For weeks Eurovision fans have been discussing whether Jamala’s Eurovision 2016 entry “1944” is political or merely unpacks history. The mid-tempo song, which has emerged as a fan favourite, recounts Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars from their native Crimea. Jamala addresses this troubled slice of history in a direct and poignant way, opening with these nihilistic lines: “When strangers are coming, they come to your house; they kill you all inside [and say] ‘We’re not guilty, not guilty’.” Now, following Jamala’s narrow victory in Ukraine’s national selection, the international media is taking note. From Billboard to Der Spiegel, journalists are working themselves into a frenzy over geopolitical tensions in the region. The BBC was rather blunt with its headline: “Eurovision: Ukraine’s entry aimed at Russia”.
Indeed, the message behind “1944” is not subtle. In 1944 more than 230,000 Crimean Tatars were forcibly exiled from their native Crimea by the Soviet leadership and hundreds of thousands of people died, leading many to define the event as a genocide. Jamala’s grandparents were among them. It’s this link that led her to sing the chorus of “1944” in the Crimean Tatar language, nodding to her family and their tragedy. She inverts the text of a traditional Crimean song “Ey, güzel Kirim,” saying, “couldn’t spend my youth there, because you took away my peace.”
In 2015 the Ukrainian Parliament recognised the events of 1944 as genocide, but Russia still does not (although they recently admitted some fault for the events). Given the current struggle between the two countries over Crimea, there is reason to see an anti-Moscow political dimension. Such political posturing is, of course, banned by Eurovision. In 2009, Georgia’s thinly veiled attack on Russia — “We Don’t Wanna Put In” — was rejected for this very reason. Last year’s Armenian entry had political undertones, but was allowed to participate after a name switch from “Don’t Deny” (the Armenian Genocide) to “Face the Shadow”. There’s plenty of room to debate just where “1944” sits within the rules.
We react to Jamala’s “1944”
Despite the ongoing conflict over Crimea, many Russians do not find the song anti-Russian at all. Rather they see the song as speaking to a collective history of oppression and forced migration faced by many people under Stalin and the U.S.S.R. Among them is Russian wiwiblogger Misha, who discusses this fact in the video above.
In so many ways we’re already seeing shades of Eurovision 2014, which came on the heels of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It was a hot button issue, particularly in light of ambiguous lyrics in the Russia song: “Living on the edge, closer to the Crime, cross the line a step at a time.” wiwiblogger William wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about the lyrics, which ultimately landed wiwibloggs on Russian TV, where we had to defend our suggestion that the lyrics were a tad loaded. Fast forward to 29:30 for that. Mariya Yaremchuk, Ukraine’s singer, also made it clear she was doing battle for her country, frequently referencing the struggles of her homeland.
Eurovision 2014 revisited?
In any event, what do you think? Could “1944” succeed at Eurovision, or is the song too politically charged? Or maybe it could succeed because it is somewhat political? Let us know in the comments and on our Twitter and Facebook pages.