Eurovision’s Conchita brings out Russia’s worst and Europe’s best
The most complicated thing said over this past weekend by a public figure came from the perfectly rouged lips of the winner of the Eurovision song contest, Conchita Wurst. “I really dream,” she said, “of a world where we don’t have to talk of unnecessary things like sexuality.”
That’s silly on two levels and deeply idealistic on a third.
It’s silly, first and most evidently, because sexuality won’t be unnecessary for a long while, and may last as long as this world does.
It’s silly, second and most personally, because Wurst (her second, adopted name means “sausage” but apparently is also Austrian German slang for “whatever…”) had just won the first prize in the world’s wackiest tournament – the Eurovision Song Contest held this year in the Danish capital Copenhagen. She was dressed in the slinkiest of gowns hugging a perfectly sexy figure, the perfectly rouged lips set off by a perfectly trimmed black beard. ‘Unnecessary’ had nothing to do with it.
The statement is deeply idealistic because what she was saying was: it’s time we stopped thinking that it’s necessary to make a fuss about a man who’s become a woman and grown a beard. I have my thing and you have yours and if we don’t hurt each other, who is to say who’s better? It’s like … whatever.
Conchita, born Thomas Neuwirth in a small Austrian town is a kind of mascot for the European Union, which takes pride in being neither one thing nor the other – it passes laws, but is most definitely not a single state.
Conchita is everything the EU aspires to be in the eyes of the world – open, tolerant, plural, wholly accepting of every kind of sexuality in every kind of expression, shorn of narrow, cramping, sexual assumptions. She sang, in her winning number “Rise like a Phoenix” that “once I’m transformed, once I’m reborn, (I will) Rise like a phoenix!” – like the mythical bird, rising from the ashes, in Conchita’s case, the ashes of sexual prejudice.
The Russians didn’t see things that way: Conchita was fully aware of that, telling reporters on Sunday that “This was of course directed against some politicians that we know…” “Putin?” “Among others.”
Maybe she also meant back home in Austria, where less than a quarter of one of the EU’s more conservative states had expressed themselves in polls as proud that she was representing their country.
But none expressed themselves publicly like leading Russian politicians felt it was necessary to do. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin employed sarcasm: he tweeted that the win “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky preferred irony. Claiming he was distressed that his children had watched Eurovision, he tweeted — “how am I going to explain all this to them in a ‘politically correct’ and ‘tolerant’ way?”
More crudely, the never-to-be-outdone leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky spat that “Fifty years ago the Soviet Army occupied Austria. We should have stayed there.”
As Conchita celebrated the ballot results in Copenhagen, the organizers of a grimmer referendum in eastern Ukraine set up booths in schools, churches and the streets to tally support for a vaguely worded resolution that could lead Donetsk, Slavyansk and Luhansk to greater autonomy and, perhaps, a union with Russia.
And what a Russia it has become.
European tolerance is seen by its leaders as degeneracy; a willingness to acquire territory by force and by guile; an attachment to race, so that ethnic Russians everywhere outside of Russia should be seen as “ours” and, where possible, brought back – along with the land they live on — to Mother Russia.
In case there’s any question about how all of this is playing in the rest of Europe, the Eurovision contest offers another insight.
Russia’s contestants, two sweet-faced sisters named Tolmachevy, suffered boos when they qualified for the finals. A long way from its 2012 entry, the Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of grannies whose sprightly number — “Party for everybody” — got a standing ovation and nearly won the whole competition.
What a difference intolerance, and an invasion, makes.
PHOTO: Conchita Wurst representing Austria performs the song “Rise Like a Phoenix” after winning the grand final of the 59th Eurovision Song Contest at the B&W Hallerne in Copenhagen May 10, 2014. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz