Last year an Austrian drag queen captured the attention of an entire continent and dedicated her Eurovision victory to everyone who “believed in a future of peace and freedom“. Conchita Wurst’s win was celebrated as an open defiance of the crackdown of LGBT rights. Now one year on, Russia are one of the favourites to win in Vienna and the artist carries widespread support, so should we boo-hiss or let the music win on Saturday?
Vladamir Putin’s ‘anti-propaganda’ laws have all but gagged organisations and public bodies from showing same-sex couples in a positive light in a bid to protect children. For a young person who has realised they are gay at the age of 16, teachers, psychologists and even their own parents are forbidden from telling them that it’s okay to be gay. Despite condemnation from human rights organisations across the world, the law has received support from traditional conservatives in Russia. Since it was introduced in 2013, social media feeds have been awash with shocking images of gay rights activists being assaulted in public and heart-breaking stories of young Russians living in fear of their lives.
That’s why last year’s Europe-wide rejection of this oppression was so important, for a continent which is often so marred in political and ideological fighting, to crown Conchita as its queen was so symbolically important. For viewers in the UK, it made for refreshing viewing as we were no longer the most disliked reveller at the party, as the Russia act were subject to boos throughout the live shows. As we begin to practice our best Bucks Fizz routine and put up the flag bunting for this year’s competition there are questions whether we will see a repeat of the condemnation of Putin’s law.
Throughout modern history the emancipation of people has been granted as a consequence of a lengthy power struggle between small groups and the state. Across Europe there remain gross human rights violations and it will come as no surprise that Russia does not act alone in this. So it could be argued that animosity towards the Kremlin over their anti-gay laws is merely a scapegoat for a much wider societal problem the voices of liberal Europe need to address. We only need to take one look at the human rights record of nations such as Belarus to see well documented violations, that Condoleezza Rice once labelled as one of the six “outposts of tyranny“.
However the clamp down in LGBT freedoms was arguably done for nothing more than political posturing and as a result has caused misery for hundreds of thousands people. Russia’s geographical superiority may not necessarily translate into absolute global dominance, but the nation remains a key actor in the world order and carries a significant influence. The struggle to overturn this anti-propaganda law isn’t the imposition of Western liberal values onto an Orthodox Christian nation, but simply the call for all persons to be respected and protected.
We must of course differentiate between the policies of a national government to views held by an individual. As Ian Martin’s eloquently wrote in his tongue and cheek article in the Guardian, upon meeting a Russian we shouldn’t assume he is 64% homophobe and 28% gangster, nor should I wish to be characterised as 37% Tory after the election.
I would like to wish 28-year-old Polina Gagarina the best of luck, however she will not be receiving my support, and I hope this will be the case for many fellow LGBT viewers across Europe. The Eurovision song contest may be just that, a singing competition, but it is a platform that celebrates diversity and gives a voice to so many voiceless groups in our continent.
Every country is welcome to turn up to the party, just don’t expect us to roll out the red carpet should the country you represent fly in the face of our freedoms.
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