Back in August, we wrote an explainer on the situation in Belarus after pro-democracy protests occurred. Several past Eurovision artists participated in them and actively discussed the situation with their fans. About six months have passed since the protests first started, but the situation has not changed much for Belarusian artists.

With the recent appointment of Galasy ZMesta as the Belarusian representatives for Rotterdam, some fans have wondered how the current situation is affecting Belarus’ music industry. In this article, we aim to summarise how the political situation created rifts in the country’s music scene, as artists who speak out against repression and in favour of political freedom risk being muzzled and silenced.

How the situation in Belarus is impacting its artists

Artists are among the most affected groups in the long-term aftermath of the Belarusian protests. After all, expression is at the heart of music. The political situation in the country has led to a large divide in Belarus’ music industry between those who support the pro-democracy movement and those who support the current regime.

For an artist and being a public figure, it is hard to stay neutral and to not be confronted with this divide. However, choosing one of the sides also has large consequences for the artist’s career and their future. And not only their future but also the future of their partner, their children or other people close to them.

Belarusian artists have faced consequences for their actions

We’ve seen the consequences from speaking about the protests most clearly with VAL — who chose to take the streets pretty quickly. After speaking their minds to an independent publication, the group were told by broadcaster BTRC that they were “unsuitable” to go to Eurovision 2021.

Belarusian group NAVIBAND — who represented their country at Eurovision 2017 — have also experienced the consequences of speaking up. After releasing their protest songs “Girl in White” and “Milliony bol’skhikh serdets”, the group revealed on Instagram that young singers were banned from using NAVIBAND songs at singing contests. Next to that, NAVIBAND singer Arciom later revealed that his physical mail had been opened before he received them on several occasions since speaking up.

Belarus’ Eurovision commentator Evgeny Perlin left BTRC as a result of their coverage on the protests this Summer, after earlier being a government supporter. Not long after leaving BTRC, Perlin found his car to be vandalised. The music video for “Ya nauchu tebya” seems to have a dig at the former BTRC employee too — the furniture set used in the music video seems to be taken directly from the furniture set of his former talk show Makayonka, 9.

However, already even before the larger protests erupted, pop-rock group and Eurovision 2012 contestants Litesound had not been welcome anymore at several concerts for supporting the opposition.

Several artists have tried to abstain from choosing a side, some scared of the consequences it might have for their family. One of the most notable of them is Eurovision 2007 contestant Dmitry Koldun, who also is a husband and a father of two, besides a singer. In August 2020, Dmitry told Super.ru:

“As a Belarusian, my relationship to the situation is straightforward. It is very unpleasant, alarming and scary that this is happening in my country, which I am used to seeing as peaceful and living calmly. My family and I left the capital, the streets were very noisy, my daughter was waking up at night. I myself spend a lot of time in Russia, but my family is here. I do not know what needs to be done to end the violence, this is a question for politicians. But first of all, it is necessary to stop breaking each other’s bones, to sit down and talk. Then, perhaps, this conflict will be resolved peacefully.”

In an interview with Frederik Skavlan, the only Belarusian-born Eurovision winner Alexander Rybak spoke a familiar language. When asked about the situation, Rybak said:

“I have family [in Belarus]. (…) I think my grandmothers are very aware that I am an artist. And the more I know, the more exposed I am [to potentially harmful things].”

Performers don’t want to sing at government-sponsored events

Another problem the current Belarusian music industry has to deal with is the disappearance of certain platforms for young musical talent.

Many performers have abstained from appearing on any of BTRC and ONT — Belarus’ two largest television stations — blaming the broadcasters’ coverage of the domestic events.

Belarus’ only talk show Makayonka, 9 was axed on 12 August 2020 as host and Eurovision commentator Evgeny Perlin decided to leave BTRC. Until its cancellation, Makayonka, 9 had grown to be the show where young Belarusian singers and projects were promoted. In fact, VAL’s first appearance as a duet was made on that very show.

Next to that, with the current situation, some young performers will think twice about entering the local selection for the governmentally-funded Slavianski Bazar in Vitebsk. Since 1991, the Slavianski Bazar has given young Belarusian talent the opportunity to showcase themselves on one of the largest stages in Eastern Europe.

