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Europe’s most popular annual televised talent competition, the Eurovision Song Contest, became a proxy battleground for the clash between Russia and the West over Ukraine at the semifinals Tuesday night.
With acts from both Russia and Ukraine giving all they had to their live performances, emotions were running high in Copenhagen, Denmark, hosting the contest this year after Emmelie de Forest won last year with “Only Teardrops.”
When Russia’s singing twins, the 17-year-old Tolmachevy sisters, made it through to Saturday’s finals with their song “Shine,” their success was met with loud booing from the audience of 10,000 at Copenhagen’s B&W Halls — a former shipbuilding complex specially converted for the event by Danish public broadcaster DR.
As the two blond sisters jumped for joy after hearing they had qualified for the finals and were hugged by supporters that included one of Russia’s most famous entertainers, Bulgarian-born singer Philipp Kirkorov, a smattering of applause was drowned out by members of the audience angered at the judges’ decision.
Ukraine’s entry, “Tick Tock” — belted out by Mariya Yaremchuk accompanied by a young man running inside a giant hamster wheel — also qualified but evoked no negative response.
The reaction to the Russian act reflects the loss of respect suffered by Russia in the last year after the introduction of anti-gay laws, scandals alleging corruption at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its backing of separatist forces now engaged in a conflict with the Ukrainian army.
Further semifinals take place Thursday before the live televised finals Saturday, where last year’s winner, Denmark, is already guaranteed a place alongside the “big five” nations who financially support the contest’s organizers, the European Broadcast Union: Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K.
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