live up to its promise and continue to stand for peace and dignity for every person in this world," a teary-eyed Nemo said while receiving the trophy.

Nemo's journey towards realizing their non-binary gender identity served as inspiration for the highly personal winning entry.

"'The Code' is about the journey I started with the realization that I am neither a man nor a woman," Nemo said.

Croatia's Baby Lasagna finished in second place with 547 points.

Nemo, along with Croatia and Israel, was a bookmaker favorite to win the competition, watched around the world by millions of lovers of pop music—and kitschy shows.

Twenty-five nations competed Saturday but much of the focus has centred on the controversy of Israel being able to take part.

When Israel's contestant Eden Golan went on stage to perform her "Hurricane", both cheers and boos could be heard from the audience in the Malmo Arena.

Boos could also be heard while Israel delivered its points to other acts and any time a country gave "Hurricane" high scores.

In the end, Golan finished in fifth place with 375 points.


Police pushed back protesters outside the arena where more than a hundred demonstrators waved flags and chanted "Free Palestine". 

Diverse Malmo is home to the country's largest community of Palestinian origin and according to police at least 5,000 people gathered to protest in the city in the afternoon.

The European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the event, confirmed in March that Golan would take part, despite calls for her exclusion from thousands of musicians around the world.

The same month, contestants from nine countries, including Nemo, called for a lasting ceasefire.

Israel has been taking part in Eurovision since 1973, most recently winning it for the fourth time in 2018.

Golan's song is an adaptation of an earlier version named "October Rain", which she modified after organizers deemed it too political because of its apparent allusions to the Hamas attack.

In Tel Aviv, Eurovision fans gathered to watch the show on big screens, and at the packed Layla bar in Tel Aviv, they told AFP they hoped voters would show Israel some love.

An Israeli victory would have meant that "maybe we are not hated so much, and that the music really won", said Tal Bendersky, draped in an Israeli flag, before the results were announced.

The 23-year-old from southern Israel told AFP he had come to Layla, which prides itself as being the best gay bar in Tel Aviv, "to celebrate with all the people that love the Israeli people".

The Gaza war started with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also seized hostages, of whom Israel estimates 128 remain in Gaza, including 36 who the military says are dead. Hamas said Saturday that an Israeli-British hostage had died from wounds sustained from Israeli air strikes.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,971 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Although police have said no direct threats have been made at the competition, they boosted their numbers with reinforcements from Norway and Denmark.

To gain access to the Malmo Arena, the around 9,000 spectators had to pass through a reinforced security system designed in particular to discourage protesters.

The contest itself was rattled earlier Saturday by the disqualification of Dutch contestant Joost Klein.

Dutch broadcaster AVROTROS said the incident had involved Klein being filmed directly after coming off stage "against clearly made agreements". (AFP)