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Belarus bans gigs over ‘low artistic quality’. What does it mean?

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Photo: musicians who are banned to perform in Belarus

About 10 concerts were forbidden due to ‘low artistic quality’ in Minsk in the past few months. The musicians with totally different style ranging from the Russian rappers Face and Eljay to the world famous South African band Die Antwoord  were not allowed to perform in the capital city. Concert promoters are fed up with this situation. They have written an open letter to the Minsk City Executive Committee.  

“I faced the issue myself: I was not allowed to invite the Russian band Ekho Prokurennyh Podjezdov due to ‘low artistic quality,” owner of the bar “ili” Pavel Yurtesvich said. “I have read all their lyrics and have not found anything bad there. This is the usual music young people like to perform… Such vague explanations discomfort me. Laws are usually very clear. But the wording ‘low artistic level’ does not mean anything. Since they have started using it more often, we would like to clear up confusion.”

It makes no sense to keep swallowing the refusals – a dialogue with the authorities needs to be started, Yurtsevich reckons.

“We are orderly: we want to clear it up because it prevents us from working and executing the duties we accepted when opening our firms," Pavel says. Besides Yurtsevich, the appeal was signed by Syarhei Budkin, Maks Startsau, Uladzimir Plavinski, Alyaksandr Bahdanau, Ivan Selishchau and other concert organizers.

The organizers are asking officials to explain what legal norms define the ‘low artistic quality’ clause. They would also like to know what topics, terms, words, rhythm, harmony and lines need to be avoided in lyrics so that the artistic quality would not be perceived as ‘low.’

Syarhei Budkin. Photo: budzma.by

“I have already gone to court in connection with this issue,” one of the signees, Syarhei Budkin, says. He tried suing the Minsk City Executive Committee for cancelling Ales Dzyanisau’s concerts but the judge did not support him. Naturally, the situation is not normal since art commissions have exceeded all the possible limits. This is mere censorship – dozens of concerts got cancelled for no particular reason.”   

The unity of concert organizers may bring some results, he believes. However, his colleague, Director of BoPromo Alyaksandr Bahdanau, is not optimistic the problem can be solved quickly: a reply from the officials will only be the first step on a long road.

“I do not understand why AIGEL was forbidden to perform in Belarus. I organized their first concert in ‘Corpus’, Minsk. There are some moments you could pick on in their lyrics but you would need to try very hard to do it. We received permission back then,” Bahdanau said. “However, their concert has been forbidden now. I was not the only person trying to organize the concert so the organizer is not the reason for it. The band is the problem. However, there is absolutely nothing bad in the album they wanted to present in Minsk. There is no bad language or abusive content. Maybe psychedelic electronic music was too much for some commission member.”

Who could it be? Was it the head of the show-ballet “Feeria”, the heads of “MisnkConcert”, Variety Theatre, Youth Theatre or three Minsk City Executive Committee officials who make up the artistic commission?

The term ‘low artistic quality’ is unacceptable all the more so in legal wording. “Low artistic quality” is a term that depends on people’s mood, emotions and point of view.

According to the Law on Citizen’s Appeals, the Minsk City Executive Committee must reply within 15 work days. We will be waiting.