KIEV/MOSCOW, May 15, (Agencies): Ukrainians hailed their country’s unexpected victory in the Eurovision song contest as a Europe-wide endorsement of Ukraine in its smouldering conflict with Russia, while Moscow said the contest had been hijacked by politics. Ukrainian singer Jamala overtook the bookmakers’ favourites, Russia and Australia, to lift the prize with the song “1944” about the war-time deportations of ethnic Tatars from Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by Soviet dictator Stalin.
The singer, herself of Crimean Tatar descent, had drawn parallels in interviews to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which provoked Western condemnation of the Kremlin, and was opposed by many in the region’s Tatar minority.
Under Eurovision rules, the victory means the 2017 contest will take place in the Ukrainian capital. One pro-Kremlin politician in Moscow suggested Russia might boycott the event next year.
After the results of Saturday’s contest were announced in Stockholm, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter: “Personally congratulated Jamala with the victory. Today her voice spoke to the world on behalf of the entire Ukrainian people. The truth, as always, prevailed!”
Ukraine’s victory, 12 years after it last won the Eurovision title, lifted the mood of Ukrainians tired of perpetual political crises and daily struggles against endemic corruption and poverty.
“The victory is ours! Thank you, Europe! This is fair! It’s incredible!” said Ukrainian singer Ruslana, the winner of the 2004 edition of Eurovision, in a Facebook post. “Jamala you did all you could and even more! We all are grateful to you for the victory – well deserved and so much needed for all of us!!!”
The winning singer was returning to Kiev on Sunday, the same day that Ukraine marks an annual day of remembrance for victims of political repression — including Soviet purges of Crimean Tatars and other groups on Ukrainian soil.
Tatars, a Muslim people indigenous to the Black Sea peninsula, now number about 300,000 in a population of 2 million. While many Crimean residents want to be ruled by Moscow, many Tatars are still mistrustful of the Kremlin after the wartime deportations and have opposed Moscow’s annexation.
That has unleashed fresh tensions. Two weeks ago, the Russian administration in Crimea banned the Crimean Tatars’ highest ruling body, the Mejlis, and there have been accusations — denied by Moscow – of systematic persecution of the Tatars.
Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, said Jamala’s victory marked another step towards liberating Crimea from the “Russian occupation”.
“We saw an incredible number of true admirers of Jamala’s talent, supporters of independent Ukraine, allies of the Crimean Tatar people,” he said in a Facebook post.
Several Russian politicians said a pop music contest which is supposed to be free of politics had been skewed by political considerations and anti-Russian stereotypes.
“Geopolitics won on aggregate. Political meddling triumphed over fair competition,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote in a Facebook post.
Franz Klintzevich, another member of the Russian upper house of parliament, said he believed the Ukrainian hosts would exploit next year’s contest to advance their political agenda in their conflict with Russia.
“If nothing changes in Ukraine, I don’t think we should take part in this,” he was quoted as saying by RIA news agency.
Russian lawmakers on Sunday lashed out at arch-rival Ukraine’s “political” victory in the Eurovision song contest, as one pro-Kremlin paper insisted Moscow’s entrant was robbed.
Jamala won the glitzy contest Saturday with her ballad “1944” about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Soviet authorities during World War II in a performance widely seen as a swipe at Moscow over its annexation of the peninsula in 2014.
Russian singer Sergei Lazarev — the clear favourite with bookmakers before the contest — was beaten into third place after losing out on the national jury tallies despite claiming the most points from viewers in the public vote.
“It was not the Ukrainian singer Jamala and her song 1944 that won the Eurovision 2016, it was politics that beat art,” Russian senator Frants Klintsevich told Russian newswires, calling for Russia to possibly skip next year’s tournament in Ukraine.
The head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper chamber Konstantin Kochachev insisted that “according to the tally of points it was geopolitics that gained the upperhand.”
Kochachev said that the Eurovision victory could embolden Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership and see an already stuttering peace process to end the conflict in the east jeopardised even further.
The stunning turnaround in the final minutes of the show capped an eventful 61st edition of the love-it-or-hate-it kitsch fest, which was expected to be the most-watched Eurovision since the event was first staged in 1956.
Scores were decided by national juries as well as viewers. In an attempt to give the outcome a more democratic feel this year, fans were given the final say — adding some last-minute suspense to the contest.
Among the evening’s other highlights was a guest appearance by US pop star Justin Timberlake, who entertained the crowd with his hit “Rock Your Body” before performing his new single, the upbeat “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, which itself wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Eurovision line-up.
Australians Sunday cheered contestant and juries’ favourite Dami Im for placing second at the annual Eurovision song contest in Sweden, with the prime minister’s hailing her achievement.
It was the second time that the island continent had taken part in the kitsch competition after Guy Sebastian finished in the top five following a wildcard entry last year.
“Congrats @damiandmusic on winning the jury vote in the #Eurovision final and to @jamala for winning the contest,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted on Sunday morning.
“You’ve done Australia proud Dami Im. #Eurovision,” Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten added on the social media site.
South Korean-born Dami Im, 27, a classically trained pianist and former X-factor winner, won over the national juries with her slick performance of “Sound of Silence”.