It’s the year 2014: You can wear computers on your face. There are reports the Chinese are mulling whether to build an underwater railroad to America. And a gay, bearded drag queen from Austria just won the continent’s televised singing competition, Eurovision, before an audience of 170 million watching from home.
Some Russians, however, aren’t so comfortable with such modernity. After Conchita Wurst won the competition Saturday night, thrusting her trophy skyward and weeping, one member of Russia’s parliament worked himself into a lather. Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky — who recently ordered one of his aids to “rape” a pregnant journalist on live TV — declared it “the end of Europe…There is no limit to our outrage. It has turned wild. There are no more men or women in Europe. Just it.”
“Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria,” he added. “We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed.”
While Zhirinovsky’s views don’t often align with the general population — Vladimir Putin once told him to cool it — this time, he’s closer to home in Russia. From the get-go, Wurst’s drive to the top of Europe’s greatest singing competition has been marred by Russian opposition, and some Russian reactions post victory have been no different.
Vitaly Milonov, a deputy in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, was particularly hot and bothered. “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,” he wrote in a letter to Russia’s Eurovision organizing committee, pleading that Russia cease sending its performers to Eurovision.
Of course, not all Russians felt that way. Russia allotted her five points in the official tally, and the nation’s own Eurovision team voiced support for Wurst. “Do not judge the victors,” singer Filipp Kirkorov pleaded. “It was the song that won, and in my opinion it was a beautiful song… 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.”
But some Russian politicians, who helped pass a law last June banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” weren’t nearly as open-minded.
One of them was Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. He loves Steven Seagal and shooting large guns on Twitter. On Saturday, he got on the social media site to voice his displeasure at Wurst’s victory. “Eurovision showed the Euro-integrators their Euro-perspective,” he tweeted beside a photo of a crooning Wurst. “A bearded girl.”
Other members of Russia’s Twitter commentariat has been even less kind.
— Александр (@KarpenkoVsm) May 11, 2014
Others mixed humor with homophobia, juxtaposing pictures of Wurst beside famed Austrians to suggest what they perceive as a degraded culture.
— Константин Рыков (@rykov) May 11, 2014
Wurst has faced opposition from the start. The 25-year-old got into television in 2007 as Tom Neuwirth, then four years later, reemerged as Conchita. In her biography, she describes her transformation of a struggle between two different selves: “Two hearts beating in my chest,” she says.
“They are a team just working in sync,” she continues. “Although they have never met before — they are constantly missing each other in the mirror. The private person Tom Neuwirth and the art figure Conchita Wurst respect each other from the bottom of their hearts … with one essential message for tolerance and against discrimination.”
When she was chosen to represent Austria in Eurovision late last year, however, some countrymen weren’t nearly as tolerant. An “anti-Wurst” Facebook page materialized, attracting nearly 37,000 likes. Its adherents described her as “trashy,” “a joke,” “embarrassing” and “disgusting.” Russians were equally perturbed. One Change.org petition called for television stations to ban Eurovision’s broadcast and eventually collected 25,000 signatures.
“Austria will be represented in Eurovision 2014 by the transvestite contestant Conchita Wurst, who leads the lifestyle inapplicable for Russians [sic],” the Independent says the petition stated. “The popular international competition that our children will be watching has become a hotbed of sodomy at the initiation of the European liberals. Russia is one of the only European countries that has managed to maintain normal and healthy family values based on love and mutual support between men and women.”
Today, Wurst’s victory has even taken on broader political importance. According to Global Voices, one Russian nationalist website tweeted an image of Wurst cautioning Ukrainians against drifting toward the West — lest it wants to adopt the West’s lax attitudes toward Wurst. Indeed, just before the Eastern Ukraine referendum on Sunday to vote on self determination, the group’s Twitter handle dispatched a barrage of images comparing Western Ukrainian leaders to Wurst.
— Sputnik & Pogrom (@sputnikipogrom) May 10, 2014