A trio of drag queens who briefly enlivened Slovenian politics no end in February 2002 when controversy surrounded their selection to represent the country in that year's Eurovision Song Contest. If only it could have all happened in a certain region of Romania instead, perhaps: Sweet Transvestite From Transsexual Slovenia doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Sestre - their name means The Sisters - are Tomaž Mihelič, Srečo Blas, and Damjan Levec, or Miss Marlena, Dafna and Emperatrizz as they prefer to be known when they're in uniform. In 2002, they entered a song called Samo ljubezen (Only love), with an understandable gay subtext, into Slovenia's Eurovision preselection, known as EMA. (Croatia's is called Dora; Ema is presumably her little sister.)

The group's schtick for Samo ljubezen, a thumping disco number, was to dress as particularly retro airline stewardesses. I'm Dafna. Fly me.

Meanwhile, diminutive diva Karmen Stavec, an EMA regular and 2001's runner-up, fancied her chances again with another thumping disco... Evidently, it was that sort of final, but Še in še (More and more) at least owed more to Anastacia than the Village People, and - with the help of much dramatic pointing and an over-active wind machine - won the telephone vote in the semi-final the night before the Slovenian entry was to be chosen.

Unlike the semi-final, the final on February 16 was decided by two juries as well as a public telephone vote. The juries put Sestre ahead of Stavec by one point before a five-minute hiatus for the results of the televote to be collated. There could have been no more perfect an evening for the televoting system to break down.

As five minutes stretched into twenty, the green room began to divide into two camps, half the performers shouting for Stavec and the rest for Sestre. It may safely be presumed that not all thirty of Sestre's lavishly varnished fingernails made it through the night. Although the eventual televoting result gave Stavec 31,944 votes and Sestre only 8,454, the votes from the juries were sufficient to send Sestre to Eurovision in Tallinn.

Stavec fulfilled her diva role to the letter and ran away in tears, and after the show was wrapped the green room came to blows after one of Stavec's supporters, Patrik Greblo, reportedly complained to Sestre's songwriter Magnifico that his 'faggots' had won the contest. Ambulances had to be summoned for them both.

After it was revealed that the televoting lines had in fact been opened three minutes too early, and a third of Stavec's votes had been recorded in the illicit three minutes, RTVS's Head of Light Entertainment, Miša Molk, ruled the entire public vote invalid. Since EMA rules allowed the jury vote to stand alone in such circumstances, Sestre were off to Tallinn after all.

Certain of the two million Slovenes, mostly Catholic, responded rather less than charitably to the thought that their Alpine republic was going to be represented to the world by three transvestites dressed as blue-chinned trolley dollies, and sections of the media wheeled out a depressingly predictable homophobia. On February 26, the general manager of RTVS, Aleks Štakul, announced that he intended to annul the entire competition and have the final re-run, pointing out that the previous year's winner Nuša Derenda had not won the televote either.

Gay rights organisations in Slovenia immediately protested the decision, draped a rainbow flag in front of the RTVS headquarters and got up an online petition, arguing that it reflected widespread intolerance in the country and that Štakul's real intention was to keep a song about a homosexual love affair away from Eurovision. The event, mind you, that gave the continent Israeli trannie Dana International.

The campaign was joined by the Ljubljana University student union, and the organisers of the annual rock festival Rock Otočec, in the town of Novo Mesto, invited Sestre to perform, even though in other circumstances their appearance would have been as incongruous as Daphne and Celeste playing Glastonbury. What's that you say?

With questions even being asked in the European Parliament about the affair and wondering whether Slovenia was such a front-runner for EU membership as had always been assumed, the RTVS board convened on February 28 and conveniently located an obscure Eurovision rule stating that polls on already selected entries were not permitted, thus making it impossible to re-run the final anyway.

Miss Marlena and the girls confirmed their flights to Tallinn after all - whether they got first pick of the emergency exit seats is not recorded - and started practising their air safety demonstrations in earnest.

On the night itself, every song was introduced by the Eurovision tradition of a short video clip, or 'postcard', seemingly knocked together by the host country's tourist board: Sestre's had the theme of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and finished up with the line 'Estonia, land of beautiful women'. Vision mixers, clearly, need their light relief too.

Equipped with scarlet stewardess-themed dresses covered in Swarovski crystals, Sestre finished Eurovision in 14th place on May 25, but have announced a full-length CD and had a follow-up hit, Latina Bambina, at the end of 2002. They perhaps count themselves lucky that they were not Croatian beauty queens.

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