Eurovision: Russian Officials Say Ukraine's Win Was Driven by Politics

Eurovision Ukraine Winner H - 2016
Michael Campanella

One senior foreign ministry figure suggested that next year Russia submit a "pro-Assad" song.

Russian officials and music industry executives have reacted angrily to Ukraine's Eurovision Song Contest win, saying the decision was influenced by politics.

Ukrainian singer Jamala won the annual contest Saturday night at the finals in Stockholm after a new combination of jury and viewing public votes put her ahead with her song "1944," which was dedicated to her Crimean Tatar grandmother and other ethnic Tatars deported en masse by Stalin from their homeland during World War II.

Figures from Russia's government, which had been vigorously supporting the national entry in a competition seen in the Kremlin as a crucial tool for public influence in Europe, on Sunday were quick to call foul on the Ukrainian win.

"Next time we shall send Sergey Shnurov," Russia's deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter, referring to the popular lead singer of rock group Leningrad, who is known for his crude nationalistic statements. "It does not matter whether he wins or not — the message will be clear."

Rogozin also made headlines with his sarcastic reaction to the Eurovision win two years ago by Austrian crossdresser Conchita Wurst.

Maria Zakharova, head of the press and information department of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs, suggested that next year Russian's entry should be "pro-Assad" and praise the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, a key Kremlin ally.

Other officials and music industry figures in Russia also criticized the Ukrainian victory.

Alexey Pushkov, chair of the Russian Duma (parliamentary) foreign affairs committee, said "the politicization of the contest is the beginning of the end for Eurovision." Parliamentary culture committee member Maria Kozhevnikova said Russia's entry had received more public votes than other acts.

Singer Dina Garipova and producer Iosif Prigozhin echoed those sentiments, calling Russia's contestant Sergey Lazarev the "people's favorite."

Jamala's song had been criticized in Russia the moment its Eurovision submission was announced, with politicians and lawmakers calling it "politicized" and "anti-Russian." The criticism fits a pattern of Russian officials vigorously objecting to songs they perceive as political in the contest. In 2008, just a few months before a brief military clash between Georgia and Russia, Georgia submitted a song called "We Don't Wanna Put In," an intended pun on the name of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The song was pulled after the European Broadcast Union judged it breached rules on political entries.

Earlier this year, Jamala's song was cleared by the European Broadcasting Union, which said it was not political. Her win means that next year's contest will be held in Ukraine.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko hailed Jamala's victory. 

"Yes!!!" he said on his Twitter account. "All of Ukraine gives you its heartfelt thanks, Jamala."

The country's ex-prime minister Arseniy Yasenyuk leaped upon Jamala's victory to make a political point. In a Facebook post expressing confidence that Crimea would be returned to Ukraine, he stated: "Ukraine will win and win. Crimea is Ukrainian."

On Saturday night in Stockholm, although Australia with Dami Im's "Sound of Silence" was ahead on jury votes, public support pushed Jamala into first place with a total of 534 votes. The bookies' favorite, Russia's Lazarev, singing "You Are the Only One," ended up in the third place.