One Europe?

by Rhodri C. Williams

As I type this, the points are rolling in for the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. Its all a little bit surreal. Having done its best to stave off ‘politicization’ of a 2012 contest handed without strings to autocratic Azerbaijan, the organizers of Eurovision are now finding European politics bashing down the door and tracking muddy footprints down the hallway.

At the other end of Europe, it has been another bloody, divisive day in Eastern Ukraine, which is now described by the Guardian as ‘on the brink of civil war’. As mob rule descended on the Eastern city of Mariupol, one local Russian speaking resident described his view of the casus belli as follows: “This is the Donetsk people’s republic! We will destroy the Kiev junta and the Euro-gays! We will win!”

At this end of Europe, the picture could not be more different, with the Euro-gays sitting rather clearly in the ascendancy as the last minutes of the Eurovision contest roll down. A few minutes back, the astonishing transvestite performer Conchita Wurst of Austria passed the point of no return, taking high points not only from predictable Western countries but also east of the Oder locales like Georgia with rather mixed past records on moving past hetero-normativity.

More sadly, a pair of talented twins who happen to hail from Russia (but probably enjoy fairly little direct responsibility for troop movements on the Ukrainian border) initially drew loud and sustained boos from the crowd every time one of Russia’s few remaining friends in the region tipped them their 10 crony points. By the end the boos seemed to be drowned out by cheers, which indicate a far greater capacity to learn quickly from past mistakes on the part of the Eurovision crowd than the Kremlin regime.

The phenomenon of Conchita Wurst at this moment in European history highlights both the ascendancy of socially liberal values across many parts of Europe and the political division that gapes ever wider between European regimes that can handle individual expression and those that find it threatening. Not that the two never play footsie, mind. Just look at former Eurovision capital Azerbaijan, returned decisively to its draconian ways after the foreign media pulled out and yet all dolled up to assume the chairmanship of Europe’s ever less credible human rights organization, the Council of Europe, in just three days.

And yet, in the afterglow of a Eurovision contest that fell overwhelmingly to an Austrian ‘bearded woman’ who could belt out a power ballad like nobody’s business, the last word is best left to Conchita herself:

Waking in the rubble
Walking over glass
Neighbors say we’re trouble
Well that time has passed

At some point, now or in the future, Moscow will need to decide whether it always wants to be that grumpy neighbor or would rather integrate more meaningfully with a European community it has every claim to be a part of. But Europe would do well in the meantime to be a little more careful about who it welcomes into Conchita’s house.

6 responses to “One Europe?

  1. In terms of facial hair, apparently quite a few of Conchita’s compatriots, and other Europeans, too, one must unfortunately presume, would prefer a different design, more in the line with that of France’s – in my opinion unfairly overlooked, and that’s not mere lipservice – contribution to this year’s Grand Prix:

    Therefore it might be surprising that already in 2012, when Austria, contrary to this year, had a popular vote for whom to send to Baku in that year, Conchita came in runner-up (to the fantastic Trackshittaz with “Waki mit dem Popo” by the way, who then sadly went out in the semis). Maybe the FPÖ-constituency didn’t take much part in that vote:

    But then again, at the end of the day, Conchita is a very Viennese phenomenon: wonderful and “skurril”, this German word that better than any other describes Vienna. At least for the time being:

    And for the “Euro-Gay”-quote, one could add the following, also from an interview in the Guardian: “All of Ukraine will soon be ours. We need to fight the Bandera supporters and Jews who have come to power in Kiev,” said Viktor, who hoped he and his fellow Cossacks would soon have the same policing duties as their brethren in Russia”. Collateral damage: the meaning of the word “fascist” has now become quite distorted, just like that of “terrorist” might have become during the “war on terrorism” following 9/11. C.E.

  2. Thanks very much Carl! Very interesting to get some more of the Austrian backstory. If nothing else, all Austrians owe a great debt to Conchita for turning the page on the country’s earlier facial hair associations.

  3. The Guardian covers Conchita’s pledge to turn her fame to fighting discrimination:

    There are also some priceless Russian reactionaries’ reactions to being booed in Copenhagen and getting their gender roles shaken and stirred:

    “There was predictable outrage from some Russian conservative quarters at the results. Deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter that the Eurovision result “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”

    Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said: “There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe. It has turned wild. They don’t have men and women any more. They have ‘it’,”.

    The leader of the Liberal Democratic party, speaking on Rossiya-1 state television, added: “Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria. We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed.””

    Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter carries the same quotes but complicates the picture by noting that Conchita’s ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix” shot to the top of the iTunes download list for Russia yesterday.

    So who is out of tune with the times after all?

  4. Last point on this highly significant frivolity. Here is an analysis of quite a transphilic dissent from the official transphobic backlash out East:

    “On Saturday night, …. 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.””

  5. Okay. I said no more on this. But really. Conchita and the dreadful Balkan floods?

    “This [flood] is not a coincidence, but a warning,” Patriarch Amfilohije of Montenegro said. “God sent the rains as a reminder that people should not join the wild side.”

    Well then. Let that be a warning to you.

  6. Pingback: TN mellows out at five | TerraNullius

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