The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is over and a gay, bearded transvestite from Austria won the final round. Thomas Neuwirth, better known as the drag persona Conchita Wurst, edged out artists from the Netherlands, Sweden, and 34 other participating countries. On the Internet, Russians have reacted to Wurst’s victory with a mix of humor and homophobia.
Objections to Wurst’s involvement in Eurovision are already several months old. In December 2013, men in Russia and Belarus launched petitions to ban television stations from broadcasting the music contest, if Wurst took part. Hosted on the American website Change.org, the Belarusian petition collected over 4 thousand signatures. The Russian petition attracted over 23 thousand supporters.
Following Wurst’s win today, Russians responded with several different memes. Some were intended to mock the artist’s unusual beard, whereas others took aim more broadly at Europe’s supposed cultural permissiveness.
— Michael Anissimov (@MikeAnissimov) May 11, 2014
Австрийцы изменились pic.twitter.com/Qj8r1NyMHH
— Константин Рыков (@rykov) May 11, 2014
The Austrians have changed.
Many bloggers juxtaposed images of Wurst alongside famous historical Austrians, such as Franz Joseph I and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, drawing attention to the passage of time, implying that Austria—and Europe along with it—has ceased to produce quality art and no longer observes traditional, correct values.
Others have contrasted Wurst with Alexander Mozhaev, also known as “Babai” (or “bogeyman”), the famously bearded pro-Russia separatist from Slaviansk, whose impressive facial hair has come to symbolize Ukrainian rebels’ stoic masculinity.
— Alexei Alexeev (@ALEXEI_LIVE) May 11, 2014
But life in Russia hasn’t changed. “Two worlds. Two childhoods.”
— Igor Demyanov (@igoryan76) May 11, 2014
Rykov: For the first time in two weeks, I’m compelled to shave.
Demyanov: Just imagine how Babai must feel.
The Russian nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom tweeted an image warning Ukrainians that further European integration will expose them to the cultural values that celebrate people like Wurst. The message below uses Wurst’s face to try to scare people in Ukraine’s southeast into voting in the separatist referendum, scheduled for May 11.
— Sputnik & Pogrom (@sputnikipogrom) May 10, 2014
Ukraine, you want into Europe? Conchita is waiting for Ukraine! May 11, either you go to the referendum, or the blue beard comes to you!
Some of the most vitriolic posts online have involved men sharing photographs of themselves shaving in protest against Wurst. Rapper Aleksandr Stepanov, known as “ST,” uploaded to Instagram pictures of him shaving, with the message, “I pass the baton,” and the hashtag, “Prove that you’re not Conchita” (#докажичтотынекончита). Anton Korobkov, a popular pro-Kremlin blogger, also posted a “selfie” while shaving.
Just watched Eurovision. Had to go shave.
Another Russian rapper, Timur Yunusov, better known as “Timati,” responded to Stepanov’s Instagram post with high praise. Yunusov also thanked Vladimir Putin for “banning gay parades in Moscow,” and criticized Europe for “normalizing” bearded women. The rapper explained that he would likely assault any gay couple in Russia that dared to hold hands and kiss in public.
For all the alarm about Europe’s supposed cultural collapse, Wurst is not in fact Eurovision’s first gender-bending victor. The artist Dana International, a transgender Israeli who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1993, won the contest in 1998. That year, Russia was not allowed to participate because of low average scores from previous years. As a result, Russian television decided not to broadcast the competition in 1998.
Eurovision always agitates Russia’s homophobes. The contest’s performances are invariably flamboyant and difficult to square with any traditional concept of masculinity. Thanks to the conflict in Ukraine, East-West tensions are now at a post-Soviet highpoint, and gay-bashing benefits from Russia’s surge in patriotic chauvinism.
Of course, the spectacle of a homosexual bearded drag-queen singing champion also spices up things a bit.