Of the 16 acts that have selected to sing for Belarus at Eurovision, only a handful have not made their breakthrough on that stage.

How did this all influence this year’s Eurovision effort?

The above issues have also seeped through to the country’s Eurovision selection of this year. Many artists that have participated year after year instead skipped the selection this year. Among them was NAPOLI, whose producer posted a statement on VKontakte and Facebook, explaining their decision.

Belarusian Eurovision contestants NAVIBAND and Angelica Agurbash supported a call for Belarus to be removed as participants of this year’s contest.

As a result, this year, state broadcaster BTRC chose pro-governmental rock group Galasy ZMesta to the contest with the song “Ya nauchu tebya”.

How have Belarusian Eurovision contestants reacted to Galasy ZMesta’s selection?

Back in January, NAVIBAND told Deutsche Welle that it was hard for them to imagine that anyone from the Belarusian music industry would want to be representing BTRC.

Last year’s act VAL also replied to the choice of Galasy ZMesta as the Belarusian representatives at Eurovision 2021. The duo of Vlad and Lera wrote on Instagram:

“Dear friends, thank you for your incredible support! The candidate which was picked yesterday to represent Belarus at Eurovision shocked everybody. Once again we all have seen that being «loyal» is much more important than being talented and having high quality music.

We wish everyone to dance only to your own tune! Be free, let your love shine a light! The best is yet to come!”

 

Dit bericht bekijken op Instagram

 

Een bericht gedeeld door VAL (@val.music)

The situation in Belarus

Since August 2020, there has been an ongoing crackdown of peaceful demonstrators who continue to speak out against police brutality and President Alexander Lukashenko. You’ll remember that he was re-elected in elections that have been widely condemned by the international community, including by the European Union.

Since October 2020, the EU has progressively imposed restrictions on Belarus and levelled sanctions against people it says are “responsible for repression and intimidation” against protestors. The Council of the European Union says: “The measures were adopted in response to the Belarusian authorities’ unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions, following the August 2020 presidential elections.” “The EU does not recognise results of the Belarus elections, condemning them as neither free, nor fair.”

Read more Belarus news here

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Lance Esgard
Lance Esgard
6 months ago

I greatly appreciate the detail about how the music video looked like it was a reference to the set of an axed show which was the main way Belarussian music artists were promoted… That disturbs me. It makes me feel like part of the message is … you want to have a career in the future then you have to fall in line and obey. It isn’t surprising given the lyrics and the artists but still it was a potential aspect of the presentation that hadn’t come up before. The song feels more intimidating to me than before as it… Read more »

Joe
Joe
6 months ago

Well-done, Renske! The journalism on this site is always outstanding and I love these editorial pieces.

Sabrina
Sabrina
6 months ago

Thank you for this article, Renske! I’m very proud of artists like NAVIBAND, VAL and NAPOLI. They’re risking their carreers and even their safety to raise their voices for their people and their country. It shows a lot of character.

Alex M
Alex M
6 months ago

Wow! Wiwi made an actual article. This is so rare, I hope they will make more in the future.

Una
Una
6 months ago
Reply to  Alex M

Wiwi have mande articles last year on Blr and on the subject of BLM. They do cover serious topics too. Or the recent one of the international women’s day.

I can accept that some editorial restraint is necessary though. It is a Eurovision site after all.

Benny Hill
6 months ago

EBU released a statement. We’re nearly there.

vlv
vlv
6 months ago

EBU should bun not this song, but BTRK (Belarus Broadcaster). It is they who are engaged in the propaganda and persecution of other artists.

Safiya
Safiya
6 months ago

Thank you for this article! I am surprised that Belarus is even allowed to participate, though I can understand that they may not break any rules directly, so EBU does not have any reason to disqualify them. They do not use offensive words or insult anyone directly etc. but we all know what it is all about. I’m Polish and this situation unfortunately reminds me of Poland. Of course, political situation in Poland is not as bad as it is in Belarus and I hope we are still far from it but it is getting worse. So if you wonder… Read more »

Maldric
Maldric
6 months ago

I don´t understand the situation…The country is poor, their economy is not growing up. The majority of the population want to change the government…yet they still there doing whatever they want! Enough is enough

Honesty
Honesty
6 months ago

On the other hand, Kirkorov sang in Lukashenko’s propaganda music video “Liubimuiu ne otdayut” (“Beloved is not to give away”) in September 2020.

Colin
Colin
6 months ago

I think that you are free to dislike any song or find any content offensive, as it’s very individual, but you cannot call for a song to be censored or DQ. Some have problem with depicting fictional violence. Some do not. Some have an issue with nudity and sexual content. Some do not. The list goes on. All of these songs have right to exist in the context of ESC. It is also your personal right not to vote for them, to criticize them and to give them low ratings, if you think that’s the right thing to do. But… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Colin
Fred
Fred
6 months ago

EBU, what you waiting for? Disqualify this disgusting song. I feel bad for the people of Belarus…

Hada
6 months ago

“The music video for “Ya nauchu tebya” seems to have a dig at the former BTRC employee too — the furniture set used in the music video seems to be taken directly from the furniture set of his former talk show Makayonka, 9.”

WOW. This is truly the gift that keeps on giving. I really hope EBU disqualifies Belarus’.

Badwoolfgirl
Badwoolfgirl
6 months ago
Reply to  Hada

This entry is like a rotting onion. It’s more repulsive the more layers you peel off.

Briekimchi
Briekimchi
6 months ago

Forget about what I think of the situation or what other ESC fans think about it, but when numerous artists from Belarus themselves are saying that the country should not be allowed to participate, then I think it’s something that needs to be looked at. The musicians of Belarus are speaking out and saying that this does not represent them or their values.

If the EBU decides no rules have been broken, then maybe it’s time to look at the rules again.

Vytautas
Vytautas
6 months ago

Many people are saying that Belarus should be DQ because the chosen artist is promoting an Authoritarian regime. It’s like democratic republicanism is promoted 24/7 as the one and only possible member of the EBU. Hellooo, aren’t you forgetting something? Azerbaijan, Russia, or Serbia as Authoritarian regime countries as well? Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the UK as monarchist regimes? What a hypocrisy to DQ because of the support for Lukashenko; DQ for open propaganda and harassment, aka because of what song is sung about, not what country is sending it.

Darren
Darren
6 months ago
Reply to  Vytautas

You’re fishing And I shouldn’t…but I’ll bite anyway. This isn’t just about the authoritarian regime, we all now other ESC participants can be guilty of these things too. It’s the FACT that they are basically stamping all over the democracy movement in the country with this song. It’s basically the regeime telling people in Belarus to know their place or the powers that be will “teach” you otherwise. The very fact that the set piece of their song reveal was the set of their old Eurovision commentators talk show, who didn’t agree with the role the media took in supporting… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Darren
Vytautas
Vytautas
6 months ago
Reply to  Darren

Apparently, you and many others didn’t get my comment. I was saying that this song should be disqualified because it’s an open propaganda, brainwashing, etc. By no means I was saying that the song is fine and neutral towards the regime. But from many commentators below, it seems as if people would like to disqualify Belarus because it’s ruled by a dictator (even though he’s been ruling since 1994, where the hell you were sleeping for the past 30 years?). I say that we should not be based on who’s ruling (-regime), rather on, what the song is about. Putin… Read more »

Darren
Darren
6 months ago
Reply to  Vytautas

They should be DQ’d because they have entered a political song. And are blatantly p!ssing all over the movement. It’s a blatant attack on them. He’s been in power since 94, this is true. However they have never entered a song so blatantly political in all their years of participation, nor have they entered such a facist, homophobic, anti- Europe act to represent them either. As the West firmly stands with the pro-democracy movement in Belarus and do not recognise the result of their recent election, then to allow this abomination onto the stage in Rotterdam would be an outrage.… Read more »

Nicolas
Nicolas
6 months ago
Reply to  Vytautas

And what about France repression of “Gilets jaunes” protestors ? With also thousands of arrests, some people have lost an eye with the police asked to shot the protestors.
I don’t remember the Council of Europe protesting about France repression.
You are kind right there, any Regime when it fears the people protest will fight against its own people to keep its privileges.

Kosey
Kosey
6 months ago

Thank you for a really interesting and thought provoking article. I like how it explores the paradox of politics and art and how they must be separate but how at the same time they inevitably cannot be. I am sad that the world is becoming more polarized, I fear that it means we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. For me, Belarus should be part of ESC this year (unless it is proven that they have broken a specific rule as the rule of law is important). I do not believe that we should drown out views… Read more »

ESC8
ESC8
6 months ago
Reply to  Kosey

Exactly what I was about to write! Thank you! By making Belarus withdraw, the EBU will just make the belarusian government ‘heroes’ and they will use this (their withdrawal or expell) for their own propaganand, claiming that the european values are not inclusive and things like that. However, letting them take part with this song, it will make crystal clear to every european what is going on within the country. That no one wanted to represent the country and so they chose this act. By silencing someone sometimes you do not get what you wanted, you’re just making people more… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by ESC8
Colin
Colin
6 months ago
Reply to  Kosey

I actually agree with you in almost all points. Them participating and finishing last might be the best outcome. The only reason I am wary of that is that most of Belarusian people, including artists, are actively shamed by it’s presence. It really stetches that “no political messages” rule to it’s full extent. I mean, Georgia 2019 was very political, but it didn’t cross the line of this. I am actually very torn between BTRC being DQ and them being publically dragged through mud. It depends mostly on which option would bring more satisfaction to Belarusian people and which one… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Colin
Kosey
Kosey
6 months ago
Reply to  Colin

This is a terribly difficult subject. I think my stance is one of conciliation rather than confrontation. I often struggle with the concept of “power” regardless of the form that it comes in. If the EBU is to go down the path of DQ, then it needs to dig deep in terms of understanding what outcome it is wanting to achieve and whether it’s actions are in the best interests of what it wants to achieve. If diversity and inclusivity is to mean something, it has to be universal and not selective. Of course, if laws have been broken, then… Read more »

vlv
vlv
6 months ago

Forgot to write about a video that was released on Belarusian television, where Agurbash was called an enemy of the nation and threatened with a gallows

Badwoolfgirl
Badwoolfgirl
6 months ago
Reply to  vlv

Holy crap, when did that happen?

Steven
Steven
6 months ago

Thank you for the great article! As far as I know, the growing authoritarian regime in Serbia also bans artists (and anyone who does not support the current regime) from the appearance on many government-sponsored TV channels (which are the ONLY channels an ordinary Serbian person can watch…). One of those is the musician Jelena Karleuša who has been under constant attack of government-controlled media only because she is one of rare artists who has courage to oppose the authoritarian regime. In many instances she expressed her willingness to participate at the ESC, but the national broadcaster that is government-controlled… Read more »

willchrisiam
willchrisiam
6 months ago
Reply to  Steven

I’m sorry, but how can you even compare having to fear for your safety and being silenced to 1 broadcaster not wanting to work with 1 artist? Jelena’s disagreement with RTS long predates the current political regime. And she’s everywhere. She is constantly on TV. Those broadcasters are not state run but they also have national frequencies, same as RTS. RTS is the main TV station when it comes to ESC related content but they are far from most viewed. What other artists are you talking about? There are popular talk shows that make fun of Vucic as much as… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by willchrisiam
Steven
Steven
6 months ago
Reply to  willchrisiam

I used Jelena Karleuša as one example. She appears only on one TV channel. Therefore, you can’t say that she is constantly on TV since that implies she is constantly on every major TV. Name national broadcasters that everyone in Serbia has an access to that criticize the president and his party. RTS has always been pro-government TV: in 1990s it served as Miloshevic’s TV, in 2000s as “pro-Democrat” TV, and now as the current regime’s puppet. In addition, I happened to be in Serbia during the last year’s massive demonstrations that were not covered at all by the RTS… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Steven
Aeria
Aeria
6 months ago

I suppose I can consider myself lucky I don’t live in Belarus. The fact they’re not even able to speak their mind is horrifying, and as a Dutch man, I can hardly imagine how terrible it must be. I suppose I’m naive by saying this, but I hope that someday, the people of Belarus will be freed. This is unacceptable!

kir
kir
6 months ago

And now Anastasia Prikhodko has strongly anti-Russian stance. Which is totally understandable.

