There are many reasons I am proud to be European, in fact, many more than I’m proud to be British. Eurovision is one of them.
The Eurovision Song Contest started after the second world war as a slightly whimsical way to unite the continent and has become a Europe-wide institution that is celebrated with varying degrees of seriousness and irony depending on the country, but continues to be something that not many non-Europeans seem to get.
In recent years, the song contest has began to have less to do with the music itself and instead acts as a gauge of people’s opinions and views of their neighbouring countries. Many British people became disillusioned with Eurovision in 2003, when after the invasion of Iraq the UK received zero points for their entry (which was admittedly terrible nonetheless), believing that it was because voters from other countries sent their votes elsewhere because they disagreed of the actions of the UK government.
This trend mostly certainly continues today, and the fact that Conchita Wurst, a drag performer from Austria with a beard, won was an important moment in Eurovision history, showing that there is an overwhelming majority of Europeans who are in favour of acceptance, tolerance and who stand against (at least ideologically) those governments who want to restrict such things.
I was originally introduced to Conchita by a good Austrian friend of mine in 2011, and immediately enjoyed everything about her from her unique look and good singing voice to her powerful stage presence and unapologetic presentation of herself as she is. My friend and I were both initially sceptical that she would be appreciated or even tolerated in conservative Austria, and indeed the next year in 2012, our fears were proven right when she lost to a particularly awful duo in Austria’s national contest to choose a Eurovision entry, which didn’t end up getting through to the final.
This year, however, the powers that determine who represents Austria in the contest clearly saw the light and chose Conchita outright, without the need for a national selection process.
While Austria had moved on, not every country entering Eurovision had. Before the finals for this year’s contest, Conchita received some negative attention from the Armenian performer and indeed some countries called for broadcasters to censor her performance as it was considered ‘gay propaganda’.
In the end, her song, Rise Like a Phoenix with its message of peaceful defiance in the face of violent oppression and discrimination was both powerful and relevant, and I feel that Conchita’s dedication upon receiving the trophy perfectly acknowledged the significance of her winning without blowing it our of proportion:
This night is dedicated to anyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable.
It may have also brought a tear to my eye.
The next day, when I saw this post from the Austrian President appear in my Facebook feed, I was moved to tears again.
Translation: I congratulate Conchita Wurst on her victory at the Eurovision Song Contest. It is not only a victory for Austria but for all those in favour of diversity and tolerance in Europe. That she dedicated her victory to all those who believe in a future of peace and freedom makes it doubly worthwhile. A great day for Austria! Heartfelt congratulations!
It felt to me to be very important that the president was acknowledging not only her having won, but again the significance of that win, showing that the contest is not only a music competition, but a stage for popular opinion to be expressed. And that opinion was resoundingly that non-acceptance is not cool.
Of course, the win in and of itself is important for Austria, since they last won the Eurovision Song Contest way back in 1966, and now will be hosting the 60th contest next year, thanks to Conchita.
Let’s now add her to the list of things I love about Austria.
Are you a Eurovision fan? Had you heard of Conchita Wurst before last weekend?