‘Hidden Truths – Music, Politics and Censorship in Lukashenko’s Belarus’
In its latest report on music and freedom of expression around the world, Freemuse turns its attention to Belarus, an authoritarian former Soviet country buffering the EU and Russia, where freedom of information and expression have become the unrelenting victims in an increasingly destructive battle for political control.
Punk-rock band Neuro Dubel – officially banned from state tv and radio
For the past two years, many Belarusian rock musicians have been unofficially banned from radio and TV, their applications for concert licenses denied and interviews with the state press shelved. The unofficial ‘blacklist’, which includes virtually the entire independent Belarusian rock scene, coincided with a controversial referendum allowing President Lukashenka to remain in power, and marked the beginning of a concerted government crackdown against musicians, political opponents and the independent press.
It also marked the beginning of a more deliberate use of music as a political tool in the ideological battle between the authorities and the opposition, clearly dividing Belarusian musicians into pro-government ‘official’ and pro-democracy ‘unofficial’ camps. Now that rock and Belarusian language music in particular have come under fire, it has become a central rallying point for the beleaguered political opposition.
The regime’s fear of music as potential fuel for revolution and unrest, as in the Ukraine in 2004, has led to restrictive broadcasting legislation and the reinvigoration of a huge bureaucratic system of censorship that is pushing independent musicians back into the role of Soviet era dissidents. As in the Ukrainian ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004, language and culture are key components in social and political opposition to President Lukashenka, dubbed ‘the last dictator in Europe’ by the US State Department.
Examining the historical context of the political associations of music-making and sharing in the USSR, the report identifies two main and mutually reinforcing aspects of music censorship in Belarus today. One is the deliberate and systematic government pressure on ‘unofficial’ musicians- including ‘banning’ from official media and imposing severe restrictions on live performance.
The other is use of the government’s control of mass media and other resources in promoting ‘official’ music as a tool of government propaganda in furthering state ideology and loyalty to the leader. The potent combination of these two strategies, and the revival of the deeply engrained culture of compliance and fear reminiscent of Soviet times, means that independent music-making in Belarus today is an increasingly difficult and risky enterprise.
The 88-pages report is written for Freemuse by Lemez Lovas and Maya Medich. It is published on 15 February 2007.
Cover of the report ‘Hidden Truths’. To get it in high resolution, click on the cover
Report appendix: Listen to the music Listen to examples of banned and blacklisted music from Belarua. Six audio files and one music video are an online supplement to the Freemuse report on music censorship in Belarus. Read more… See the presentation by the authors of the report, Maya Medich and Lemez Lovas, at the third Freemuse World Conference in Istanbul.
‘Bella’ is a 26-year old Belarusian singer with an indie-rock group. Her real name is known to Freemuse, but we call her ‘Bella’ for her protection.
The band’s lyrics used to be in Russian, but a couple of years ago they switched to Belarusian language. Since then they have had problems with the authorities.
In this interview she tells about various forms of censorship that she has faced in Belarus.
Human rights under pressure
Government plan to evict the country’s only registered human rights organisation, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, is meant to silence civil society, reports Human Rights Watch
On 19 December 2006, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which was founded in 1995, was notified by the Administrative Service of the President of Belarus that its rental contract would be cancelled in one month’s time. No reasons were given for the decision. Eviction would deny the committee a registered address, giving the authorities a legal pretext to close the organisation.
“This is another blatant attempt to silence the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and what’s left of civil society in Belarus,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The government should drop the eviction proceedings and renew the committee’s lease at once.”
For background on government attacks on the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, see: