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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, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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