Repression against musicians of Belarus
“OPEN LETTER from Belarusian musicians
We, musicians of Belarus, feel it necessary to express our concern about the pressure we have already been experiencing for almost two months since July 21, 2004. On that day, we (the bands Palac, Drum Ecstasy, Neuro Dubel, N.R.M., ZET, Pomidor/OFF and Zmicier Vajciuskievič) performed at a concert to coincide with Aleksandr Lukashenko’s 10 years in power. We wish particularly to emphasise that this rally and concert at Minsk’s Bangalore Square was officially permitted by the authorities. The next day, however, we had already begun to suffer the consequences of our participation.
Our concerts are being cancelled at the last moment on various far-fetched pretexts, or are banned altogether. Television and radio station personnel have told us repeatedly of the existence of a ban on mentioning the musicians involved in the Bangalore Square concert in the state press, or playing their songs on state electronic media (TV channels First National, LAD, STV and ONT, plus National Radio 1 and 2, Radius FM, Pilot FM, Radio Minsk and Novoe Radio). The management of commercial radio and the country’s only private First Musical TV Channel have also been pressurised. It is not difficult to find this out for yourself; it’s enough just to call any of the FM stations listed and ask them to play a track by one of the “disgraced” bands – they will refuse.
We feel as if our hands have been tied, we have been stood on tiptoes, and a noose has been placed around our necks. Apparently we haven’t been hanged yet, but you can’t call it a life. Therefore we wish to make the following statement:
1. We are not the opposition, but maintain a civic position – we wish to live and work freely in our own country.
2. We are law-abiding citizens who obey the law even when it is directed against us. However, we have now come up against the “telephone law” of Soviet times, and wish to know on what grounds we are being banned, and what exactly we have contravened.
3. We are concerned by steps the Belarusian authorities are taking against contemporary music. We know that the Ministry of Culture is currently drafting a new regulation according to which all concert participants will have to be approved (or “vetted”, as it was known under the Soviet system) before any performance. It is only a question of time before the Belarusian Council of Ministers passes this regulation. Some sort of jury will then be authorised to ban concerts by Belarusian artists. We feel these measures to be illegal and contradictory to the principles of freedom of speech.
4. We are appealing to people who care about the current situation to send e-mails in support of the musicians to email@example.com, and write to state officials at the following addresses to ask “Why are the bands being banned?”
Minister Leonid Pavlovich Gulyako
Minister Vladimir Vasilyevich Rusakevich
5. We request media workers to carry out a journalistic investigation to find answers to the questions: who contacted Belarusian radio stations and gave the order not to allow musicians involved in the July 21 rally onto the air; who is now banning these bands from holding concerts, and on what grounds? If no such ban exists, then we wish to be told so officially. We would then kindly ask you to publish your findings.
6. We plan to set up a Belarusian Musicians’ Union to unite us in our common fight and support young bands who are facing problems organising concerts. We are calling on everyone who stands with us in our desire to live and work in Belarus to join in our initiative.
In addition to the letter, please find below a timeline of events which give us grounds to believe that a ban on the aforementioned bands is already in force:
July 21, 2004 – the bands Palac, Drum Ecstasy, Neuro Dubel, N.R.M., ZET, Pomidor/OFF and Zmicier Vajciuskievič perform at an officially-authorised Belarusian opposition event dedicated to Aleksandr Lukashenko’s 10th anniversary of rule.
July 22 – the day after the rally, all members of the folk band Palac are fired from the Belkontsert organisation, where they had been working for the past four years. The official reason for their dismissal is that the band’s concerts only attract small audiences. However, members of Palac have declared this statement to be untrue.
July 26 – the newspaper Respublika withholds an interview with the band Drum Ecstasy dating from July 10. Respublika’s editor-in-chief personally vetoes the material, telling the journalist that “.to work for a paper like this, one must be politically correct and know who to interview”.
July 30 – an interview with Drum Ecstasy filmed on July 26 is not broadcast on STV. The journalists mention a ban on showing or mentioning Drum Ecstasy, Neuro Dubel, N.R.M., Palac, Pomidor/OFF and Zmicier Vajciuskievič on the air.
July 30 – an ONT film crew is refused its request to film a piece about Drum Ecstasy recording music for the film “The Night Patrol” (“Nochnoy Dozor”).
August 3 – an article about the radio ban on music by Belarusian bands is published by the newspaper Byelorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta.
August 20 – a representative from the concert department at one radio station informs Drum Ecstasy that they can no longer work together or invite them to advertising events or concerts due to persistent demands from state bodies in charge of organising mass events.
August 21 – during a private conversation, an ONT representative confirms the existence of such a document.
August 23 – broadcasting of music by the aforementioned bands is stopped. According to DJs, their music has been deleted from the stations’ servers.
August 23 – during a private conversation, an STV representative confirms that the channel’s editors are in possession of lists of bands and artists now banned from broadcast by state TV and radio channels.
August 26 – Drum Ecstasy is informed by the organisers of events for September 11, 2004 (Minsk City Day) that Ministry of Culture officials have removed them from all lists of pre-planned concerts.
In late August, concerts by the band Krama are banned in the cities of Grodno and Brest, as well as around the Brest region.
August 27 – Drum Ecstasy is informed that their appearance at an LG advertising event will not take place because city council representatives have insisted that the group be removed from the festival billing.
August 27 – a concert at Blindage Club by Pomidor/OFF, ZET and Garadzkija is cancelled following a call from the Ministry of Culture, just a few hours before it is due to begin.
September 1 – Aleksandr Pomidorov is dismissed as presenter of STV’s “Tekhnologiya” programme, and has still not been given any official reasons for it.
September 3 – the editor of the 5Х5 programme is banned from inviting Drum Ecstasy onto a programme about the film “The Night Patrol”. Around the same time, 5Х5’s programme editors are recommended to stop filming a piece on Aleksandr Pomidorov.
September 10 – a Lad TV journalist is not allowed to invite Drum Ecstasy onto a programme about the film “The Night Patrol”.
September 15 – Drum Ecstasy’s performance at the opening of a charity exhibition “Vodka and Fishtails” does not take place due to insistent requests from Minsk city council.
Using his own funds, Zmicier Vajciuskievič has been attempting to record his new album at the state television studios, but is still unable to do so. When asked questions, Belarusian TV workers lower their eyes shamefully and do not answer yes or no.
September 17 – Minsk city council’s cultural and internal affairs departments bans Palac, Krama, Neuro Dubel, N.R.M. and Zmicier Vajciuskievič from participating in the “Musicians in support of Musicians” event, which also features Vyacheslav Butusov (leader of the famous Russian band Nautilius Pompilius).”
N.R.M – one of the bands behind the open letter