Ukrainian officials are thrilled and their Russian counterparts fuming at the results of the popular singing competition Eurovision which has always been meant to be a politics-free zone.
Lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature are banned, according to the rules. But that doesn’t always happen.
The Ukrainian and Russian rivalries have always been at the forefront of this cultural extravaganza.
The geo-politics of this cultural fete were so resounding that it took the Deputy Chairman of the Defense & Security Committee of the Upper House of Russia’s legislature, Frants Klintsevich to express his anguish to the Russian reporters. Klintsevich commented, “It was not the Ukrainian singer Jamala and her song ‘1944’ that won the Eurovision 2016, it was politics that beat art. If nothing changes in Ukraine by next year, then I don’t think we need to take part.”
Jamala, the first Crimean Tatar to perform at the contest, says she wrote “1944” for her great-grandmother and her five children who were deported from Crimea under Joseph Stalin; they were among the nearly 250,000 Crimean Tatars expelled that year. She told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the song is also dedicated for Crimean Tatars living under Russian control now:
When she sings it, she said, she remembers her own family, which is still in Crimea.
“Now the Crimean Tatars are on occupied territory,” she told RFE/RL. “And it is very hard for them. They are under tremendous pressure. Some have disappeared without a trace. And that is terrifying. I would not want to see history repeat itself.”
Russian officials had attempted to convince Eurovision to ban “1944,” which they said was a clear political statement about the conflict in Ukraine—and therefore in violation of the contest’s rules—but Eurovision backed Jamala and Ukraine.
The lyrics of “1944” are in English and Crimean Tatar, the first time a Eurovision entry has included the language of Crimea’s ethnic minority. Human-rights activists say discrimination against Crimean Tatars has increased since Russia took over the peninsula.
Earlier, in 2014, when Anastasia and Maria Tolmachevy, the twin sisters representing Russia, got on stage to perform in Copenhagen, the audience booed. The competition aired just two months after Russia annexed Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula, a move decried by nearly all the participating countries. Both Russia and Ukraine had qualified for the finals, and Eurovision suddenly became a reflection of geopolitical affairs.