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Eurovision - it hurts

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After months of speculation the press have gathered, experts have analysed the strengths of the main contenders, scandals have been exposed and a drooling public can barely contain its eagerness for the show to begin.

But enough about Knutby.

Because this weekend it's the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual brawl that keeps Europe's appetite for war under control. The tanks and guns have been replaced by high heels and music, the bombs have been replaced by telephone voting and the propaganda and political treachery have been replaced by - well, propaganda and political treachery.

Since Abba's victory in 1974 with Waterloo (see - war again) no country has flexed its muscles on the Eurovision stage quite like Sweden. There are standards to keep up. A poor showing at Eurovision means national disgrace and no stone is left unturned by the press in the run-up to the event.

Sweden will be represented by veteran performer Lena Philipsson singing a catchy number called 'It hurts'. The song was written by Thomas 'Orup' Eriksson and, controversially, has been translated into English since it won the Swedish heat.

"The English version has been completely slated," said Thursday's Aftonbladet, quoting several observers who felt that the switch was a mistake. Indeed, even Lena and Orup say they prefer the Swedish version.

"But we want everyone to be able to understand the words," Lena explained. "If you want any chance of winning you have to sing in English."

Tell that to the French.

"The English lyrics are total nonsense," said Antonis Kaitatzidis of OGAE, the Eurovision fan club. "I understood the song better in Swedish. And I'm Greek."

It's not just the lyrics that have come in for criticism. The whole Swedish team was accused of arrogance - and even foul play - when Anders G Carlsson, chief of the delegation, let slip in a press conference that the Stockholm venue Globen had already been booked for next year's event.

"We do this every year - you can never plan too far in advance in television. But to suggest that we are in cahoots with the Eurovision organisers is just too stupid for me to comment on," he commented.

As the insults flew around this week, even the traditional inter-Nordic solidarity seemed to be breaking down. In Wednesday's Aftonbladet, Norwegian commentator Jostein Pedersen said that Lena's performance reminded him of a worn-out old stripper who's done one show too many.

"He obviously has experience of worn-out old strippers," retorted Lena. "But I don't."

For a while The Local thought that SvD and DN had avoided the subject completely, but it was just that their articles had inexplicably gatecrashed the culture sections of the papers.

Thursday's DN printed Lena's answers to reader's questions, which included such gems as "Are you interested in architecture?" (answer: "not so much that I'd consider changing jobs"), "Would you ever consider a breast enlargement?" (answer: "they're big enough as they are") and "Does it really hurt when you sing?" (answer: "No.").

It was left to Svenska Dagbladet to bring some intellectual clout to proceedings. In an exclusive interview, conducted on the coach on the way to rehearsals in Istanbul, Lena admitted that she had given some thought to the fact that Turkey had been criticised for its handling of the situation in Kurdistan and its treatment of political dissidents.

"But I don't see my participation in the Eurovision Song Contest as being political," she said.

So, Saturday night, 9pm, and as usual, Sweden are among the hot favourites. Brussels may be the bureaucratic centre of Europe but nothing that the politicians can say will ever unite the people of the continent quite like Eurovision.

All together now: "It hurts, oh it hurts, really hurts..."

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