I was one of many ecstatic Eurovision viewers when Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst won the contest on Saturday night. It was an uplifting moment at a deeply politicized competition, which also featured a Polish contribution by Donatan and Cleo that made me very uncomfortable.
The contrast couldn’t have been more stark between the two performances. Although my own vote for Conchita felt especially vindicated by criticism from Russian politicians after the competition, I was still perturbed by Donatan and Cleo’s bizarre milk maid imagery. The routine, which featured large-chested models churning butter and washing clothes, was roundly criticized (and also adored) for being soft-core pornography.
What has received less attention is the fact that this was also aggressively nationalist. As the milkmaids were baring themselves for millions of viewers, Donatan and Cleo were singing the pan-Slavic anthem My Słowianie. Donatan himself has been fiercely criticized in Poland for promoting values of pan-Slavism, which many Poles believe is linked to a history of 19th century Russian imperialism.
It is troubling that he and Cleo, who has been described in weirdly multicultural terms as “the Slavic blond girl with the Polish charm and black voice,” were given the opportunity to air their views at Eurovision. Celebrating this type of right-wing Christian nationalism can be dangerous, especially on such a large stage.
Of course, Donatan’s zeal for promoting pan-Slavism actually explains the milkmaids perfectly. Poland’s act was actually the firmest argument I’ve seen for nationalism being dangerously misogynistic. It is impossible to celebrate something like pan-Slavism without simultaneously promoting ideals of pan-Slavic gender.
There is a reason that Cleo is quoted as saying that Donatan “wants to show Poland’s beautiful girls.” It isn’t just because she is supposed to come across as a ditzy singer. It is because when Donatan is casting a romantic light on Slavic Poland, he has little choice but to include sexism. We need to remember that chauvinism is contagious. The nostalgic recollection of an imagined pan-Slavic past includes an idealized notion of traditional feudal community.
Women have a very particular role in those imagined structures, one that is probably even historically inaccurate. The official music video articulates this in bluntly obvious terms. Four women are seen being primped by an abusive den mother, and then trained to do various farm labor, while still being sure to primp themselves and wear low-cut tops.
It was cheap and smutty, but it is also an inescapable feature of nationalism more broadly. Similar ideas are being expressed all over Europe, especially as populist right-wing parties gain steam. We can actually thank Donatan and Cleo for being so unintentionally useful. The ridiculous sexism showcased a deeper fracture in nationalist thought.
Screenshot courtesy of the author.