The long unrest in Belarus has had an impact on this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The organizers have excluded the country from competing for songs that have been found to have repeatedly violated rules that exclude political content.
The country’s original song entry, “Ya Nauchu Tebya” (I’ll teach you) by the band Galasy ZMesta, was criticized by opposition groups who claim that lyrics like “I’ll teach you to keep the line” endorsed President Aleksandr G Lukashenkos violence against protests against the government. Eurovision fans launched an online petition urging organizers to withdraw Belarus from the competition.
This month the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the international music spectacle, wrote to the Belarusian national broadcaster BTRC that the program was not eligible for participation in the musical talent show in the Dutch city of Rotterdam this May.
“The song calls into question the apolitical nature of the competition,” said the broadcasting union’s statement.
Belarus was given the opportunity to submit a modified version of the song or a new melody. After evaluating the replacement, the union issued a further statement on Friday evening that “the new submission is also against the rules” and that Belarus will be disqualified.
Belarus was ravaged by large-scale protests for weeks last year after Mr Lukashenko won a landslide victory in a sham election for many Western governments in August. His security forces then brutally cracked down on mass demonstrations.
Both songs, which the Eastern European nation submitted for Eurovision this year, have been criticized because they were viewed by many as texts and images close to the government. The band performing the songs, Galasy ZMesta, also found something on their website that could be interpreted as an anti-protest message. Targeting people who are “trying to destroy the land we love and live in,” she added, “We cannot remain indifferent to them”.
The rules of Eurovision state that the event is non-political and that “no texts, speeches, gestures of political, commercial or similar nature are allowed in the competition”.
Belarus started participating in Eurovision in 2004 and has hired one participant every year since then. So it knew what it was doing when it entered songs with political news, said Oliver Adams, correspondent for Wiwibloggs, a widely read website for Eurovision news.
Although the coronavirus pandemic stopped the 2020 Eurovision grand finale, more than 180 million people saw the competition in 2019. As the world’s longest-running annual television music competition, it has amassed a highly dedicated following of enthusiastic fans.
The competition, which began 65 years ago, cemented its place as a cultural phenomenon last year with a Netflix movie gently mocking its eccentricity and obsessive fandom.
It is rare for countries to be attracted to Eurovision for submitting tunes with political overtones, but it has happened before. Georgia submitted the song “We Don’t Wanna Put In” for the 2009 competition in Moscow, but the organizers turned it down because it contained obvious references to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, including the play on words in the song title. Georgia withdrew from the competition that year, but denied that the song contained “political statements”.
That year, Armenia also withdrew from Eurovision. The public broadcaster attributed the decision in part to the political consequences of the conflict with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
“This is not the first time political tensions have found their way into Eurovision,” said Mx. Adams, who uses the gender-neutral courtesy title instead of Mr or Mrs.
“These problems with the Eurovision outer bubble sometimes intrude into the competition,” he added, “but ultimately they will never break it apart.”