Austrian Conchita Wurst has arrived home to a heroine’s welcome after the bearded drag queen won the Eurovision Song Contest
Sporting high heels, butterfly eyelashes and a full beard, Wurst – whose birth name is Tom Neuwirth – swept to victory with her Rise Like a Phoenix ballad before a global television audience of about 180 million people in 45 countries
“I share the opinion that this was not a victory just for me but for the people who believe in a future that works without discrimination and is based on tolerance and respect. This transcends borders,” the 25-year-old “queen of Europe” said.
The Danish organisers had declared tolerance a main theme for this year’s event, and the rainbow-coloured flag symbolising gay pride flew in many places in Copenhagen over the past week.
Visibly moved by her triumph, the openly gay Wurst told the enthusiastic crowd in Copenhagen that the movement she had come to symbolise was “unstoppable”.
“This was of course directed against some politicians that we know and I just wanted to tell them that in the end good always wins and is unstoppable,” she told reporters on Sunday.
Asked if she was referring specifically to Russian president Vladimir Putin, given Russian campaigns against promoting homosexuality to young people, she said: “Among others”.
But she noted that she won votes from Russia as well, which showed not all Russians were intolerant.
Austrian media have generally celebrated Wurst’s budding career, but many in the largely conservative, Roman Catholic country have had mixed feelings about her rise to fame
‘Bearded girl’ causes controversy in eastern Europe
Reaction to Wurst’s appearance highlighted Europe’s geographical divide on attitudes to homosexuality.
Largely accepted without controversy in the West, it prompted criticism by some in the East where anti-gay rhetoric remains more common.
Wurst’s victory prompted an outpouring of anti-gay anger from Russian politicians and stars with deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeting that the result “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl”.
Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky told Rossiya-1 state television: “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’.
“Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria. We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed.”
Last year Russia adopted a controversial law banning the “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors, prompting condemnation from Western leaders and rights activists. Russia has also banned adoption of Russian children by foreign gay couples.
What do you think of Russia’s reaction to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst? Have your say
Popular Russian hip-hop star Timati wrote on his Instagram account that Wurst’s victory was the result of a “mental illness of contemporary society”.
“I wouldn’t like one fine day to have to explain to my child why two guys are kissing or a woman is walking round with a dyed beard and that’s supposed to be normal,” he said.
But Ukrainian drag act Verka Serduchka, who came second at Eurovision in 2007, strongly backed Wurst.
“To be honest, at the start it did shock me a bit, but when I saw it, I thought: why not? A person wants to express himself,” Andriy Danilko, who performs as Serduchka, 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’ – Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky
“We need to be more compassionate. I hate when people are bullied.
“She is kind. Don’t be mean to her. She is an eccentric. An eccentric with a beard.”
Flamboyant pop star Filipp Kirkorov, producer of Russia’s Eurovision entry this year, even suggested Wurst’s victory should make Russians reconsider homophobic views.
“Maybe this is a kind of protest against some of our views in Russia. Maybe we should have a think. Maybe we shouldn’t have such a categorical attitude to people of different sexual orientations,” he told Rossiya-1 television.
“In a way it probably is a challenge from Europe to us, but let’s respect the winner. People don’t judge a winner.”
Online petitions emerged in Belarus, Armenia and Russia – whose government passed a law last year banning “gay propaganda” among minors – to have Wurst removed or edited out of broadcasts in their countries.