Opinion: Liberalism and tolerance win the Eurovision Song Contest

Conchita Wurst, Mario Soldo-2208There’ll no doubt be a lot of the usual ‘why do they hate us’ headlines in the UK following our disappointing showing in last night’s Eurovision Song Contest. 17th place was indeed below par for one our strongest songs in years and a polished performance on the night by 27-year old Mollie Smitten-Downes.

But such introspection – rather typically for Britain on matters European – misses the bigger point. Far more interesting was the winner: a gay, bearded transvestite from Austria called Conchita Wurst with the song ‘Rise like a Phoenix’.

Having faced down homophobia in the run-up to the contest, the singer (aka Thomas Neuwirth) was already going to make waves simply by appearing on the show, beamed as it is into several hundred million homes across the wider Europe and beyond.

Petitions in Russia and Belarus had called for national broadcasters to edit out the Austrian’s performance. Notorious Russian homophobe Vitaly Milonov – who previously called Stephen Fry “sick” – said the show would “contradict the path of cultural and moral renewal that Russia stands on.”

How heartwarming it was then that Conchita won the contest both by a handsome margin, and across the board: this was no East-West split. While she garnered the maximum ‘douze points’ from the UK and other western European countries, she also got high scores from countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, and even came third in the public vote in Russia.

While there were unarguably several better songs, the bearded Austrian’s win is significant. Conchita’s victory speech might have sounded corny: “this night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom…we are unity and we are unstoppable.” But as Wall Street Journal commentator Simon Nixon noted, the result represents a ‘remarkable assertion of common values.’

The consensus across Europe (including Britain) seems to be that Conchita is a hero(ine) for our times. By voting for tolerance, millions of Europeans socked it to the Putins and the Farages (Ukip’s leader having earlier declared that ‘he absolutely hates’ the contest) in equal measure.

The question now is whether the same voters who backed Conchita will turn out at Europe’s next greatest experiment in democracy: the European elections. We can’t promise Conchita as a candidate, but I hope people will vote for an open, liberal and tolerant Europe on 22-25 May too.


* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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  • Paul in Twickenham 11th May '14 - 8:44pm

    There is a most entertaining documentary called “The Secret Life of Eurovision” which talks about the history of the contest, particularly in relation to the fall of the Soviet Bloc. Try watching the first few minutes. You might be surprised (or completely disbelieving). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV4Ll6zFfpY

    As Paddy O’Connell says “the history of modern Europe is the history of Eurovision”.

  • Tony Greaves 11th May '14 - 9:08pm


  • jedibeeftrix 11th May '14 - 9:20pm

    Trash… whose only redeeming feature is the gold mine of a historic record for looking at the political inter-relations of the nations in europe.

  • Andrew Emmerson 11th May '14 - 9:35pm

    What is trash Mr Greaves?

  • Andrew Suffield 11th May '14 - 9:37pm

    “Polished performance”? I’m sorry, but no. I don’t know why Mollie was picked but it wasn’t for her singing ability, and we deserved to lose that one. Some of those missed notes made me cringe.

    I don’t mind the political win here because Conchita was one of the best (although I’m not shy to say that if it was judged purely on the music, Sanna Nielsen deserved to win it).

    We fielded a tacky song with no real impact and a weak performer. Presumably because all our decent people refuse to touch something as trashy as Eurovision. A good argument for ending the free pass through the semi-finals that the big nations get – at least our embarrassment could have been ended early then.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th May '14 - 9:51pm

    Nothing wrong with the occasional bit of trash, Lord Greaves. What happened in Copenhagen last night was more inspiring than most things that go on in the political arena.

  • Liberal Neil 11th May '14 - 10:13pm

    ‘Polished’!? Seriously!

  • Very impressive – Conchita was top 5 in every televote outside Estonia. The name itself in Bavarian German loosely translates as ‘Gender doesn’t matter’ and a powerful statement and feelgood winner.

    However, worth bearing in mind that it was the feminism Polish style that won the UK televote…

  • Richard Dean 11th May '14 - 11:10pm

    Isn’t this headline a bit offensive to the winner, who presumably actually won on talent?

  • @Richard Dean: No.

  • “What happened in Copenhagen last night was more inspiring than most things that go on in the political arena.”

    Scrapheap beats dungpile in beauty contest!

  • Richard Dean 12th May '14 - 12:41am

    @David-1. Conchita didn’t win on talent?

