Russian lawmakers lashed out yesterday at arch-rival Ukraine’s “political” victory in the Eurovision song contest, as pro-Kremlin media insisted Moscow’s entrant was robbed.
Ukrainian performer Jamala won the glitzy contest on Saturday night 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 is not the first time the Eurovision Song Contest has raised political hackles though the rules leave no room for interpretation.
“No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted,” says the event’s most sensitive rule.
“It was not the Ukrainian singer Jamala and her song 1944 that won the Eurovision 2016, it was politics that beat art,” senator Frants Klintsevich told local news agencies, calling for Russia to possibly skip next year’s tournament in Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter feud since Moscow annexed Crimea in February 2014 and was then accused of fuelling a bloody separatist uprising in the east of the country.
The crisis in Ukraine has pushed ties between Russia and the West to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
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 upper hand”.
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.
“For that reason Ukraine lost,” he wrote on Facebook. “The thing the country needs now as much as air is peace. But war won.”
Last year Armenia was asked to modify the lyrics of its song Don’t Deny, as it pointed too directly at Turkey’s refusal to describe the massacre of Armenians a century earlier as “genocide”.
In 2014, the votes cast in Crimea were counted as Ukrainian, ignoring the fact Russia had annexed the region.
“Technical reasons,” Eurovision explained.
For the 2012 edition held in Baku, human rights activists lashed out at the sums Azerbaijan had spent to polish the image of its authoritarian regime.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the contest, “will never successfully depoliticise Eurovision”, Jess Carniel, social scientist at the Australian University of Southern Queensland and a Eurovision specialist, told AFP before this year’s event.
Both the French and the British like to blame their string of Eurovision flops on continental alliances, claiming that the Nordics vote for the Nordics, the Slavs for the Slavs and the former Soviet republics for their kin.
Russian state television had played down the themes of Ukraine’s winning song prior to the victory announcement but yesterday slammed the choice as political.
“The viewers picked Russia to win, the experts chose Australia but in the end Ukraine won first place,” a female news anchor on Perviy Kanal said as she introduced the segment.
Mass-circulation tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda ran an online article entitled How the European jury stole victory from Lazarev.
The outlet called for the results to be reviewed because of the “political” content of Jamala’s song.
“It became obvious that this is an entirely political story – as we won first place in the public vote that was meant to counterbalance the juries.”
In Ukraine Jamala’s victory sparked jubilation at the highest levels and no small satisfaction at besting Russia.
“Yes!!!” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted. “An unbelievable performance and victory! All of Ukraine gives you its heartfelt thanks, Jamala.”
“Any victory for Ukraine is going to annoy the Kremlin,” Ganna Gopko, the head of the international affairs committee in Ukraine’s parliament, told AFP. “This is not just a victory at Eurovision, it is a victory of values.”
The mood among some Crimean Tatars was even more politically charged.
A businessman who last year helped organise blockades of traffic between mainland Ukraine and Crimea in protest over the annexation said Jamala’s victory spelled personal defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is our first, thumping victory over Putin’s Russia,” Lenur Islyamov wrote on Facebook.
Russia’s Sergey Lazarev (centre) reacts during the final vote counting during the Eurovision Song Contest final on Saturday night at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm.