A politically charged song has won the Eurovision Song Contest better known for kitsch and glitz, with a victorious Ukrainian entry featuring lyrics about deportations by the Soviet Union.
Jamala, 32, won the contest on Saturday with 1944, a song about strangers coming to “kill you all”, saying “we’re not guilty” – remembering a time when Joseph Stalin deported Tatars from Crimea.
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Jamala, herself a Tatar, stood alone on the Stockholm stage and sang “You think you are gods” against a blood-red backdrop.
Those who saw Ukraine’s rehearsals and semi-final performance saw parallels between them and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Among many commentators making a similar point, Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter said in a column: “You must close your eyes really hard not to see the parallels between this year’s contribution from Ukraine, which is about Stalin’s deportations from the Crimea in the 1940s, and contemporary events.”
Tatars, a Muslim people indigenous to the Black Sea peninsula and numbering about 300,000 in a population of two million, opposed the annexation, which followed the overthrow of a Russian-backed president in Kiev.
Incidentally, Russia came third with a Euro pop number “You are the Only One”, by Sergey Lazarev, handing the second position to Australia.
Australia competed for the first time last year, taking part after accepting an invitation from organisers.
While the public voting has long been tainted by political affiliations among competitor countries, songs are not allowed to be political.
“The Eurovision song contest is a wonderful, live, family event,” John Kennedy O’Connor, author of The Eurovision Song Contest, told Al Jazeera.
“I really feel very uncomfortable that any country is allowed to sing a song about genocide, in particular such a miserable genocide, also a song that is a political message to their neighbours [Russia] with whom we know they are currently in quite a conflict.
“Never before has a song with such overtly political context ever even been allowed in the contest.”
However, the European Broadcasting Union, which organised the contest, said Ukraine’s offering did not contain political speech.
Eurovision, which was started in the 1950s with the aim of uniting Europe after World War II, has expanded ever further outside the continent in recent years due to its popularity.
Millions of viewers tuned in from Australia and New Zealand to China and the United States, where Saturday night’s final was broadcast live.
The internationalisation of the contest was underlined by the performance of US singer Justin Timberlake.