Belarus & Ukraine: Musicians and fans stopped on their way to festival



Belarus & Ukraine:
Musicians and fans stopped on their way to festival

On 22 September 2007, the rock festival “The Right to Be Free” took place in Lutsk in Ukraine, very close to the Belarusian border. The arrangement went fine – until two busses with about 100 people from Minsk going to the festival were stopped by Belarusian police forces. At the same time, the bus with the Belarusian musicians was stopped by border guards before entering Ukraine.

By Kristina Funkeson, Freemuse
The main organisers of “The Right to Be Free” festival were the Belarusian Music Alternative (BMA) Group, the youth group StudFarmat and the European Radio for Belarus. Freemuse interviewed Maria (who prefer to stay anonymous), project coordinator for the European Radio for Belarus, to find out more about the festival and about what happened.

Criticising Lukashenka
According to Maria, the organisers had two main motives behind the festival: “Firstly we wanted to give ‘blacklisted’ bands the opportunity to perform their music to their Belarusian fans and secondly we wanted raise awareness of Belarusian musicians among the Ukrainian public.” Maria explained that the overall objective was to draw attention to the limitations which are imposed to Belarusian independent culture by Belarusian authorities in regard to popular rock bands as a threat to the current political regime.

According to the Belarusian newspaper Naviny, the rock bands featured in the festival are blacklisted for their “openly negative attitude toward the Lukashenka government”. Maria clarified that the bands are not openly ‘blacklisted’ – but they sure have problems performing and recording in Belarus.

The right to be free
“Musicians have the right to play, young people have the right to communicate freely, freely express their thoughts, and listen to the music they like”, the festival organisers told Naviny. But this proved to be difficult – even beyond the Belarusian border. The two buses with about 100 fans going from Minsk to Lutsk were stopped by police forces. “The police announced to the public that the buses were confiscated because they did not fulfil the technical requirements”, Maria said. After having registered the name, address and occupation of all the passengers, the police escorted them back to Minsk in police buses.

At the same time, the Belarusian bands were stopped by border guards, detaining them for about six hours before letting them pass the border to Ukraine. Naviny reported that the border guards took the travellers’ passports and refused to explain why they were kept in detention.

Happy ending?
The festival’s line-up consisted of the Belarusian bands Znich, Indiga, B:N, Sciana, Tav. Mauser, Krama, Ulis and Neuro Dubel, and also a Ukrainian band. Luckily the Belarusian rockers managed to reach the festival on time. In the end, most of the fans also made it to the festival – giving it a second try by public transportation or hitch-hiking.

Approximately 7,000 people attended the event, and Maria estimated that half of them were Ukrainians, the other half were from Belarus. She said that the atmosphere was very positive and optimistic. Maria read the visitors’ reflections and reactions on internet blogs and she said that the Ukrainians were amazed by the bands of the neighbouring country. And the Belarusians were impressed that such an event could be held in the central park of the city; many people were also making comments on the friendly police.

But the hassle was not over for the visitors when leaving the festival. On their way home they were subjected to a very strict border control. Border guards confiscated videos and photos from the festival. “They took copies of everything before handing back the cameras”, said Maria.

“The reason why we chose to organise the festival in Ukraine was that Belarusians don’t need visas to go here. It’s easier than travelling to Poland”, Maria stated. “We only had two months to prepare this year’s festival but the Ukrainian authorities were very helpful and cooperative. They did not support the festival with money, but they facilitated the administrative procedures and were very helpful with security arrangements.”

The festival was held for the first time this year and is planned as an annual event. In the future, the organisers hope to present more Ukrainian bands and maybe invite Polish and Lithuanian rock bands alongside the Belarusian ones.


Naviny – 22 September 2007:
‘People traveling to Belarusian rock festival in Ukraine turned back by police, artists allowed to cross border after six-hour detention’

European Radio for Belarus homepage:

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