Belarus: Longing for change



Longing for change

At the end of the concert, the audience shouted “Zhyvie Belarus!” (Long live Belarus!), which is the cry of those who dream of a democratic and free Belarus. Since 1994 the country has been governed by president Aleksandr Lukashenko who suppresses freedom of opinion and expression and who has attacked the alternative music scene with severe repression.

By Ingo Petz


Photo by: Vaidas Stackevicius

Around 1000 people had gathered in the club Fabrikas Loftas in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to see Krambambulya. For more than two hours they were dancing and singing along, waving the white-red-white flag which was abolished by Lukashenko in 1995 and replaced by a modified version of the old BSSR-flag. In some of the eyes you can see a glimpse of happiness and a deep satisfaction. Most of the people in the audience are Belarusians who travelled from Belarus to the EU-country in order to celebrate their music which is banned in “Europe’s last Dictatorship”.

Blacklisted since March 2011
Krambambulya is a famous band in the post-soviet country. It was founded in 2001. The group plays a sweaty mixture of punk and rock with folkloristic elements. The lyrics are funny and ironic. They tell stories about drinking and dancing. And it is somehow absurd that the band of front man Lavon Volski is blacklisted since March 2011. On the other hand, Volski is an icon of the independent music culture of Belarus. He is critically outspoken about the regime – a rare case in a country where most of the people are scared to make their opinions heard. “Thank you for coming here to support us and our music”, Volski addressed his fans at the beginning of the concert. “Enjoy yourself and this day of freedom.” For some Belarusians the trip was especially hard. Some said that they had to wait 10 hours to pass the border-control between Lithuania and Belarus. Because of this, not all fans made it in time for the concerts that took place on three nights at the end of April. On Monday media even reported that the border had been totally paralyzed. It is hard to say if this was because of Krambambulya’s concerts, but since thousands of Belarusians were travelling to the concerts there probably is some truth in this statement.

Photo by: Vaidas Stackevicius

Historic action
“In February we wanted to present our album ‘Drabadzi-Drabada’ in Minsk”, says Volski. “But the concert was banned by the authorities.” With the support of the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk the band organised a unique and therefore historic action. Those who obtained a ticket in Belarus were able to apply for a short-term-visa free of charge for the EU. All three concerts were quickly sold out. “I am from Brest”, said a young Belarusian student. “I have never been to the EU. So this trip made me really happy as you can imagine.” Sasha, a 40 year-old from Minsk, said that “the regime has become much more brutal in the past two years. There are people who want to change something. Therefore I came to the concert. I really appreciate the music of Krambambulya and the courage of the musicians to oppose the regime. I am not a hero but today I wanted to show Krambambulya my respect for their work.” During the first concert the Lithuanian rock star Andrius Mamontovas gave a surprise performance. Together with Volski he sang his hit “Jureivio Daina”.

During the first concert the Lithuanian rock star Andrius Mamontovas gave a surprise performance.

Photo by: Vaidas Stackevicius

Among the concert-audience Lithuanian politicians and Belarusian intellectuals could be sighted. One of them was the former Belarusian presidential candidate Ales Michalevich who got detained on the 19th of December 2010 when 30.000 people protested election-falsifications in Minsk. After his release in February 2011 Michalevich escaped to Prague. The journalist Natallia Radzina was also in the audience. She lives in Vilnius since she escaped Lukashenkos regime. “To me”, Radzina commented, “the songs of Krambambulya have very personal and emotional meaning. One day during my time in prison I heard Krambambulya’s song ‘Absent’ when we had our daily walk on the prison’s courtyard.”

“Thank you”
The three concerts were massively followed and covered by independent Belarusian bloggers, media and journalists who reported about overwhelmingly positive reactions in relation to the exile-concerts. The blogg which is very popular among young Belarusians, titled “Lavon Volski made Vilnius our city”. The Komsomolskaya Paravda in Belarus brought the headline: “Lavon Volski outplayed ban of concerts in Belarus”. The radio-programme Euroradio which is based in the polish capital Warszaw even made Krambambulya responsible for the temporary blocking of the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Aleksandr Kulinkovich, singer of the blacklisted band Neuro Dubel, had been invited as a guest singer to the concerts. Because of the heavy traffic at the border he didn´t make it to his performance. Via Facebook and Twitter the band got dozens of positive messages from visitors of the concerts. “You are like Peter the Great”, wrote Igor Kremez. “You opened a window to Europe.” “Thank you” commented Aliaksandr Dzeshchanka. “Thank you that I had the chance to have a look at how our neighbours live.” The state-controlled media didn’t mention the concerts in their coverage at all which is an ordinary way of the regime to withhold the existence of such groups like Krambambulya.

Photo by: Vaidas Stackevicius

Cry for freedom
In the first part of the show the seven piece band presented all twelve songs of their new album. Volski has found folksongs from Germany, Lithuania, Croatia or Sweden, translated them into Belarusian and arranged them into hard-grooving punk rock versions. The second part of the show was a run through older hits like ‘Goscy’ (Guests) or ‘Mama daragaya’ (Beloved Mum). As an encore the band performed the song ‘Three Turtles’ which is originally a song Volski wrote for his former band N.R.M.. The song became an anthem of the independent cultural movement in Belarus. At the end of the concert, when the band finally intoned the famous guitar-riff of the song, the audience started jumping and shouting as if they wanted to make Belarus hear their cry for freedom – their longing for change.

The white-red-white flag abolished in 1995

Photo by: Ingo Petz


Lavon Volski, outspoken front man of Krambambulya

Photo by: Vaidas Stackevicius

Listen to Krambambulya:

Krambambulya on MySpace

‘Lavon Volski has made Vilnius our city’ – 30 April 2012:
‘”Krambambulya” fans “block” Belarusian-Lithuanian border’

Go to top
Related reading