Last edited 6 months ago by kir
Joe
Joe
6 months ago
Reply to  kir

How many Russian acts have come out against Putin? Could’ve sworn Dina Garipova said something at some point.

Voix
Voix
6 months ago

If a pro dictator group appears in the eurovision stage, it would be one of the darkest moments of the contest. Don’t give them a platform.-

Chris
Chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Voix

Spain under Franko’s regime was competing without any problem at all.

kir
kir
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris

As well as Azerbaijan, Russia and pre-2021 Belarus. The question is not about the regime; it’s about the outrageous agenda promoted by the particular entry.

Davo
Davo
6 months ago

Thank you for publishing this article. It is clear that Galasy ZMesta should be disqualified from Eurovision due to the political nature of this song. Even if they manage to bend the rules and appear they will come last in the competition, not only because of the politics, but also because of the atrocious quality of the song. Art cannot survive without freedom of expression. I stand in solidarity with the artists of Belarus.

Bronn
Bronn
6 months ago

This “group” should be disqualified. Their “song” is awful and blatant political propaganda of the dictatorial regime of Lukashenko. This “group” promotes homophobia and other hateful content. These people should not represent Belarus.

Nancy G
Nancy G
6 months ago

Thank you for sharing all of this. I don’t speak Russian or belarusian and our media don’t cover this topic in this detail, so it’s helpful.

acp
acp
6 months ago

I’m not sure if I want EBU to disqualify Belarus because it would be really nice if they participate and end up last in the semi-final (which is really possible beacause it is the worst song of SF1 so far, and I don’t think there will be a worst one). It would also save other countries from the last spot.

Last edited 6 months ago by acp
Una
Una
6 months ago
Reply to  acp

That would work only if all juries gave them 0 points. Any point to Belarus would mean that another country may not qualify.
The interesting thing will be to see which country gave them points once the results are announced the week after. Jury-wise because that’s easy to see. Not as much the televote. Even televote points could look suspicious depending on the number of points and the country that awards them.

phone but on laptop
phone but on laptop
6 months ago
Reply to  acp

I don’t think Belarusian people would feel pleased if they would be represented by what has been sent, so finishing last would not teach Belarus any lesson, I don’t think they hope for anything better anyway. The aim of their participation is to show the power of current government, and Belarusian people who are against it feel very offended by this entry. This is not about result in the contest, it is all about internal politics. Sure, it would possibly save your favorite from last place, but it would leave thousands of Belarusian people devastated and defeated that something like… Read more »

Biqer
Biqer
6 months ago

Keep calm. There are no political statements in their lyrics. Maybe some idiomatic, but not straight. Belarussian song doesnt break any rules of the contest. Dont be crazy. The political situation in Belarus isnt good, but lets celebrate the music.

Una
Una
6 months ago
Reply to  Biqer

Not Belarus music under these circumstances. People live in fear and horendous things happen there. So *no*.

onemage
onemage
6 months ago
Reply to  Biqer

You clearly don’t know russian language, lyrics are straight enough.

vlv
vlv
6 months ago
Reply to  Biqer

This song is 100% political. I speak to you as a native russian speaker.

Polegend Godgarina
Polegend Godgarina
6 months ago

if the ebu disqualified georgia in 2009, then they have absolutely no excuses to allow this pathetic act to go anywhere.

Chris
Chris
6 months ago

Their song specifically said ” We don’t wanna Put In” …
It was so obvious the reference to Putin, and it was against the rules.
How Belarus song has any to do with that?

Balint
Balint
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris

And why? The verb ‘to put in’ makes sense, after all, you can put the dishes in the dishwasher. However, coincidentally, the president of Russia is called Vladimir Putin, so the circumstances explain it.