  • @Richard Dean: The “No” is quite simply an answer to the actual question you asked (“Isn’t this headline a bit offensive to the winner”), and it is disingenuous to change the question after the fact. You asked whether the headline is offensive. It is not. It can hardly offend Conchita Wurst to acclaim her win as a victory for the very things she herself claimed for it, saying: “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. “

  • Paul In Twickenham 12th May '14 - 6:25am

    @Tpfkar – Conchita was top 5 in every televote outside Estonia Exactly. In Russia she finished #3 in the popular vote, exactly where she finished in the UK. In Belarus she finished #4 in the popular vote.

    Now remember that in both of those countries, politicians like the odious Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Vitaly Milonov – thumping a homophobia drum that they thought was a sure-fire popular vote winner – had been demanding that Austria be banned from the competition or that their national broadcasters should not show the song.

    This is “trash” with a message.

  • The UK’s song was pretty dull and there were plenty of missed notes from Molly Smitten-Downes. Plus we have few friends in Europe, so the prospect of us ever winning again is virtually nil. It’s all good fun though. With a bearded, Austrian drag queen winning, it’s clear we’ve come a long way from the days of Sandie Shaw.

    The question for the UK is whether we want to carry on taking part in and making a major financial contribution to a contest where we are never going to win again under current rules.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 12th May '14 - 9:56am

    A few points which might have bearing in elections: In any competition it’s a good idea to make a different statement. The message needs to be bold but not over-spun. A little humility goes a long way. Don’t trash the opposition but concentrate on winning. Above all, have a good message which makes people feel good. [In UK the SNP comes to mind].

    As a human rights worker, I was delighted with the contest’s outcome. The idea supporting Conchita is not a one-off.

  • Somewhat ironic that this heart-warming outpouring of tolerance in Copenhagen included the booing of two 17-year old Russian girls as if they were Vladimir Putin and Vitaly Mitonov themselves up there on the stage. I shared Graham Norton’s disgust at that.

    Good on Conchita for making her stand but she didn’t deserve to win what people seem to have forgotten is a song contest. I felt sorry for the writers of the better songs to be honest. Good speech by Conchita though.

    Here in the UK the public voted in droves for the Polish entry. This was not entirely down to leering old men like myself (few of whom probably watched) – even my 12 year old daughter voted for them. The UK jury put the Poles firmly in last place and hence they got nul points. I do hope the jury’s decision wasn’t inspired by the kind of prejudice we’re all celebrating the supposed eradication of.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th May '14 - 2:17pm

    The reason why we need to fight for liberal values became clear in a horrible post on the BNP website. It contained homophobic and transphobic slurs. One of the comments, ironically, suggested that Christian Russian tanks coming dow the Mall would be a good idea in the face of such dreadful liberalism. There are people in the world who would stamp on our freedom. This stuff actually matters.

  • Giles Goodall 12th May '14 - 2:26pm

    Thanks for all the comments. I agree with Tony Rowan-Wicks and Paul in Twickenham that the contest is about having a message, enough to stand out from the crowd (which Conchita certainly did). She also had a message of hope, which people around Europe, east and west, wanted to buy into. I think that’s where we’ve sometimes fallen down as a competitor in the past.

    I would personally favour a much more serious and large-scale public selection for our entry in future. We did it half-heartedly in the past, but the popularity of X-Factor style shows suggests this could work. The ones to follow are the Swedes and the Danes, whose Melodifestivalen and Melodi Grand Prix, respectively, lock massive audiences and rarely fail to come up with top quality entries. That’s why they won the last two years.

  • Paul In Twickenham 12th May '14 - 5:21pm

    @Stuart – yes, I agree. I understood and shared the feelings of the crowd about the recently enacted anti-gay legislation in Russia and the cameras carefully avoided the sea of rainbow flags that were being waved during the Russian song. But I felt sorry for the Russian contestants who were the innocent victims of circumstance. It was a bit like booing kittens.

    @Giles – yes, Melodifestivalen is brilliant entertainment with outstanding production values. As a real Eurovision anorak I try to watch as many national selection programmes as possible (they’re pretty much all streamed these days) and Melodifestivalen is always the pick of the bunch. The worst is usually the Irish programme although this year’s show was greatly enlivened by the robust verbal fisticuffs between Linda Martin and the mentor of one of the unsuccessful singers.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th May '14 - 6:16pm

    @ Tony Greaves.
    Sandie Shaw, ‘Puppet on a String’ 1967. They don’t make them like they used to.

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