Image: Ukraine’s Jamala reacts on winning the Eurovision Song Contest final at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, May 14, 2016. TT News Agency/Maja Suslin/via REUTERS
By Daniel Dickson and Martin Lindstam
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Jamala struck a surprise gold in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday with her “1944” song featuring lyrics about deportations by the Soviet Union in what could be one of the most controversial winners in the competition’s history.
The 32-year-old Jamala sung about strangers coming to “kill you all”, saying “we’re not guilty” – in reference to the deportation of ethnic Tatars from Crimea by Josef Stalin during World War 2.
Jamala, herself a Tatar, stood alone on the Stockholm stage singing “you think you are gods” against a blood-red backdrop. Stalin deported Crimean Tatars to Central Asia en masse, accusing them of sympathizing with Nazi Germany, and many died on the way or in exile.
While the public voting has long been tainted by political affiliations among competitor countries, songs are not allowed to be political but Jamala’s entry seemed to come close to breaking that rule.
Event organiser, the European Broadcasting Union, had said Ukraine’s offering did not contain political speech.
Russia came in number three with Australia which attended the competition for the second time after an invitation from organisers taking the number two spot.
Bookies had tipped Russia as winner followed by Australia and Ukraine tipped number three.
As late as last year, Ukraine decided not to take part in Eurovision with war ravaging the country.
The winning song lead reporters and online commentators to draw parallels with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Tatars, a Muslim people from the Black Sea peninsula, opposed the annexation, which followed the overthrow of a Moscow-backed president in Kiev.
Inside the stadium on Saturday, the world’s biggest international music show took place with the audience dancing and partying.
But the hosts of the contests, last year’s winner Mans Zelmerlow and comedian Petra Mede struck a serious cord already in the beginning of the final.
“This competition was created in 1956 to unify a continent torn apart by war, and right now Europe is once again facing darker times. That reminds us just how important this evening actually is,” Zelmerlow said. And Mede filled in:
“Because tonight, we set aside any differences we might have, and unite through our love for music,” she said.
The organisers expected more than 200 million to tune in – more viewers than the Super Bowl.
And the competition is reaching ever wider outside Europe with this year’s final being live broadcast for the first time in the United States and China.
(Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Alistair Bell)
Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.