NICOSIA — Dozens of Orthodox Christian faithful held up wooden crosses and sang Church hymns outside of Cyprus' state broadcaster on Saturday to demand the withdrawal of the country's controversial entry for the Eurovision song contest — titled "El Diablo" — that they say promotes satanic worship.
Some of the protesters, including families, held up placards reading in Greek, "We're protesting peacefully, no to El Diablo," "Repent and return to Christ" and "Christ saves, Diablo kills."
The broadcaster and the singer of the song insist it has been misinterprested and the song is actually about an abusive relationship between two lovers.
The protest came several days after the powerful Orthodox Church called for the withdrawal of the song that it said mocked the country's moral foundations by advocating "our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship."
The Holy Synod, the Church's highest decision-making body, said in a statement that the song "essentially praises the fatalistic submission of humans to the devil's authority" and urged the state broadcaster to replace it with one that "expresses our history, culture, traditions and our claims."
Last week, police charged a man with uttering threats and causing a disturbance when he barged onto the grounds of the public broadcaster to protest what he condemned as a "blasphemous" song that was an affront to Christianity.
The state broadcaster insisted that the entry won't be withdrawn, but its board chairman, Andreas Frangos, conceded that organizers should have done a better job explaining the core message of the song, whose lyrics include, "I gave my heart to el diablo…because he tells me I'm his angel."
Even the Cypriot government waded into the controversy, with Presidential spokesman Viktoras Papadopoulos saying that although the views of dissenters are respected, the government cannot quash freedom of expression.
"The Government fully respects creative intellectual and artistic freedom that cannot be misinterpreted or limited because of a song's title, and unnecessary dimensions should not be attributed," Papadopoulos said in a written statement.
The song's performer, Greek artist Elena Tsagrinou, said that the song is about a woman who cries out for help after falling for a "bad boy" known as "El Diablo" and coming to identify and bond with her abuser. Tsagrinou insisted that any other interpretation is "unfounded."
"The song sends a strong message, one against any form of abuse, such as the one conveyed in 'El Diablo,'" Tsagrinou told The Associated Press in a written statement. "In these 'Me Too Movement' times that message is extremely relevant and can be felt not only in Cyprus but also across Europe and beyond."
She added that she is a Christian and her faith was very important to her.
Addressing the song's detractors, Tsagrinou said "we must all embrace the true and intended message of the song" and that people are now stepping forward with their own stories of abuse.
"Music unites and empowers. Let's focus on that and the important issues around us and leave misinterpretations and dark thoughts behind," Tsagrinou said.