Opinion: All Europe liked Conchita: what Eurovision tells us

Conchita Wurst, Copenhagen May 2014 Eurovision winner, Photo: Albin Olsson License: CC-BY-SA-3.0Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst’s smiling face beamed out from my TV late on Saturday, and like so many people I thought her victory was great. As Lib Dem Voice’s own Caron Lindsay put it shortly after the show had ended, the Austrian’s song

might not have been the best on offer tonight, but her personality, her embodiment of liberalism and authenticity, combined with a pan-European desire to stick two fingers up to the illiberal east triumphed in Copenhagen… And maybe, just maybe, people start to understand a bit more about gender not being a strictly binary thing.

And an east-west split did seem apparent from the votes on the evening. Only one of the 13 countries that gave Conchita douze points was a former communist country (Slovenia, as part of Yugoslavia). Four countries gave Austria no points at all, three of which – Armenia, Belarus and Poland – used to be hidden behind the Iron Curtain. A further five countries – all former communist countries or bits of former communist countries – gave Austria fewer than five points: Azerbaijan (one point); Estonia (four); FYR Macedonia (three); Montenegro (two); and Russia (five).

Reportedly there were even petitions started in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus in the days leading up to the contest calling for Conchita’s entry to be disqualified or for Austria to be edited out of their country’s coverage.

Seems clear, doesn’t it? Not quite. The east may be far more liberal than we think.

The points given by most countries participating in Eurovision are not decided by phone votes alone; the votes of a five-person jury have just as much weight (the people behind Eurovision explain it in this 96-second video). Think of the jury as the Eurovision equivalent of the House of Lords. Then, very quickly after the contest is over, the Eurovision organisers publish how the public and how each jury member voted, broken down by country.

If we look at those three countries that gave Austria no points at all – Armenia, Belarus and Poland – the public in each of them actually really liked Conchita’s performance. In Armenia, the telephone votes put Austria second, which should have bagged it 10 points. The Armenian jury hated it though, putting it 24th. The result? No points for Austria.

The people of Belarus voted Austria into fourth place, in line to collect seven points, but that country’s jury placed it 23rd, meaning it got none. Poles also placed it fourth, but the Polish jury put it 19th, so again no votes.

This pattern – the eastern European public’s votes for Austria being dragged down by their national juries – is repeated again and again. Azerbaijanis, for example, put Austria third, worth eight points, but their jury put it 24th. Even in Russia, booed repeatedly by the audience on the night, the public put Austria third – the same position given to Austria by the UK voting public. The Russian jury however placed it 11th, again pulling it down.

In the 34 countries where people got to vote by phone, the public in all but one placed Austria in its top five. Estonia, the outlier, placed it eighth. What that tells me is that people right across Europe are far more liberal than the likes of the backward-looking, narrow-minded Russian MP who reportedly called the contest a “Sodom show”. Ignore him and listen to the people.

Europe, I love you.

Photo: Photo: Albin Olsson, License: CC-BY-SA-3.0

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

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  • Maria Pretzler 12th May '14 - 11:33am

    This is worth a look – the whole situation illustrated with a few handy maps:


  • you just ain’t getting it the public of the uk and many others voted for the polish entry but the lib dems as usual follow the views of the political or musical elite,on both counts the gulf in opinions is massive

  • Whilst Slovenia was indeed a part of former Yugoslavia, it’s a hideous generalisation and shows a massive lack of understanding of the region to lump it in with any of the other former Communist countries, it’s essentially more in line with Switzerland and Austria culturally.

  • Usual politically biased voting vote for the worst song as long as it is your neighbour and not the UK cause all hate the UK

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 13th May '14 - 12:46pm

    Voting in Europe is political. Get used to it. Especially in the so-called juries, whose members could not be selected unless they have an approved party label. As in politics generally, there are gate-keepers. Schools in UK have gate-keepers, hospitals have gate-keepers, even LGBT groups [like mine] have gate-keepers, the list is endless. There are always people who want to stop progress, stop democracy – because they cannot control it.

    Mister Putin failed in controlling this one, in several countries, but he will be back to work on new and devious ways to stop the people having a say on the marginal points, and in Russia’s policies. If you watched BBC1 last evening at 8.30 pm, you saw another group who wish to stop democracy in its tracks in UK. What might appear as small issues – come to haunt us later if we do not have good principles to ‘rise above’ theirs. The people of many subjugated countries, in the song contest, voted freely and made their points known to us. We have to ‘rise above’ extremism in all its facets. Thanks Stuart for working out that contest analysis. We are alerted to much more.

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