Rehearsals are continuing here in Malmo; some good, some bad and some very ugly! I'm not going to provide a critique as there are so many others blogging about the performances. I will say though, it's amazing how opinions change, as they always do. Songs which I hadn't even considered qualifying are now coming across very strongly. I have a sneaky suspicion about Malta now! Time will tell...
The Swedes are injecting a little bit of politics into the event this year, even though the EBU continuously insist that Eurovision is "not a political event". The slogan for this year, "We Are One", is said to reflect the diversity of Europe and the importance of universal human rights. Given that the contest is taking place in Malmö, one of the most diverse cities in Sweden, this is fitting.
The Swedes aren't afraid to tackle the difficult questions that were dodged so many times in Azerbaijan. At the press conference for Belarus our host, Alexandra Pascalidou, asked the delegation about the situation in their country with regards to freedom of expression. Awkward. The team, unsurprisingly, didn't answer the question and just said how much they love Eurovision. Their Dear Leader would have been proud I'm sure. Some journos here questioned the appropriateness of such an angle given that "it's only Eurovision". I think it's completely appropriate. These are press conferences and yet they're used as an opportunity to fawn over random acts. There are very serious and real questions concerning freedom of speech and human rights amongst so many of the participating countries. I spoke to Alexandra after the press conference, she's a feisty woman and was completely unrepentant about asking those delicate issues.
"I have fought hard for equality for all throughout my life. I'm a Greek Swede born in Romania. We have countries in this contest which don't uphold basic freedoms which most of us live by. I will not be told not avoid certain subjects by anyone".
I think it's important to speak for people who have no voice, to raise these issues. Yes, the singers can't do anything to change things but it would be wrong to simply sweep it under the carpet. I'm not meaning to have a go at Belarus, it's one of my favourite songs this year, however it is essentially a regime country. The EBU are in a very awkward position and will be should the contest ever go to Minsk.
Tonight it's the Belarusian party, I'll be there. I will try and speak to some of the delegation about life in Belarus. Is it really as bad as is reported? I doubt I'll get a true picture of the situation. It's important not to let ourselves become pawns in a propaganda exercise, no matter how much free booze they ply us with. We aren't one. That's the point that the Swedes are trying to make and fair play to them, they're certainly not "running scared".