The Eurovision Song Contest was a big deal for my family – I’ve always been a fan. It was the only televised show in Beirut with a hint of something Danish, making it a favourite of ours.
When we couldn’t leave our apartment for days because of the fighting, old ESC shows were one of the things playing on the TV to make us forget about the war.
One of the reasons I’m still so fascinated is that, for one night, you get a glimpse of what’s going on in Europe. Not through the eyes of politicians and intellectuals, but through the eyes, ears and hearts of regular everyday people.
Understanding poles apart
Take the Polish song. The video of very busty blonde women churning milk into butter hadn’t been on YouTube for long before ridicule and criticism started washing down over the Polish entry.
With lyrics like “The special things we have in our genes, make us proud of our natural shapes, on our lips you have everything you need”, it doesn’t surprise me that many people were expecting (and to a certain extent got) a semi-pornographic performance.
But if you ask the people behind the song, the joke is on us. The song is meant to be an ironic statement about the many prejudices most western Europeans have against women from eastern European countries.
Another good example is the Russian entry. Or to be more exact, the way the Russian entry was received. The loud booing that was sent in the direction of the two 17-year-old twins, both before and after their performance, became proof that politics is everywhere.
And when Russia became the first country to receive 12 points, even the hosts had a hard time finding the right response to the reaction from the crowd. Whether it was because of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine or because of the country’s harsh anti-gay legislation never became clear.
Hotbed of homophobia?
And speaking of gay, it’s impossible to not mention the winner. Austria sent the drag queen Conchita Wurst, who impressed many with her Bond-like ballad ‘Fly Like a Phoenix’.
Conchita quickly became a favourite, but many (myself included) predicted that, while she would probably do well, she wouldn’t win because no-one in the east would vote for her. Luckily, we were proven wrong. Her victory was seen as a slap in the face for the homophobic east, with Russia taking the brunt of the criticism.
Western tolerance beat eastern discrimination. But if you dive into the numbers, another picture starts to appear. Conchita Wurst also won the hearts of people in St Petersburg, Tbilisi and Minsk. True, the juries didn’t award her many points.
But she came in the top three among viewers in Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. It’s the televotes that show what the people think. This year, Eurovision illustrated how maybe eastern Europe isn’t as homophobic as we think.
And that is one more reason to love the show.