Eurovision has always been two things: adorably terrible and intensely political, and this year was no different. The dirndl clad entry from Poland erotically churning butter; the multicoloured quartet from Iceland pleading for us all the “just get along” with a jumpy little pop number; the incomprehensible dubstep chorus from Armenia: all were singularly unique in their own paint-by-numbers sort of way. Eurovision, as ever, did not disappoint.
But the stand out story of the night, and deserved winner, was Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag queen, with her Bond theme-esque ballad ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’. Now, certainly it wasn’t the best song of the night but when has that ever been the deciding factor of who wins Eurovision? As ever it was politics that had the deciding vote, but for once not as we know it.
If you haven’t heard the song, here it is:
Russian involvement in Crimea and Ukraine was something of a “ghost at the feast” for the entire night, with loud jeers and boos any time Russia’s entry received any votes. The audience even heckled and hissed the Russian performers, the 17 year old Tolmachevy twins (very unfairly, it must be added). Throughout the hour and a half cringe-fest of point dishing in which stationary women, rapping Fins, and Scott Mills stand in front national symbols and grimace their way through platitudes, any points that went towards Russia were booed and many countries that would normally give twelve points to Russia were instead giving twelves upon twelves to Austria’s Conchita.
Russia’s recent warmongering in Ukraine has been the biggest political shakeup in Europe since the Kosovan conflict and, coupled with Putin’s new homophobic laws, the continent’s feeling towards the nation is the sourest it has been for decades. In light of those, as well as the Russian politician Vitaly Milonov’s description of Conchita Wurst as a ‘pervert’, one cannot help but think that the Austrian vote was a protest, a way of Europe to say collectively “Fuck you, Russia. You are not what we represent”. It was especially heartening to see the public vote from traditionally conservative countries such as Armenia, Belarus, and even Russia go to Austria. A ground swell a public tolerance from such a wide variety of nations is something that should be truly celebrated.
It might be easy to dismiss Conchita’s success as a sympathy vote or as misguided positive discrimination, but throughout the continent that Eurovision aims to unite LGBTQ+ men and women still face persecution, discrimination, and living a life in fear. To have an openly gay man win a competition so widely viewed across the planet shows not only other continents but our own downtrodden people that we will not stand for hatred of difference, that we will celebrate it. Eurovision is camp, sillly, and the music is awful, certainly, but it also a moment political force and I for one am truly proud of the millions of Europeans who voted to show those who promote hate that they will not win.