Russia's Eurovision secret is out: voters backed Conchita
Judges in Russia, Armenia and Belarus marked her down - but it turns out the public are more tolerant
In a slinky dress, heavy eye make-up and a luxuriant black beard, Austrian diva Conchita Wurst claimed the Eurovision trophy on Saturday night. The singer, real name Tom Neuwirth, dedicated her win to “peace and freedom” after facing abuse and official disapproval over recent months.
Wurst was always a favourite to win. What’s more unexpected is that the citizens of Russia, Armenia and Belarus - three nations which the BBC said all objected to Wurst’s ambiguous presence in the song competition - used their telephone votes to send a message of tolerance.
Ahead of the competition, The Independent reported a petition of 15,000 Russians demanding their state TV broadcaster drop the “hotbed of sodomy” from its schedule because of Wurst’s participation. Armenia’s contestant, Aram MP3, said Wurst’s lifestyle was “not natural” and she should “decide whether she is a woman or a man” (he later said it had been “a joke”).
The Guardian reported that the Russian politician who inspired the country’s repressive anti-gay laws, Vitaly Milonov, wrote to Russia’s Eurovision committee asking it to boycott the event because it was a “Sodom show” and a “Europe-wide gay parade”.
In short, Wurst faced a “transphobic backlash” from “conservative protesters in Russia, Armenia and Belarus” as the BBC put it.
On Saturday night, the scoring seemed to support this. Armenia and Belarus gave Conchita's torch song ‘nul points’ - while Russia allowed her a grudging five (12 is the maximum). So far, so predictable.
But much more interesting is how the public of those three nations voted.
As well as its own panel of five expert judges, each of the 37 participating nations runs a public telephone vote - the two results are then averaged. This year, for the first time, a breakdown of how the public and the judges voted has been released.
The figures show the Armenian public decided Wurst was their second favourite contestant out of the 25, while Russians ranked her third - and Belarus gave her a respectable fourth place. It was only after the carefully chosen judging panels had their say that Wurst’s ranking plummeted in all three nations.
So does Conchita Wurst’s win mark a backlash to the backlash, showing that the regime voices raised against her were out of step with a tolerant majority?
Possibly - but, of course, Eurovision watchers are a specialised bunch, who may well be predisposed to like Wurst. As Wurst herself said about about the controversy: “Eighty per cent of the autograph requests that I get are from Russia and eastern Europe.”
While the contest as a whole remains ineluctably silly, Wurst has become a serious figure of hope for at least some people living under the shadow of officially-sanctioned intolerance.