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News 13 May 14

Drag Queen's Eurovision Win Highlights East-West Divide

While LGBT communities and public in Serbia and Croatia criticised the reporting of their national broadcasters on the May 10 victory of transsexual singer Conchita Wurst at the Eurovision, this year’s voting has highlighted differing attitudes towards LGBT people in Western and Eastern Europe.

Blue countries gave Austria 12 points, red countries gave it no points, and the intermediate colours show the scale of points in between | by Dr Alan Renwick

LGBT communities in Serbia and Croatia have condemned the tone that comperes for their national broadcaster adopted when commenting on the May 10 victory of Austrian transsexual singer Conchita Wurst at the 2014 Eurovision in Copenhagen.

The Gay and Lesbian information centre in Serbia protested against the jokes made about Wurst with a public letter, while the Croatian TV commentary also drew adverse reactions from the Croatian media.

"Placing a transgender person such as Conchita Wurst in the realm of a bizarre, circus freak show cannot be allowed," the head of the Serbian LGBT centre, Predrag Azdejkovic, said.

This kind of reporting by national broadcaster RTS insulted the LGBT population in Serbia, he added.

RTS has issued a letter of apology, expressing regret if its commentary upset members of the LGBT community.

Some Croatian media called their broadcaster's tone to the contest superficial, irritating, often even homophobic.

Some Serbian viewers were annoyed when commentator Silvana Grujic joked about the victory of the bearded transsexual, saying: "After this, women will not have to wax anymore." Dragoljub Ilic shouted on the same programme: "Message of this year’s Eurovision: Women, grow beards."

If Serbian TV's mocking tone angered gays in Serbia, the tone in Russia was much shriller. Ultranationalist Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared the Austrian drag queen's win “the end of Europe…There is no limit to our outrage. It has turned wild. There are no more men or women in Europe. Just it.”

“Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria,” he added. “We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed,” he added.

In a blog published on May 11, UK politics professor Alan Renwick, noted that voting patterns at the Eurovision showed Western countries gave more points to the Austrian singer than Eastern European ones.

“If we look at averages, we can see that Conchita won, on average, 4.4 points in the countries of the former Soviet Union excluding the Baltics, 6.0 points in the remaining former communist countries, and 10.5 points in the remaining countries (Scandinavia, the west of Europe, Greece, and Israel) – so there does seem to be quite a difference from east to west,” Dr Renwick of Reading University wrote.

However, studying differences between the popular and jury votes, Renwick concluded: “Even in those countries where the ruling elites are often highly intolerant, the wider population might be readier to accept that different people might be different.”

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