KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ukrainians hailed their country’s unexpected victory in the Eurovision song contest as a Europe-wide endorsement of Ukraine in its smouldering conflict with Russia, while Moscow said the contest had been hijacked by politics.
Ukrainian singer Jamala overtook the bookmakers’ favourites, Russia and Australia, to lift the prize with the song “1944” about the war-time deportations of ethnic Tatars from Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by Soviet dictator Stalin.
The singer, herself of Crimean Tatar descent, had drawn parallels in interviews to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which provoked Western condemnation of the Kremlin, and was opposed by many in the region’s Tatar minority.
Under Eurovision rules, the victory means the 2017 contest will take place in the Ukrainian capital. One pro-Kremlin politician in Moscow suggested Russia might boycott the event next year.
After the results of Saturday’s contest were announced in Stockholm, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter: “Personally congratulated Jamala with the victory. Today her voice spoke to the world on behalf of the entire Ukrainian people. The truth, as always, prevailed!”
Ukraine’s victory, 12 years after it last won the Eurovision title, lifted the mood of Ukrainians tired of perpetual political crises and daily struggles against endemic corruption and poverty.
“The victory is ours! Thank you, Europe! This is fair! It’s incredible!” said Ukrainian singer Ruslana, the winner of the 2004 edition of Eurovision, in a Facebook post.
“Jamala you did all you could and even more! We all are grateful to you for the victory - well deserved and so much needed for all of us!!!”
The winning singer was returning to Kiev on Sunday, the same day that Ukraine marks an annual day of remembrance for victims of political repression -- including Soviet purges of Crimean Tatars and other groups on Ukrainian soil.
Tatars, a Muslim people indigenous to the Black Sea peninsula, now number about 300,000 in a population of 2 million. While many Crimean residents want to be ruled by Moscow, many Tatars are still mistrustful of the Kremlin after the wartime deportations and have opposed Moscow’s annexation.
That has unleashed fresh tensions. Two weeks ago, the Russian administration in Crimea banned the Crimean Tatars’ highest ruling body, the Mejlis, and there have been accusations -- denied by Moscow - of systematic persecution of the Tatars.
Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, said Jamala’s victory marked another step towards liberating Crimea from the “Russian occupation”.
“We saw an incredible number of true admirers of Jamala’s talent, supporters of independent Ukraine, allies of the Crimean Tatar people,” he said in a Facebook post.
Several Russian politicians said a pop music contest which is supposed to be free of politics had been skewed by political considerations and anti-Russian stereotypes.
“Geopolitics won on aggregate. Political meddling triumphed over fair competition,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote in a Facebook post.
Franz Klintzevich, another member of the Russian upper house of parliament, said he believed the Ukrainian hosts would exploit next year’s contest to advance their political agenda in their conflict with Russia.
“If nothing changes in Ukraine, I don’t think we should take part in this,” he was quoted as saying by RIA news agency.
Moscow denies annexing Crimea. It says the region’s people expressed their will to become part of Russia in a democratic referendum, and that it only sent in troops to make sure the popular will was respected.
Additional reporting by Daniel Dickson in STOCKHOLM, editing by Christian Lowe and Philippa Fletcher