Russia and Ukraine set to battle it out on stage at Eurovision

Sat May 14, 2016 3:54am EDT
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By Daniel Dickson and Martin Lindstam

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Politics could take center stage at the usually kitsch Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, with bookmakers making Russia favorite to win and the Ukrainian entry featuring lyrics about deportations by the Soviet Union.

In "1944", Ukraine's 32-year-old Jamala sings about strangers coming to "kill you all", saying "we're not guilty" - remembering a time when Josef Stalin deported Tatars from Crimea.

Jamala, herself a Tatar, stands alone on the Stockholm stage and sings "you think you are gods" against a blood-red backdrop - leading reporters and online commentators who have seen Ukraine's rehearsals and semi-final performance to draw parallels with Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Tatars, a Muslim people indigenous to the Black Sea peninsula and numbering about 300,000 in a population of 2 million, opposed the annexation, which followed the overthrow of a Moscow-backed president in Kiev.

Meanwhile, Russia, is tipped to win with a breezy europop number "You are the Only One", by Sergey Lazarev. A victory for Russia, which started competing in the contest in 1994, would be its second since 2008.

In a glittery show best known for camp song and dance routines, Russia has been booed at the past two editions - over Crimea and a 2013 law against so-called gay propaganda.

Sweden's SVT broadcaster has said it will not adjust the live sound to filter out any booing during the show.

While the public voting has long been tainted by political affiliations among competitor countries, songs are not allowed to be political. Event organizer, the European Broadcasting Union, said Ukraine's offering did not contain political speech.   Continued...

Russia's Sergey Lazarev rehearses the song ”You Are The Only One” during the jury show at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden May 9, 2016. TT News Agency/Maja Suslin/via REUTERS