Ukraine edged out Russia to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest with artist Jamala's politically charged song "1944" about the brutal deportation by Stalin of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars from the Crimea peninsula during the Second World War.
Jamala, who is of Crimean Tatar descent, received the highest score of 534 points, of which 211 were jury points and 323 TV viewer points, ahead of Australia and the bookies' favourite to win, Russia's Sergey Lazarev, whose "You Are the Only One" took third place.
"Thank you, Europe – welcome to Ukraine!" the artist said triumphantly as she accepted the Eurovision trophy in Stockholm on May 15. This was the first edition of the contest in which audience preference for the entries from 26 counties was counted separately from the judges' voting.
While the juries from Russia and Ukraine did not award each other any points, large numbers of the Russian public voted for the Ukrainian song and vice versa: Ukraine gave its top score of 12 points to Russia and Russia put Ukraine second with 10 points.
However, one Russian MP, Elena Drapeko, blamed Russia's defeat on what she called an "information war" by Ukraine and "general demonisation" of her country. The pro-Kremlin website, LifeNews, accused Eurovision juries of giving Lazarev low marks because the West wanted to "belittle Russia". And as to whether Russia should skip Eurovision on Ukraine’s territory next year, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "It is early to rattle a sabre!", TASS reported, as the brouhaha drew images of Eurovision as a new gladiatorial forum for 'geopolitics in spandex'.
For his part, and a day after protesting new Russia restrictions on the ethnic Tatar population of Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed Jamala's performance as "incredible".
The contest rules prohibit entries that are overtly political, although definitions are open to interpretation. Russia's Komsomol Pravda newspaper website called on Eurovision authorities to re-examine the result and to "view clips where Jamala admits her song is political".
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper before the final, Jamala, whose whose full name is Susana Dzhamaladinova, said her song's lyrics also carried meaning for today.
"Of course it’s about 2014 as well. These two years have added so much sadness to my life. Imagine – you're a creative person, a singer, but you can’t go home for two years. You see your grandfather on Skype, who is 90 years old and ill, but you can't visit him. What am I supposed to do: just sing nice songs and forget about it? Of course I can't do that," she told the British paper. "[If I win,] it will mean that modern European people are not indifferent, and are ready to hear about the pain of other people and are ready to sympathise."
More than 240,000 ethnic Crimean Tatars were deported from Crimea by Stalin to other parts of the Soviet Union during WWII for allegedly collaborating with the German occupiers, with many dying during the journey. Dzhamaladinova herself was born in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, where her relatives were sent during the deportations.
Simon Bennett, the head of the International OGAE Eurovision fan club, told the BBC that ex-Soviet republics that would "normally vote for Russia" sent it a message by voting for Ukraine instead.
After the decision of the Moscow-appointed authorities in Crimea to prohibit the Tatar Mejlis council of representatives, Poroshenko on May 14 urged the Council of Europe not to ignore a new wave of "unprecedented repression" of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians on the peninsula.
Crimea was seized by Russia troops in February 2014 as protests in Kyiv ousted the pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych. The peninsula was later incorporated back into Russia after an internationally rejected referendum in March that was boycotted by many ethnic Tatars and Ukrainians living in the Black Sea region.
Following Jamala's victory in Sweden, next year's Eurovision song contest will take place in Ukraine, the first time it has been held there since 2005. The capital's mayor Vitaliy Klitschko says he would like the event to be held in the city's stadium, while Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov has already begun lobbying for his Black Sea port city to host the 2017 edition.
In an interview with "Govorit Moskva" radio station, Ukrainian MP Anton Geraschenko said that representatives of Russia who voice support "for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine" will not be able to perform at the next year's contest. Only those singers who do not support Crimea’s reunification with Russia will be able to take part in the song competition, he added.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov responded: "Eurovision is an international contest and the hosting side should follow the Eurovision rules."