One of the most bizarre things about Russia is how much concern there is here for Eurovision in spite of the country’s official policy of homophobia. I remember back in 2009 there was a scandal in Moscow because then mayor Luzhkov promised to forbid a gay pride parade that was scheduled to accompany the music event. My reaction was one of confusion- Didn’t he know that Eurovision itself is basically a gay pride parade? I’m not alone in saying this either; that year’s winner Alexander Rybak apparently called Eurovision the “biggest gay parade” during an interview with the Norwegian press. It’s also worth noting that the reason Eurovision even came to Moscow that year was thanks to the victory of Dima Bilan.
Living in Russia means dealing with these bizarre contradictions and the cognitive dissonance they engender. Of course Russia could always just stop watching or even stop airing Eurovision, and they could stop providing contestants as well, but instead of doing that people prefer to obsess over it and then scream about Europe “losing its values” when a “woman with a beard” wins the contest. As it turns out, this year’s Russian Eurovision entry by singer Polina Gagarina provides a glimpse into another example of a massive chasm between Russian reality and fantasy.
In her song “A Million Voices” Polina sings a hopeful, upbeat anthem pleading for global unity as one human species. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself:
I confess- I tricked you. What you see there is the “alternative” version of the official video, which can better be called the “reality” version. In the original video, we get the fantasy version of Russia, a country that wishes nothing but peace and harmony to the rest of the world. The truth is that while Polina sings, pseudo-intellectuals teach Russian students and schoolchildren about Western conspiracies against Russia and the need for a new Cold War to create a “multi-polar world” in which countries and their populations are just pawns in a game of chess between great powers. Russian TV personalities and even Putin himself engage in flippant talk about military invasions, conquest, and even nuclear annihilation, and Russians are encouraged to revel in the thought of nukes devastating Washington, New York, and London without considering what this will result in for Russia. Whatever nation doesn’t seem interested in Russia’s desire for a perpetual Cold War is deemed to be a puppet, in fact a whore, of Washington.
At Eurovision Gagarina sends a message of peace, but the rest of the year Russia produces crap like this infamous video, which insults numerous peoples both inside and outside of Russia, and when people react in the most predictable way, they’re accused of being “Russophobes” and toadies of Uncle Sam. Am I, are we, being unfair? How should the world react to this kind of behavior? We all remember a rising tide of anti-American sentiment during the adventures of the Bush administration. Was that not a natural reaction to the swaggering attitude and policies the administration engaged in? Should Russia not be judged by the same standards?
There are some who say things like Eurovision shouldn’t be political. It’s just a song, and Polina Gagarina, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, has nothing to do with the annexation of the Crimea or the war in Ukraine. But that’s just it- Polina isn’t responsible for the crimes of her government, but those crimes tarnish everything associated with Russia. It is foolish to expect otherwise.
When I started this blog, I wanted to dedicate some of it to dealing with cultural myths and stereotypes. I wanted to write about some non-political articles about mundane aspects of life in Russia, including some areas where Russia actually beats the pants of the US.This was the point of introducing “The Good Stuff” category. Of course long-time followers might have noticed a distinctive drop-off in “Good Stuff” articles. It’s not that I ran out of good things to write about. Internet service in Russia is far superior to the monopolistic system that exists in the US, based on what I’ve gathered from American media, friends, and family.
The problem is that since about 2013, the Kremlin has increasingly taken a turn toward the dark side, to the point where it’s hard to write some humorous, Buzzfeed-like story about Russian cuisine or culture without feeling like a propagandist lying by omission.
Again, there are those who say, with quite a bit of justification, that there ought to be a way to write about Russia without bringing politics into the discussion. Yes, this should be the case, but it simply isn’t, just as one cannot listen to Polina’s song of peace and unity and not automatically juxtapose those hopeful lyrics with the bloody business of the Kremlin and the hateful work of its media machine.
And that, dear readers, is one of the worst crimes of the Kremlin. Their actions, be it stealing from their own people and suppressing any attempt to hold them accountable, or invading a neighboring county and sustaining a war there using some of the poorest, downtrodden people in Ukraine as a prop, stain everything that is associated with the name Russia. It isn’t fair, but it is logical, and the responsibility for this must be laid at the feet of the oligarchical elite in Moscow.
Russia is full of people who really do have a progressive, hopeful outlook like that expressed in Polina Gagarina’s song. Perhaps Gagarina herself believes in that worldview. The problem right now, however, is that in today’s Russia such people are increasingly branded as traitors and foreign agents, while thugs, pseudo-intellectuals, and utter morons are glorified as heroes in state-run media. If the Kremlin is so concerned with Russia’s reputation, they need to think as to what part of Russian society they are going to suppress and which side they are going to favor, and they need to enact policies which attract admiration rather than waging cowardly hybrid war.
Till then songs like “A Million Voices,” much like Russia’s 70th Anniversary of the Victory in WWII, which was symbolized by the white dove of peace, remains nothing but childish fantasy contradicted by bloody, dark reality.