Three and a half years after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Austrian singer Conchita Wurst is finally visiting Russia, as this week she is in St. Petersburg for the Side By Side LGBT Film Festival.
Now, if you didn’t follow the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2014, you may not know why Conchita’s current Russian visit is such a big deal. But, believe me, it is.
The background to the story of Conchita and Russia
When Conchita (known as Conchita Wurst at the time — but now just going by the mononymous name of Conchita) was named as the Austrian representative to the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, you would have thought the world had come to an end when it came to the reaction of Russians, the Russian government and the folks at the TV network that would be airing the Eurovision Song Contest.
Not only was Conchita called some of the most disgusting names under the sun, including by the so-called ‘religious’ Russian Orthodox Church who called her an ‘abomination’ (but do read this for Twitter’s hilarious response to them), but Russia threatened to cut Conchita’s performance out of Eurovision altogether on the night the contest aired on TV.
Because apparently, according to many Russians, a man in a dress with make-up, high heels and a wig was the end of the world as we know it.
Needless to say, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the body that puts on Eurovision, was having none of it and told Russia in no uncertain terms that they would broadcast all of the competition, including Conchita’s performance, or none of it.
So Russia, along with everyone else, got to see Conchita win the Eurovision Song Contest in all her bearded glory.
This, of course, was followed by the predictable reaction of the type of people who are bigots and homophobes all over the world.
Russia’s President Putin attacked Conchita for “putting her lifestyle up for show“. A parade that was organized in Moscow in Conchita’s honor was banned by Russian officials, and men all over Russia shaved their beards in protest. (Honestly, you have to laugh at the idiocy).
Russia after Eurovision
Of course, since Conchita’s win at Eurovision, things have become a lot worse for gays and lesbians in Russia.
Not only are gay men’s lives actually in danger in Chechnya, a Russian republic, as they are being arrested, imprisoned, tortured and murdered, it really is not a whole lot better for many gay men and women in Russia itself at the moment.
Shops are allowed to display signs like this one, a sign incredibly offensive to gays, hate crimes and the murder of gay people in Russia have grown in immense proportions in the last few years, and human rights when it comes to gays and lesbians in Russia are known internationally as some of the worst in the developed world.
No, Russia is not remotely developed when it comes to the way gays and lesbians are treated in the country. In fact, you could say it is worse than some of the least developed places on the planet.
Which is why, in some respects you have to say it is more than brave for Conchita to now be sitting in St. Petersburg. Still with the wig and the make up, just minus the dress and the high heels.
Conchita in St. Petersburg
So far, however, Conchita’s visit seems to be going well. As, at least from the interviews and photographs that are now coming out of the country and circulating on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it seems some of the Russian media is treating her with the respect and kindness she deserves.
And, of course, Conchita’s Russian fans — and in particular the girls of RusUnstoppables — are beside themselves with joy that their bearded diva has finally set foot in Russia.
After all, they have been supporting her for over three years in a massive way, even to the point of flying across a couple of continents almost every time she performs live in Europe just to see her sing. (Yes, Russia has many people that are not homophobic or bigots, like these lovely young women. Sadly, they do not currently make the laws).
And yes, the girls from RusUnstoppables are in St. Petersburg now. Waiting for her to perform.
The bravery of Conchita
And so we come back to the word Conchita hates. Brave.
Because, whenever she is talked about as being ‘brave’ she refuses to accept it. Read this and watch the video for her explanation of why she is not ‘brave’, although, in the case of Conchita in Russia, I am right and she is wrong :).
And that is because, by being in Russia, to some extent Conchita does have “something to lose” (her definition of when bravery comes into play). Her freedom.
Because, while I do not think for one second Russian authorities are stupid enough to arrest a visiting extremely famous Austrian artist for ‘promoting the gay lifestyle’, (could you imagine the international outcry against Russia if they did?), there is always that infinitesimal chance that it could happen. (Hell, four Dutch people were arrested in Murmansk, Russia while making a documentary in 2013 for supposedly ‘promoting the gay lifestyle to children’).
And I am sure that thought crossed Conchita’s mind as she made the decision to accept the invitation to go to Russia, and again as she traveled there.
Because the sad reality is that Russia is not a safe place for anyone who is openly gay and thrusting themselves into the public eye, and Conchita has done that from the first time she ever appeared on stage.
She will also be doing that on stage at the Side By Side LGBT Film Festival in St. Petersburg tonight.
But, I also know Conchita quite well by now from the thousands of hours I have watched her performances, studied her facial expressions and read and watched her interviews. And from the two times I have met her, and the one time I have met and talked to him (Tom Neuwirth).
So do I think she was afraid when she went to Russia?
Undoubtedly. Because anyone with any common sense who is openly gay would feel some kind of fear.
But here’s the thing with Conchita — or Tom Neuwirth, in actuality.
While that boy is sometimes afraid or nervous about things he does, he still has this steely reserve that pushes him through the fear and forces him to do it anyway.
And if you don’t believe me, watch Conchita’s performance during the Witches’ Sabbath ‘Sabat Czarownic‘ concert in Kielce, Poland back in 2015. A concert at which organizers had to ban metal objects and bottles as they were so afraid they would be hurled at Conchita from the crowd.
Because you could see the fear and uncertainty in her eyes and in her body language as she walked on stage and faced the crowd back then. But she conquered them and sang anyway.
And, of course, the crowd loved her, she stayed completely safe and everything went beautifully well.
Which is why, I don’t expect things to be any different at the Side By Side LGBT Film Festival in St. Petersburg tonight.
Come on. She’s Conchita. She always slays. And people always fall in love with her.