Censorship of music: who gets to sing in Belarus?
On 2 November, Belarusian bard musician Zmicer Vajciuškievič had a 25th-anniversary concert in Minsk. Before that, he had been unable to perform in Belarus in public for many years. Along with some other musicians, he became a part of the blacklist of “politically inappropriate musicians.”
While the particular reasons for banning a musical show in Belarus change from event to event, the possibility of concerts taking place unchangeably depends on the authorities.
The official motivation of concerts’ cancellation often refers to extremism, the “low quality of lyrics,” or logistical obstacles such as overlaps with other events. Although excuses vary, there exists a clear pattern: Belarusian authorities attempt to restrain musicians for social and political reasons.
While Belarusian musicians face strong censorship, many pop-stars refusing to admit Belarusian national identity and statehood continue to perform in Belarus. Despite a few positive changes, so far authorisation for public musical performances and shows in Belarus remain a field controlled by the regime.
Black-listed-musicians: who and why?
Already in 2000s, the authorities had restricted public performance rights for several famous Belarusian musicians. Liavon Volski who demonstrated clear opposition to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and his regime became one of them in 2004. Such artists as Siarhei Mikhalok and Zmicer Vajciuškievič have faced bans and restrictions on performing on Belarusian stages. An unofficial black-list of Belarusian musicians has recently included more artists such as Vinsent and the band Dzieciuki.
In most cases, musicians face obstacles in form of last-minute cancellations and shows being called off for unclear reasons. For example, the band Dzeciuki had been trying do a gig in Minsk for 2016. At first, the club refused to host the concert. Next, the ideological department of the Executive Committee in Minsk asked to send them the lyrics of the songs. The Executive Committee then issued a statement for an official cancellation of the band’s concert. They had concluded the band’s lyrics were of “low quality,” and thus the band was not given permission to perform.
This happens to Belarusian musicians directly or indirectly opposing to the regime. It is especially topical for rock musicians, because rock music in Belarus often translates protest of society against the state. Rock artists, such as Siarhei Mikhalok, who is famous as the frontman for bands Liapis Trubeckoj and Brutto, live and perform abroad.
Indeed, Siarhei Mikhalok faced a pressure after insulting Lukashenka in an interview to 1tvnet, an online news portal. Mikhalok said Lukashenka “initiated a genocide against the Belarusian people” and that Lukashenka ”hates the Belarusian people.” After the interview, Mikhalok had to leave the country for several years.
Only in 2016 was Mikhalok able to return to Belarus, performing in Homiel and then in Minsk. However, until now his second band, Brutto, meets constant restrictions on songs and places to perform.
Although the reasons and explanations by authorities for banning musicians vary, the scenario of blacklisting looks the same. The local authorities cancel concerts at the last minute. It happened with Belarusian singer Vinsent when authorities banned his concert at Minsk-Arena in 2016. In September 2017, the leader of the band Dzieciuki faced being blacklisted when he tried to receive a permission to perform in Minsk with his solo project.
After expressing a political or social position that opposes preferences of the officials, musicians can become blacklisted. Vital Hurkou, the world famous sportsmen from Belarus, lost financial support from the Ministry of Sports for a collaboration with Brutto. In 2014, the band Amaroka was refused the right to perform after authorities deemed the songs to be extremist. TuzinFM, a Belarusian video-driven music website, believes the authorities at present have blacklisted four musicians.
Doubtful pop-stars in Belarus
While officials aim to prevent anti-regime singers from performing, they pay little attention to the people denying Belarusian nationhood and statehood who come to sing from abroad. Recently, Viktor Kalina, who supported separatists in Ukraine and posed with weapons on occupied territories in Ukraine, had a tour in Belarus. Ukrainian authorities have already put Kalina on a list of people dangerous for national security, because of his close ties with the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Despite this, Kalina received permission from the Belarusian authorities to perform.
Indeed, his concerts in the Belarus often receive support of the local authorities, who help to distribute tickets in towns like Vitsebsk and Brest.
