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Eurovision Winner Jamala Says Song Won On Artistic, Not Political, Grounds

Jamala Says Song More Artistic Than Political
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WATCH: Jamala Says Eurovision Song More Artistic Than Political

Ukrainian performer Jamala rejected the notion that she took the top prize at the Eurovision Song Contest for political rather than artistic reasons, calling her win an "absolute, 100-percent victory for music."

Jamala, whose triumph in the competition watched by tens of millions made her a hero in Ukraine, spoke at a news conference in Kyiv on May 17.

Russian officials have complained noisily, saying that Jamala's winning song should have been banned from the contest under rules forbidding political content in performances. Russian singer Sergei Lazarev had been tipped by many to win, but had to settle for third place.

Jamala defended her song, 1944, by suggesting it was disingenuous for Russia to argue that Eurovision can ever be a fully nonpolitical event when singers represent their countries in the competition.

"Don't try to fool me into believing that this is the first time this contest has been politicized," she said. "It is seen as political every single year -- every year -- because the moment you walk on a stage with [your country's] flag, it is already politics."

Jamala, 32, won Eurovision in Stockholm on May 15 with a song about the mass deportation of Tatars from the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during World War II. Many of the 250,000 people deported died during the journey or perished from hunger and disease following their arrival in Central Asia.

A Crimean Tatar herself, Jamala has previously said that her song is also a condemnation of Russia's seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the repressions that the Muslim minority group has since endured. Many Crimean Tatars, who make up about 15 percent of the peninsula’s population of nearly 2 million, opposed Russia's takeover.

At the news conference on May 17, she said she considered her win a victory for all the Ukrainian people, adding "we deserve it" following two years of upheaval and conflict, fueled in part by Russia, in the former Soviet republic.

"First there was a revolution, then the annexation, then the war," she said. "We had so much suffering that I wanted so much to bring some joy to the Ukrainian people."

After Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych fled in the face of huge pro-European protests in February 2014, Russia seized control of Crimea after sending troops and staging a referendum boycotted by many Crimean Tatars. A war between government forces and Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of eastern Ukraine has killed more than 9,300 people since April 2014.

Asked by a journalist if she would accept an offer of Russian citizenship by representatives of the Russian-installed authorities in Crimea, who have suggested she must become a Russian citizen if she wants to return to her homeland, Jamala laughed.

"No, I've got one citizenship (Ukrainian)," she said. I don't need (another)."

Since Moscow's takeover, local officials have pressed the peninsula's population to adopt Russian citizenship. Thousands of residents have fled to mainland Ukraine, while many others who remain on the peninsula continue to resist the citizenship drive.

Jamala won Eurovision -- Europe's largest television event -- after receiving the highest score in a vote from juries and television viewers. Australia's entry came in second, and Russia's Lazarev third.

The show, which included performances by the 26 finalists, was broadcast to an estimated 200 million viewers across Europe, China, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Jamala's victory means Ukraine will host the contest next year.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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