In August 2020, thousands of people across Belarus came out to protest the result of the country’s general election and called for change in the country. Belarus has been embroiled in a tumultuous few months since then as a result of the ongoing protests, some of which have been aimed at Belarus’ national broadcaster BTRC. And now, the Belarusian Culture Solidarity Foundation has formally asked the European Broadcasting Union to strip the broadcaster of its rights to membership, and thus their ability to participate in Eurovision.
For a country to be eligible to compete at Eurovision, one of their television broadcasters must be a full member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – the only exception being Australia’s SBS, who is an associate member but was formally invited to participate.
Protestors call for the EBU to remove BTRC from Eurovision
Recently, The Belarusian Telegraph has reported that the Belarusian Culture Solidarity Foundation (BCSF) has requested for the EBU to remove BTRC’s membership. If this were to happen, this would render BTRC unable to partake in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Belarusian Culture Solidarity Foundation was established in October 2020 by Sergey Budkin, creator of the internet portal TuzinFM.by. It is an organization headquartered in Estonia that has the aim of providing support to the Belarusian cultural community.
Budkin staunchly opposes the country’s participation in international events if BTRC is to be involved:
“Today, the broadcaster is not about media, but rather an instrument of political pressure and propaganda constantly incited in society. They fire their employees directly for their posts in the networks, break contracts for expressing their civic position. And those who still stay to work are kept under pressure and fear”.
He highlights the situation surrounding VAL, the band that was due to represent Belarus at Eurovision 2020 before its cancellation. BTRC announced that they would not send them again in 2021, saying “Not because something ‘broke’ at BTRC or because censorship is raging, but because the artists of the VAL group have no conscience.”
Eurovision has always been regarded as a politics-free event, with the EBU aiming to bring people across Europe together through music regardless of political beliefs. However, Budkin believes that BTRC can no longer be seen as an politically-unbiased broadcaster:
“As I understand it, the EBU will pretend that Eurovision is out of politics. But if Eurovision is out of politics, then BTRC should definitely be excluded. And if the EBU respects its partners, I must react and sit down at the negotiating table.”
This would not be the first time that anti-government campaigning in Belarus has resulted in changes to international events. The 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship, scheduled for May and June, was originally set to be co-hosted in Minsk and Riga. However, earlier this month, the International Ice Hockey Federation decided to remove Belarus as a host, citing security concerns in the midst of the ongoing protests. Thus, the event will now only be hosted in Latvia.
“Belarus is part of the Eurovision family”
Jan Feddersen, a leading German Eurovision expert from Eurovision.de, disagrees with the motion. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, he believes Belarus belongs to the Eurovision family:
“The movement stands for democratic principles. But refusing Eurovision, even in the form of depriving BTRC of its license, I do not consider a politically rational and popular step.
It has never happened before that a country is deprived of its license because of an autocratic government. And that would be wrong, since the secret of Eurovision is to provide a platform for the European idea.”
Meanwhile, Budkin is sure that BTRC “is already starting to pack their bags on their way to Rotterdam” since the head of the broadcaster is also the country’s head of delegation for Eurovision.
Budkin notes that the goal of the campaign is to prevent BTRC from showing up to the meeting of the Eurovision heads of the delegation, which is scheduled for March 15 in Rotterdam, “And ideally, exclude them from the EBU”.
Belarus’ selection for Eurovision 2021
For now, Belarus is continuing its selection for Eurovision 2021. BTRC has axed its usual live auditions show, instead putting out an open call for people to submit their entries. However, these submissions must still be live performances of the song.
The United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2006 representative Daz Sampson has entered the selection alongside Belarusian singer Katya Ocean with the song “Give You Love”. Sampson previously auditioned for Belarus’ Nationalny Otbor with Nona, performing the eccentric dance track “Kinky Boots”, but failed to pass to the next stage.
However, regular Nationalny Otbor contestant NAPOLI has announced on her social media that she will not be sending in an entry for BTRC’s Eurovision 2021 selection due to the current political situation.
What are your thoughts on the campaign by the Belarusian Culture Solidarity Foundation? Let us know in the comments.