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Eurovision 'Drag Queen' Hits Sour Note In Conservative Montenegro

Slavko Kalezic is looking to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest with a tune and look that break many taboos in his native Montenegro.

If Slavko Kalezic's entry struck a chord with the judges who gave him the nod to represent Montenegro in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the provocative performer has hit a sour note among some fellow Montenegrins.

On May 9, Kalezic is slated to perform Space, an uptempo pop-dance number, in the first semifinal of the glittery show best known for camp song-and-dance routines, which many countries see as a forum to promote their national identity and culture to the rest of the world.

His thinly veiled song about sex, his meter-long ponytail, shimmering clothing, and the 31-year-old's proclamation after winning the nomination that he is the country's "drag queen" have been applauded by some, abroad in particular, for challenging stereotypes.

But in conservative Montenegro, where more than 70 percent of people identify as Orthodox Christians, Kalezic's entry has been met with as many, if not more, jeers than plaudits.

"We're from a bit of a closed country, so we're not familiar with those things. I don't like him at all. He humiliates our country," says Luka Radunovic, a 22-year-old law student in the capital, Podgorica.

Kalezic is no stranger to Montenegro's spotlight as he looks to move on to the final round on May 13, which is expected to draw a global TV audience of over 200 million.

WATCH: Slavko Kalezic sings Space

A well-known singer and actor in the tiny coastal nation of 622,000 people, Kalezic has regularly performed in the Montenegro National Theater, as well as in X-Factor Adria, the Balkan franchise of the global talent-search show.

He makes no apologies for his artistic interpretations, onstage or off, and says he has no time for those who criticize his flamboyant costumes and style as symbols of Western decadence.

"I've been onstage for 10 years, with my style and direction. I'm very pleased that there are many people who like what I do," he told RFE/RL in an interview. "If we need to talk about polarization, intelligent people really understand what I do as an artist."

The song Space comes in stark contrast to Montenegro's last entry to make it to the Eurovision finals in 2015, when the singer Knez, who was 44 years old at the time, performed a traditional ballad to place 13th:

Montenegro is under pressure to protect human rights in order to advance toward membership in the European Union. For example, there is no legal recognition of same-sex couples in the country, and the constitution bans same-sex marriage.

By supporting gay rights, says Amfilohije Radovic, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, the country is "under threat of becoming a sodomite state."
By supporting gay rights, says Amfilohije Radovic, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, the country is "under threat of becoming a sodomite state."

In late 2014, Amfilohije Radovic, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, said that by supporting gays, Montenegro "is under threat of becoming a sodomite state."

Earlier that year, the patriarch blamed the Eurovision victory of gay drag performer Conchita Wurst of Austria for deadly floods in the region, saying they were "divine punishment."

"God sent the rains as a reminder that people should not join the wild side," Radovic said.

The church has not commented officially on Kalezic or his song, but many others are less reserved.

"I don't like him because I think he does not represent Montenegro in a proper way," says Danijela Bakic in Podgorica.

In more than six decades of competition, Eurovision has often made as many news headlines as it has entertainment headlines, and this year is no different.

Russian state television broadcaster Channel One said last month that it won't show this year's contest after host Ukraine banned Russia's entry in the competition.

Russia selected singer Yulia Samoilova as its contestant, but Ukraine says she is barred from entering the country because she violated Ukrainian law by performing in Crimea in 2015. Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

Russia has slammed Kyiv's ban and rejected a compromise under which Samoilova would be allowed to compete via satellite link.

Any scorn for Kalezic at home has been more than outstripped by the attention he and Space have been getting abroad.

The song's official video, which features a shirtless Kalezic writhing in settings that include an abandoned quarry at daybreak, has more than 1.2 million views, double the country's population, on YouTube.

"I like the fact that he is representing Montenegro," says Ivana Djurovic, a 20-year-old student from Niksic. "I have nothing against him and I don't understand people who don't support him as a representative of Montenegro. People here aren't accustomed to the image of Slavko, but there are people, like me, who support him."