Civil society activists have protested Kalina’s concerts. In October, Vitsebsk and Brest activists sent an appeal to the authorities demanding cancellation of Kalina’s November performances in the largest Belarusian towns. This prompted Kalina to write a letter to President Lukashenka with a request to protect him from Belarusian nationalists.
Civil activists’ efforts are not always in vain. Two years ago, local authorities positively reacted to a letter from activists and banned one of Kalina’s concerts. However, most recently authorities appear reluctant to forbid Kalina from touring. After a concert in Hrodna on 4 November, the singer posted on VKontakte, a Russian-language version of the social networking site Facebook, saying that his concert was successful despite the “animals” who tried to cancel it, reports Belarusian Partisan.
In addition to musicians, Belarusian authorities rarely prevent visits of pro-Russian artists, who believe in the idea that all the Russian-speaking territories should belong to Russia. On 25 November 2016, Russian propagandist Vladimir Soloviev, who became famous for his open pro-Putin and imperialistic views, came to Minsk to give a book reading. Despite protests and appeals of Belarusians, he managed to perform in Minsk. So far, it seems pro-Russian imperialism looks less dangerous to the authorities than music critical of the Belarusian government.
Why Belarusian authorities censor music?
The logic behind the motivations of Belarusian authorities to ban concerts remains hard to understand. In October, authorities forbid Russian rapper FACE to perform in Belarus. After submitting song lyrics to the Executive Committee, authorities refused to allow his concert.
FACE’s songs contain much swearing, stories about drug abuse, and stimatisation of certain groups of people. A month before his slated performance, Belarusian musician Dzianisau, who based his songs on Belarusian poems written by Ales Chobat (a member of the Belarusian Writers Union), also received refusal to perform in Minsk for allegedly writing “low quality lyrics.” While Belarusian musicians of varying success fight for their rights of freedom of expression, Belarusian society attempts to confront imperialist adepts like Viktor Kalina.
During the last years, Belarusian musicians with the help of the public have been gradually receiving more freedom of expression without censorship. Consistently, the most difficult time for musicians to perform are the pre-election months during the presidential campaigns, for example in 2010 and 2015. It also seems that the authorities see less threat in musicians during the middle of the electoral cycle. Fewer musicians tend to be blacklisted, and officials allow more concerts and put less censorship on Belarusian musicians.
However, the authorities hold an administrative resource in their hands with which they can get rid of “politically inappropriate” musicians wherever they want. It becomes especially topical on the eve of elections when the regime demonstrates its power. It appears that music in Belarus is not so much the sphere of culture and business, but more the sphere of ideology and politics.
2018 EaP Summit, October Economic Forum, limits to Belarus’s sovereignty – digest of Belarusian analytics
Jury Drakachrust ponders upon reasons and consequences of the invitation of Aliaksandr Lukashenka to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on 24 November, while Dzianis Mieljancoŭ analyses benefits of the Summit for Lukashenka.
Belarus Security Blog argues that Belarus is working hard to establish itself as an independent actor in regional security matters, despite sсepticism from the West and Ukraine.
IPM Research Centre assures that despite the fact that the authorities ceased negotiations with the IMF, they did not stop the reforms.
Belarus in Focus experts observe that before the local election campaign, the Belarusian authorities are becoming more sensitive to local civic initiatives and opinions of the expert community about the information policy and national security issues.
This and more in the new edition of the digest of Belarusian analytics.
2018 EaP Summit
Lukashenka Receives an Invitation to Brussels – Grigory Ioffe analyses the media reaction to the fact that Brussels extended an invitation to Alexander Lukashenka to participate in the 25 November summit of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP). The experts believe that in any case, there is a chance the EU initiative may start a new chapter in Europe’s relationship with Belarus.
Lukashenka, For the First Time, Formally Invited to the EaP Summit – Sources report, that the EU extended a formal invitation to Aliaksandr Lukashenka to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on 24 November. Jury Drakachrust ponders upon reasons and consequences of the invitation, while Dzianis Mieljancoŭ analyses benefits of the Summit for Lukashenka. TUT.by interviews experts to identify scenarios of Lukashenka’s participation in Brussels.