In the case of this song, read some news about Belarus, then read the lyrics again. Just because the song isn’t titled ‘Lucas hen cow’, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t connected to him.

CarlosM
CarlosM
6 months ago

EBU needs to force Belarus to change their song or have them disqualified this year.

Darren
Darren
6 months ago

EBU need to speak up and remove them. If they continue to allow them to participate with that song, it’s setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

I stand with the people of Belarus. I wish the pro-democracy crew a world of success.

Chris
Chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Darren

What’s the dangerous precedent? Spain competed in the Eurovision despite the Franko’s regime and Israel is still competing in Eurovision despite their illegal activities in West Bank. UK bombed Iraq and was still there etc etc. The only time EBU has put restrictions on anyone was in Yugoslavia during the 90s, a bit unfair if you ask me. It seems like the EBU bans contestants only when the West U.S. political agenda is served. And I am not saying that Lukanhesko is not a dictator. He is!! BUT cancelling culture doesn’t work like that. If we exclude Belarus from Eurovision,… Read more »

Jake Dallas
Jake Dallas
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris

I’m not sure I agree. Sure those examples of countries you named did terrible things but they don’t sing about it. If Georgia was disqualified in 2009 for making “put in” sound like “Putin”, then Belarus should be disqualified for an entire three minutes of propaganda which is as clear as day unless you don’t speak Russian.

Okan idu?
Okan idu?
6 months ago

Lets hope one day our government will also go away and we can comeback to Eurovision

Dimos
Dimos
6 months ago

Greece is becoming the new Belarus. Police brutality, violation of human rights and constant fake news by the media

Thanos
Thanos
6 months ago
Reply to  Dimos

It’s true!! I am also Greek and I can confirm this!! Our government is turning far-right and are a threat to democracy. The media are completely controlled by them and the police are violent against protesters. In the future, it’s very likely that we are going to need help from the international community.

Last edited 6 months ago by Thanos
Jimmy Smit
Jimmy Smit
6 months ago
Reply to  Thanos

It’s appalling. It’s very sad and worrying to think about Greece’s decline. I read a report last year that Greece has the highest percentage of women having unsafe births of any developed country, because so many public maternity wards have been forced to close due to saving cuts, and that women must pay thousands just for a safe delivery in a hospital.

Jimmy Smit
Jimmy Smit
6 months ago
Reply to  Thanos

It’s an appalling situation. It’s sad and worrying. I read a report last year that Greece has the highest percentage of women having unsafe births of any developed country, because so many public maternity wards have been forced to close due to saving cuts, and that women must pay thousands just for a safe delivery in a hospital.

Thanos
Thanos
6 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Smit

We are heading towards a very bad direction unfortunately. Even during all the years of our economic crisis, I never thought that a government of ours could become so authoritarian and far-right. We’ll see what will happen.

kir
kir
6 months ago
Reply to  Dimos

Could you attach the link to an English-language article on the topic?

Thanos
Thanos
6 months ago
Reply to  kir

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/10/greek-pm-appeals-for-peace-after-police-brutality-ignites-riots

Check this out for a quick summary of what the police of our PM Mitsotakis has been up to lately.

Una
Una
6 months ago

Someone should have the courage once to *cancel* Belarus in 2021. This is an article worth commenting on. Voices must be heard but they need to be many and loud.
*EBU, PLEASE REJECT BELARUS IN 2021*!!

Michaela Radová
Michaela Radová
6 months ago

Thank you for this article and a comprehensible summary of the situation.
Solidarity with Belarusian people <3

Leo
Leo
6 months ago

Belarus is really playing dirty this year
I mean…they could’ve sent sth like what they sent to jesc last year and could still participate with no problems

Last edited 6 months ago by Leo
Jimmy Smit
Jimmy Smit
6 months ago

The sooner Lukashenko goes the better. I just hope democratic reforms can be instituted quickly to protect new freedoms for Belarus!

Polegend Godgarina
Polegend Godgarina
6 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy Smit

i’m honestly shocked no one’s dropped an anvil on his head yet. he has a 3% support rating ffs