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Russia wins 2008 Eurovision Song Contest

Russian singer Dima Bilan has won the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, beating performers from Ukraine and Greece.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Russian singer Dima Bilan won this year's Eurovision Song Contest with a show that included a glitzy performance by an Olympic figure skater.

Bilan's performance Saturday of the R&B ballad "Believe" brought Russia its first-ever win at the yearly extravaganza of pop and rock. He was joined on stage by Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton and the Russian Olympic skater Yevgeny Plyushchenko, who pirouetted on artificial ice to the tune.

The act beat out Ukraine's Ani Lorak and Greece's Kalomira before thousands of flag-waving fans of Europe's most glamorous pop song festival. Though mocked by many for its camp acts and over-the-top glitz, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Eurosong, is revered by its many followers. They often travel across Europe to support their favorite singers.

"Dreams can come true," Bilan said at a news conference after the show. "Russia believed in our victory."

Serbia hosted this year's contest because the Serbian songstress Marija Serifovic won last year's title with her ballad "Molitva" or "Prayer."

Authorities went out of their way to throw a well organized party, seizing the chance to present the country to the world as a normal European nation after years of pariah status in the 1990s under the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

During the finals, a huge screen was put up in front of the Belgrade City Hall, and thousands gathered around it to watch the show. And after the winner was announced, fireworks lit up the city's sky.

The finale included 20 contestants who made it through two semifinals earlier this week. In addition, performers from Britain, France, Germany and Spain, who are the biggest sponsors of the event, and Serbia, the host country, went straight into the final without having competed in preliminary rounds.

Bilan won 272 points from viewers from 43 countries who picked the winner with phone calls and text messages. Ukraine's Lorak was second with 230 points, followed by Greece's Kalomira with 218.