"Those who went to Sparrow Hills this morning to stir up the trouble were simply wasting their energy. The world's biggest gay parade took place right here, at the Olympiysky [stadium in Moscow]" said Andrey Rybak, the 2009 Eurovision's winner, a Norwegian by passport and a Belarusian by birth.
I was in Moscow to witness the Eurovision the first two weeks of May, this year's most exciting European music event. The annual contest continues a tradition launched in 1956. It brought ABBA to light, along with many other talented (and not so talented) performers. The winning country gets to host the event, and last year's winning performance by Russia's Dima Bilan brought the festival to Moscow this month. Russia seemed to treat the occasion as a rehearsal for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, pouring a staggering $150 million into the song contest, and, according to all 42 voting countries, setting the bar so high, that no other European country can rival it for years to come.
Three interesting observations came to my mind after witnessing the glamorous event in person: the sexual orientation of its participants, the event's coverage in the Western media, and the lingual diversity (or lack thereof) among the participating countries.
First in world history "3D stage" was a collaboration of American, European, and Russian designers and producers.
Since long ago, Eurovision has been known unofficially as Europe's largest annual gay gathering. Moscow's streets were swamped with gays of all genders, kinds, and styles the entire two weeks of my visit there. Not a single attendant of nearly 100,000 participants was attacked or injured while in Russia, though one must remember that Russian radical youths and good old babushkas are extremely hostile and, given a chance, violent to sexual minorities. Gays were safe, and Moscow's streets, washed thrice daily, were so clean, that one could eat a spilled yogurt off of the sidewalks in a city that contains more than 15 million people every day. As my grandfather said as he threw his chewing gum into the trash, "it's so clean, there's nowhere to spit!"
The event featured swimming pools suspended in the air with Argentine swimming acrobats, an opening act by Cirque De Soleil, Dima Bilan literally walking in the air and breaking the walls, and much more. One veteran Eurovision technician said: "This show featured five times more light and 10 times more cameras than anything I've ever seen in my life." The event was stunning, and even the elderly couldn't find the strength to turn off their TVs, even though the broadcast lasted until 4 AM Moscow time to accommodate Western Europe's time zones. After the all-time favorite, Norway's Andrey Rybak (a Belarusian by birth) who won the competition, tens of thousands of European gays took it to the Moscow's streets and celebrated until 7 AM, shouting out the words of the winning song "I'm in Love with a Fairytale."
So, what came of Moscow's huge monetary and emotional investment? The trashing of the city government in the Western media, and more brainwashing of global audience that gays are not accepted or allowed in Russia. Why should Moscow even try then? As usual, CNN was there to take a photo of a dressed up weirdo detained by the police, but it just happened to miss Moscow's second largest spring event after the Victory Day Parade. Dear Western reporters in Moscow, please step out of the Starbucks and Hard Rock CafÃ© in Arbat. You live in a very exciting city and a lot of things are happening while you're eating cheeseburgers and washing them down with Dark Berry Mocha Frappuccinos. Sometimes it might be easier to report the real events than to make up news of your own.
If Western journalists followed this simple advice, they would learn that Muscovites do not welcome public displays of abnormality (men dressed up in wedding dresses, naked people on bikes, aggressive street beggers, rap-loving youth with underwear visible from a block away, etc.). Maybe the result feels unfair to some, but it makes for a clean, safe city. A Russian grandpa from the suburbs might feel unfree in Seattle, where alcohol is sold exclusively at the government stores, smoking in public places is forbidden, and night clubs must stop serving drinks precisely at 1:30 AM. Russians think it is crazy and totalitarian to have government extend that far into your personal habits, and one could make a case that American smokers and drinkers suffer discrimination.
Even though a gay demonstration in Moscow was allowed on May 12, gays understood that Moscow's police would have a hard time protecting them from the aggressive skinheads and Orthodox babushkas. A few gays illegally took the meeting to Sparrow Hills, where families and newlyweds take photos against a backdrop of the city. Some participants were detained after blocking the traffic and scaring a few children with their outfits. In the meantime, more fascist youths than gays were detained, and--what's most important--no one got hurt. Later in the evening, Andrey Rybak, who scored Eurovision's largest number of votes in history (397), said: "those who went to Sparrow Hills this morning to stir up the trouble were simply wasting their energy. The world's biggest gay parade took place right here, at the Olympiysky [stadium in Moscow]!"
The winning performance by Andrey Rybak
Evgeny and Vitaly, a gay couple from Moscow, spoke emotionally when they told me: "We don't like when Europeans come here and try to pull off a parade. People don't care whether you're gay or not in this city, but they don't want to see a freak show. They are not ready for a [gay] parade yet, and might never be, but they are tolerant and friendly to us, and that's enough. Europeans never ask Moscow's gays whether we want a parade or not. We don't!"
"Each time Europeans try to stir up the trouble, skinheads, angry babushkas, and dozens of police take over our hang-out places, and we have nowhere to go for days and, sometimes, weeks. Europeans, delighted with their silly achievement, go back to their cities, and we get stuck cleaning up after them. You cannot drink or smoke in public in many Western cities. Well, you cannot do the gay parade in this city, that's just how it is, and that's fine. There are many great things one can do in Moscow, so stop whining and start exploring the city! If you want to see more gays than you've ever seen in one place -- come to Kitay Gorod [metro stop]."
Arguably, Moscow might be the European city with the largest number of gays. Even though proportion-wise the number is most likely smaller than in other major cities, Moscow's population (12.5 million) makes even a small percentage quite significant when translated into a "head count." To learn more about gay life in Moscow, visit www.gaymoscow.com.
France, UK, Germany, and many others greeted and congratulated the participants in Russian, and only Ukraine and the Baltic states seemed to have forgotten the Russian words that they certainly had learned in the past. If it had been a political statement, former Soviet republics clearly chose the wrong audience.
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's song and performance assisted British Jade Ewen in reaching the 5th position, highest for UK in a decade.
Eurovision is a spectacular event, and a serious financial commitment from a hosting country. Norway is the only European nation whose GDP is slowly but steadily growing this year, and its economy seems to be immune to the world crisis. We hope that Norway hosts an amazing show in 2010, that Russians, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians learn some Norwegian phrases, that European gays get to walk loudly and proudly through Oslo's streets, and that the world's media DO a better job covering the competition hosted by Russia's northern neighbor.
Some amusing acts of the Moscow's Eurovision 2009:
Germany's recollection of the 1930-s
Ukraine's take on the distant past
Take on the Communist past by one of the performers
A producer's imagination live on Moscow's stage...