Ukraine’s Jamala Wins Eurovision Song Contest: Why Everyone Isn’t Happy With the Politically Charged Performance

Ukraine’s Jamala won the 61st annual Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, May 14, with a politically charged performance. While Ukraine is celebrating Jamala’s victory, some Russian dignitaries are unhappy about the song’s message, which they believe was aimed at them and their country's government.

The 32-year-old singer stopped the show with a moving original song titled “1944,” which is about the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars under the Soviet Union's late communist ruler Josef Stalin.

Jamala representing Ukraine with the song
Jamala representing Ukraine with the song "1944" celebrates with the trophy after winning the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 Grand Final in Stockholm, on May 14, 2016. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Incidentally, Russia’s current president, Vladimir Putin, annexed Crimea two years ago in 2014. Jamala, who is from the European region and has family who still lives there under Putin’s control, has been accused of publicly bad-mouthing the Russian government.

“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,” Jamala told The Guardian shortly after her win. "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.”

According to U.K. outlet The Week, Russian politician Frants Klintsevich slammed Jamala and her Eurovision win by scoffing, “It was politics that beat art.”

Jamala representing Ukraine with the song
Jamala, representing Ukraine with the song "1944," celebrates with the trophy after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 Grand Final in Stockholm, on May 14. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Other Russian lawmakers branded Jamala’s “1944” as “anti-Russian” and “politicized.” According to Billboard, Alexey Pushkov, chair of the Russian Duma (parliamentary) foreign affairs committee, declared that "the politicization of the contest is the beginning of the end for Eurovision."

Historically, Eurovision prohibits artists from making political statements in their performances. In 2008, Georgia submitted a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In,” a not-so-subtle swipe at Russia’s commander in chief. The tune was pulled after the European Broadcast Union deemed it too political.

Ukraine's former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk congratulated Jamala while making a political point in a passionate Facebook post. "Ukraine will win and win. Crimea is Ukrainian,” he wrote.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that popular Russian singer Sergey Lazarev was expected to win, but only placed third behind Australia’s Dami Im.

Earlier this year, “1944” was given clearance by the European Broadcasting Union, which said it did not break any existing rules. Since Jamala won, that means that the annual contest will be held in Ukraine in 2017.

Watch Jamala’s performance of “1944” above.  

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