Minsk Dialogue: Prospects of EaP Ahead of the Brussels Summit – Minsk Dialogue presents a report based on an expert discussion before the Future of Eastern Partnership conference that took place on 7 September 2017. The report provides an overview of the history of EaP, analyses positions of key stakeholders and provides for scenarios of EaP future and its meaning for Belarus.
Minsk Is Trying to Establish Itself as an Equal Subject in Security Matters – Belarus Security Blog argues that Belarus is working hard to establish itself as an independent actor in regional security matters, despite scepticism from the West and Ukraine. Strengthening of security-related ties with China is deemed to be evidence of that.
Zapad 2017: Did Belarus Lose the Information War? – Dzianis Mieljancoŭ, Minsk Dialogue, analyses the materials of the Western media and debunks the assertion of some Belarusian analysts and journalists about the ‘lost information war’. In particular, a statement that Belarus’ participation in joint military exercises with Russia had a negative impact on the international image of Belarus is not supported by the facts.
What Are the Limits to Belarus’s Sovereignty? – Grigory Ioffe sums up a wide-ranging debate about the nature and geopolitical realities of Belarusian statehood and independence inspired by the joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 war games. The analyst also mentions two facts – the Catholic conference in Minsk and registration of the Albaruthenia University office – that seemingly extend the limits of Belarus’s sovereignty.
“Because I Decided So.” Rules Underlying the Decisions in the Belarusian Economy – Kiryl Rudy, former assistant to the president for Economic Affairs, explains what social characteristics can change the rules of behavior in the economy, form a community, a risk appetite, long-term planning, switch on rational laws and lead the economy to a global highway of ‘one hundred years growth’. The article is timed to KEF 2017.
Towards the ‘Minsk Consensus’: Some Personal Reflections – Ben Slay, UNDP senior advisor, considers what the ‘Minsk Consensus’ is (or might be), and how it may be of broader use. Namely, rather than laying claims to overarching development paradigms or one-size-fits-all solutions, Belarus’s experience points to the need for pragmatic combinations of private- and public-sector governance reforms.
Unexpected Growth, Unsold Reforms and Optimism in Belarusian – Aliaksandr Čubryk, IPM Research Centre, suggests some statements on the eve of the Kastryčnicki/October Economic Forum, KEF 2017, which was held on 2-3 November in Minsk. The expert, in particular, assures that despite the fact that the authorities ceased negotiations with the IMF, they did not stop the reforms.
Belarusian Economic Review, Q2 2017 – Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC) rolls out fresh quarterly economic review. In particular, consumption continues to grow; import surpasses export; monetary policy stimulates; real exchange rate reached 5-year minimum; real salaries slowly grow while available income continues to shrink.
How Europe’s Last Dictatorship Became a Tech Hub – Ivan Nechepurenko, The New York Times, studies the growing trend of turning Belarus into a tech hub. More than 30,000 tech specialists now work in Minsk, many of them creating mobile apps that are used by more than a billion people in 193 countries. Lukashenka began to believe that the tech industry could become a magic wand to help him end the country’s chronic dependency on Russia.
Andrej Jahoraŭ: Belarus Leads an Authoritarian Revenge in the Region – There is a clear crisis of democracy, while human rights in Belarus are in a blockade. At the same time, the European-Belarusian relations are now enveloped in a continuous mythology, according to the director of the Centre for European Transformation, Andrej Jahoraŭ. The analyst is confident that in its current state the civil society cannot influence the EU policy.
Civil Society Has Bearing On Agenda of Belarusian Authorities – Belarus in Focus considers a case of a public campaign that has raised the attention to the situation around the death of a conscript soldier in the army. The experts conclude that civic initiatives, through social networks and the Internet, are beginning to outstrip state ideologists with traditional media and have a greater impact on public opinion.
Impact of Civic Initiatives on Local Agendas and Cultural Information Policy Has Increased – Belarus in Focus experts observe that before the local election campaign, the Belarusian authorities are becoming more sensitive to local civic initiatives and opinions of the expert community about the information policy and national security issues. Although, the authorities’ decisions are likely to remain half-hearted and criticised by civil society representatives.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.