Belarus banned from Eurovision 2021 for ‘overly political’ anti-protest songs

Belarus has been banned from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest over its choice to submit political anti-protest songs.

Set to take place in Rotterdam on May 18, Belarus will no longer be permitted to take part.

The country has long since been cracking down on anti-government protests, which have been taking place against president Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko’s divisive regime has been criticised by the EU and US for its repression and violence against protestors – some of whom accused him of rigging last year’s election to extend his 27-year rule.

And now Belarus have attempted to repeatedly submit "anti-dissent" songs, selected by Belarusian public service broadcaster BTRC.

Dubbed I Will Teach You, the track included the lines "I’ll teach you to walk on a string / You will be happy about everything… I will teach you to toe the line”, which was deemed to have included “subliminal political undertones and meanings".

And a second song due to be performed by the band Galasy ZMesta – who are renowned for making fun of anti-government protesters – was also said to be overly political.

Belarus was given the choice of rewriting the song, finding another entry or facing disqualification.

But they refused and have now been booted from the contest entirely, with director general of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) Noel Curran saying a stand had to be taken against Belarus.

He said the EBU’s stance was there in order to ensure that public service broadcasting remains impartial, but that the decision was not made lightly.

"We consulted externally as well as having our own concerns and decided to ban them or prohibit them taking part this year," Curran explained.

"It’s tricky, you know, monitoring songs for political messages, for political messaging is tricky.

"This one we felt was quite clear, and particularly given what’s happening in Belarus, against the background of what has happened since the elections last year.

"But it’s not an area to jump into because once you set precedents around this, you know you could have everyone complaining about everybody else next year."

In 2019, Belarus entered ZENA, who performed Like It, and placed 24th.

Last year, the entire contest was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This isn’t the first time a country has been asked to rewrite song entries – in 2009, Georgia was asked to change the lyrics to We Don’t Wanna Put In, as people feared ‘put in’ was a reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

They refused, and withdrew entirely from that year’s competition.

And Armenia had to change the title of its song Don’t Deny in 2015 after Azerbaijan and Turkey claimed the lyrics were a reference to their denial of the Armenian genocide.

The song eventually became known as Face the Shadow.

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But political songs have been permitted to slip under the net in the past.

Though official rules ban "lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature", Ukraine defeated Russia in 2016 with Jamala’s song 1944, which was about Stalin’s enforced wartime deportation of Tatar people to Central Asia.

The song included the lyrics: "When strangers are coming… They come to your house / They kill you all and say / We’re not guilty, not guilty."

And according to academic experts, Estonia’s win in 2001 meant they could revamp their post-Soviet image.

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