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Amid Controversy Over Gay Rights and Ukraine, Austrian Drag Queen Wins Eurovision 2014

Published: May 13, 2014 (Issue # 1809)



  • Conchita Wurst, left, trounced the Russian entry at the Eurovision song contest Saturday.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  • The Russian Tolmachevy sisters came in seventh, one place behind Ukraine.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Voters from across Europe on Saturday selected Austrian singer Thomas Neuwirth, better known as Conchita Wurst, as the winner of Eurovision 2014. Russian singers Anastasiya and Maria Tolmacheva took seventh place.

The Austrian singer is best-known for performing as a bearded drag queen, an act that has startled many in Russia and prompted Vitaly Milonov, a deputy in St. Petersburg's legislative assembly, to send a letter to Russia's Eurovision organizing committee asking that no further Russian performers be sent to Eurovision, as in his opinion the competition promotes homosexuality.

"The participation of the clear transvestite and hermaphrodite Conchita Wurst on the same stage as Russian performers on live television is obvious propaganda for homosexuality and moral decay," Milonov wrote. In July 2013, Russia passed a law forbidding the spread of "propaganda" of "nontraditional sexual relationships" among minors, a measure that has been widely criticized in the West.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also criticized the choice of Neuwirth as the Eurovision winner, writing on Twitter that "Eurovision showed the eurointegrators their europerspective — a bearded girl."

Neuwirth told Reuters that his beard was "a statement to say that you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or how you look," adding that his whole Conchita Wurst persona is a statement on tolerance. Despite the criticism of Neuwirth from Russian government figures, the Russian Eurovision team supported his victory. Russian singer Filipp Kirkorov, who helped write the Russian Eurovision song "Shine," called on Russians to respect Neuwirth's victory.

"They do not judge the victors, it was the song that won, and in my opinion it was a beautiful song," Kirkorov said, adding that "with a beard, without a beard, a woman, a man — it is unimportant, this is a competition, a song contest. This time, Europe voted this way."

Neuwirth was not the only source of controversy at the contest — ongoing controversy over Russia's alleged involvement in the separatists movements in eastern and southern Ukraine caused many commentators to speculate that politics would hurt the chances of Russia's Tolmachevy sisters.

Russia's recent annexation of Crimea caused further confusion, as Eurovision organizers chose to count votes from the region as votes from Ukraine, stating that the policy was because Crimean phone operators continue to use Ukrainian telephone codes.

The Tolmachevy sisters were booed by the audience on May 6 when they qualified for the finals, while Ukrainian singer Mariya Yaremchuk was greeted with cheers. Yaremchuk finished in sixth place, one spot ahead of the Tolmachevy sisters, who were warmly received by the audience at the finals. The Tolmachevy sisters have avoided making any statements on the situation in Ukraine.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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