Freedom of musical expression in Belarus – report


Lemez Lovas and Maya Medich
‘Hidden Truths – Music, Politics and Censorship in Lukashenko’s Belarus’
Report no. 7 
Freemuse, Copenhagen, 2007
ISSN: 1601-2127.   88 pages.
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Translation of the report into Russian language:
СКРЫТАЯ ПРАВДА – Русский язык
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‘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.


Click to see pdf file
Cover of the report ‘Hidden Truths’. To get it in high resolution, click on the cover


Click to listen

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…

Click to see video presentation

  See the presentation by the authors of the report, Maya Medich and Lemez Lovas, at the third Freemuse World Conference   in Istanbul.


Listen to interview with a singer from Belarus
Click to listen Audio interview with ‘Bella’

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.


Click to listen to interview

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.”


Read more

For background on government attacks on the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, see:

Related reading:
Lavon Volski
Video interview with Lavon Volski, blacklisted guitarist and vocalist of the band Krambambula from Belarus
04 July 2012
Belarus: Longing for change
Due to blacklisting in their homeland, the Belarusian folk-rock band Krambambulya held three exile concerts in Lithuania to celebrate the release of their new album

16 May 2012


Belarus: Trial of pro-opposition singer-songwriter
Pro-opposition singers Ihar Simbirow and Dzmitryy Bartosik were arrested during an open-air performance near Minsk on 6 May 2012

08 May 2012


Belarus: Blacklisted band holds three ‘exile concerts’ in Lithuania
A blacklisted rock band from Belarus was refused permission to perform in Minsk and decided instead to move their concert location to neighbouring Lithuania

10 April 2012


Belarus: Concerts cancelled with short notice
A concert with Zmicier Vajcjushkevych at a café in Minsk was cancelled just three hours before it was supposed to have started in the evening of 22 November 2011

24 November 2011


Belarus: Prosecutor wants singer prosecuted for insulting the president
Singer Sergej Michalok is reportedly going to be sued by a Belarusian prosecutor for his remarks against president Alyaksandr Lukashenka

07 November 2011


Belarus: State radio reportedly bans politically sensitive song
State-controlled Belarusian Radio is reported to have banned a 25-year-old song titled ‘Peremen’ (‘Change’) by the rebellious Soviet rock musician Viktor Tsoi
29 July 2011
Belarus: List of banned actors and musicians published
Belarusian, Russian and British bands have been put on a “blacklist” of artists banned in Belarus state media, according to bloggers who published a scanning of the list
09 March 2011
Belarus: German band declared ‘a public enemy’
A governmental Council for Morality in Belarus has declared the German hard rock band Rammstein a threat to the state and wishes to ban an upcoming concert in Minsk

25 February 2010


Belarus: Bans cultivate opposition, says musician
Musician Ljavon Volski of the rock band N.R.M. have was asked if it is true that bans stimulate development of rock music

29 January 2008


Belarus: Musicians removed from 2004-blacklist
After a meeting between in Minsk on 21 November 2007, the musicians who were blacklisted in 2004 are now allowed to perform live and to be played on air in the radio

29 November 2007


Belarus & Ukraine: Musicians and fans stopped on their way to festival
On 22 September 2007, about 100 people and a bus with Belarusian musicians going to a rock festival in Ukraine were stopped by Belarusian police forces before entering Ukraine.

05 November 2007


Press release: ‘Hidden Truths’ Belarus report in Russian translation
Download PDF In Russian and English
27 September 2007
СКРЫТАЯ ПРАВДА Belarus report
Музыка, политика и цензура в Беларуси Лукашенко

24 September 2007


3rd Freemuse World Conference – report
Read all the speeches and testimonials from the 3rd Freemuse World Conference on music censorship, held in Istanbul in 2006

20 August 2007


Belarus: Fear of ban of rock band’s album launch
The popular Belarusian rock band Krama doubts if they will receive permission from authorities for the launch of their new album ‘Krama’, but the musicians are defiant to play

09 May 2007


Belarus: ‘Hidden Truths’ report appendix – audio and video
Online appendix to the Freemuse report on music censorship in Belarus, ‘Hidden Truths’, with links to and information about seven Belarusian songs – six audio files and one video

12 February 2007

Belarus: ‘Hidden Truths’ report appendix – song lyrics
Online appendix to the Freemuse report on music censorship in Belarus, ‘Hidden Truths’, with links to and information about seven Belarusian songs – six audio files and one video
12 February 2007
Maya Medich & Lemez Lovas: Music censorship in Belarus
Video with anthropologist Medich and musician and journalist Lovas who explained about music censorship in Belarus at the Third Freemuse World Conference in 2006
31 January 2007
Freedom of musical expression in Belarus – report
Freemuse turns its attention to Belarus – an authoritarian former Soviet country buffering the EU and Russia where many Belarusian rock musicians have been banned
23 January 2007

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