Copenhagen, Denmark – 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 European Union and Russia,
where freedom of information and expression have become the unrelenting victims
in an increasingly destructive battle for political control.
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 Lukashenko 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.
Freemuse, Copenhagen, 2007
ISSN: 1601-2127. 88 pages.