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Gay rights, territorial disputes take centre stage at Eurovision

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Eurovision is often dominated by talk of political voting, but it is a much more important form of politics that the organisers are trying to keep out of this year’s competition in Stockholm – without much success.

Gay rights and territorial disputes were both high on the agenda during the press conference following the first semi-final on Tuesday night, despite rules instituted by the European Broadcasting Union to keep the song contest focused on music.

Russian singer and Eurovision favourite Sergey Lazarev was hit with questions about his country’s poor LGBT rights record, before questions turned to Ira Losco, since Ilga-Europe had announced Malta to be the most gay-friendly European country.

This followed further controversy during the semi-final, when Armenian singer Iveta Mukuchyan waved the politically charged flag of Nagorno-Kharabak, a disputed region that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is under the control of Armenian forces.

Gay life exists in Russia; it’s not a secret

The EBU had specifically banned the waving of non-national flags like Nagorno-Kharabak’s, as well as the use of the LGBT rainbow flag as a “political tool” after the flags were waved defiantly in Vienna last year as Russia took to the stage.

Asked whether members of the LGBT community, who typically make up a large part of the dedicated Eurovision fan base, would be safe in Russia next year should he win the competition, singer Sergey Lazarev chose to tackle the controversy head on.

“There has been a lot of talk and rumours about LGBT problems in Russia, but it’s just talk and rumours,” he said, despite a law making it a crime to spread ‘gay propaganda’ and the recent murders of several LGBT journalists. “Gay life exists in Russia; it’s not a secret,” Lazarev said. “We’re a modern country and every city has gay clubs and restaurants. If Eurovision were to come to Russia, I think we would be very supportive to the gay community.”

Ira Losco, an outside favourite for the final on Saturday, dodged any controversy: “I believe our country has done a lot for gay rights and we are a very gay-friendly country,” she said. “I am a very avid supporter myself. If we hosted the Eurovision, I am sure all the gay fans would love it there.”

Video: Mark Zammit CordinaVideo: Mark Zammit Cordina

There was no such restraint on the question of the flag of Nagorno-Kharabak, which an Azerbaijani journalist vehemently insisted was “completely contrary to international legal norms and principles”. The EBU has since said that a repeat incident could lead to Armenia’s disqualification.

“You can’t forget that I’m representing my country and my heart, my thoughts, my feelings and my own emotions,” Armenian singer Iveta Mukuchyan said of the incident. “What I want to spread is: Armenia just wants peace on borders.”

Her Azerbaijani counterpart, Samra, instead stuck to the line the EBU longed to hear: “Eurovision is a song contest and it’s all about music.”

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