Cross-Dressing Singer Upsets Russia

15 May, 2014

The results of the recent Eurovision Song Contest caused a strong reaction in Russia. They also worsened relations between Russia and Europe.

The Eurovision Song Contest was held last weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark. An estimated 180 million people in 45 countries watched the event. As we hear from Katherine Cole, the winner was from Austria.

That was Conchita Wurst performing the song "Rise Like a Phoenix." The act received more votes than the 25 other finalists in the competition this year.
Cross-Dressing Singer Upsets Russia
Singer Conchita Wurst from Austria performs the song "Rise Like a Phoenix" during a rehearsal for the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 7, 2014.

It was the performer's appearance that made news. Conchita Wurst is a man who wears women's clothing. He has hair covering his face and reaching over his shoulders. The performer said he was honored to win the contest. He called it a victory for European values.

It was a victory not just for me, he said, but also for those people who believe in a future without discrimination and which is based on tolerance and respect.

Those words were widely seen as a criticism of Russia. Last year, the Russian government approved laws against what it called "homosexual propaganda." The laws bar public events and the spread of information about non-traditional sexual relations to the very young.

In Moscow, there was widespread disbelief at Conchita Wurst's victory at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Russia finished seventh in the competition. Many people in the crowd expressed their disapproval of the performers from Russia. The Russian judges gave all their votes to countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union.

Last Sunday, Russian conductor Valery Gergiev organized a concert in London. The musician is a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

About 30 anti-Putin protesters demonstrated for a short time as the show began. Among them was human rights activist Peter Tatchell.

"We thought it was very important to challenge Valery Gergiev over his support for President Putin; his endorsement of Russia's anti-gay law, and his approval of Russia's actions in Ukraine."

Some people would say Russia is facing the beginnings of a cultural backlash in Europe. But there was one surprising result -- both Russia and Ukraine voted for each other in the Eurovision song contest.

I'm Katherine Cole.