Miss Universe Kosovo Mirjeta Shala. Facebook photo
By Richard Johnson
The universe is shrinking for this year’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, as gays decline to travel to homophobic Russia — and the Kremlin refuses to issue Miss Kosovo a visa.
Mirjeta Shala, the dark-haired beauty crowned Miss Kosovo in August, was packed and ready to fly from New York to Moscow to join the winners from 90 other countries for the Nov. 9 pageant, airing on NBC.
“They won’t let her in,” Donald Trump told me on Friday, the day before she was to travel. “She’s very beautiful. Many people thought she was a contender. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a visa.”
Fadil Berisha, the pageant’s official photographer, also hails from Kosovo, which used to be part of Yugoslavia. “[Shala] was denied a visa because Russia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence,“ Berisha said. “Her fans in Kosovo will go crazy because they were expecting her to win, and this is a beauty contest, not a political event.”
Bravo TV host Andy Cohen, who hosted last year’s pageant, dropped out this year because of Russia’s criminalization of homosexuality. Cohen was replaced by Mel B.and “MSNBC Live”‘s Thomas Roberts, who is also gay.
Roberts told Variety, “Boycotting and vilifying from the outside is too easy. Rather, I choose to offer my support of the LGBT community in Russia by going to Moscow and hosting this event as a journalist, an anchor and a man who happens to be gay.”
But some of the homosexual hairdressers and stylists who are usually part of the Miss Universe crew aren’t making the trip. “Everyone’s afraid. They think they’ll be jailed,” Berisha said.
Trump told me, “Some don’t want to go. Others want to go to make a statement. I agree with the second view.”
The controversy is just a taste of what will happen February when the Winter Olympics are held in the Russian resort town of Sochi.