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13th Apr 2024

Eurovision winner seen as political message

  • Disliked by Russia's politicians: Austria's drag queen Conchita Wurst, winner of the 2014 Eurovision (Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU))

Forget about hipster moustaches and Movember. This year, it will be all about fake beards.

Conchita Wurst, the bearded drag queen from Austria, on Saturday (10 May) won the Eurovision song contest with "Rise like a Phoenix" that scooped 290 points.

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France, whose song "Moustache" was about having it all but still wanting a moustache, came in last with just two votes.

Facial hair styles aside, this year's contest was political from two points of view: attitude towards Russia – booed for being an aggressor in Ukraine and for banning gay rights – and attitudes towards transvestites.

Conchita, the 25-year old Austrian singer whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, saw petitions from Russia, Belarus and Armenia calling for her to be banned from the show.

Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, a proponent of the stricter anti-gay legislation, slammed the contest as a "hotbed of sodomy" and demanded that the Russian 17-year old twin contestants withdraw from the competition. In Russia it is banned to talk to underage teens about "non-traditional sexual orientations".

The votes – normally geopolitical as countries cannot vote for themselves – revealed some surprises: socially conservative Hungary and Malta gave their second-highest number of points to Conchita, while Greece, traditionally a Russia-ally, gave most of its points to Austria, followed by Russia.

Judges in Armenia, Belarus and Azerbaijan steered the vote towards Russia, but the final breakdown showed that people in the countries voted in favour of Conchita, too. Eurovision watchers in the 36 participating countries could phone or text their preference, but a national jury weighs in on half of the overall vote.

The 10,000 strong audience in Copenhagen was audibly political, too. Whenever Russia got any points and when their presenter in Moscow gave the results of the Russian vote, the otherwise cheery crowd booed loudly.

Asked after the show what her message for Russian President Vladimir Putin is, Conchita replied: "We are unstoppable. I really dream of a world where we don't have to talk about unnecessary things like sexuality, where you're from or who you love. This is not what it's all about."

"I really felt like tonight, Europe showed that we are a unity full of respect and tolerance," Conchita added.

The German foreign ministry on its official Twitter account congratulated her, Austria and Europe for the result, under the hashtag "respect".

For his part, Russian vice-prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who just returned from a snap visit to the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria, tweeted that the Eurovision result "showed supporters of European integration their European future – a bearded girl."

The Russian state television broadcast a debate on Conchita's victory, with ultranationalist MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky claiming there is "no limit to our outrage" over the result, which indicates "the end of Europe".

Comments posted on the Eurovision website also reflected the division between "real values" defenders (mostly from Russia) and those happy about the message Conchita's victory sends.

"It is an important victory, but is important to remember that what is acceptable in the world of entertainment is not necessarily accepted in real life," says Juris Lavrikovs, spokesman for Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based association promoting the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and intersex people in Europe.

Transvestites and transgender people are even more a target for homophobia than gays and lesbians, according to a recent survey carried out by Ilga-Europe.

Lavrikovs, who is a Latvian national and a regular follower of Eurovision contests, told this website that the voting patterns this year were surprisingly different, with his country – home of a large Russian community – giving two points to Russia and six to Austria.

"Eurovision shows that homophobic politicians don't necessarily represent the views of the people. Even Russia gave five points to Austria, so perhaps they should reconsider the use of homophobic political tools," Lavrikovs said.

Asked if he thought Conchita could have won without having a beard, Lavrikovs pointed to the winner from Israel in 1998, Dana International, who was the first transgender singer to ever win the Eurovision.

"Conchita won for the quality of her act and for her courage," Lavrikovs said.

Conchita's victory means Austria will host next year's Eurovision Song Contest, for the first time since 1967. A lot of fake beard-wearers are expected to show up in the audience.

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