Eurovision has banned Belarus from entering a song to this year’s contest called I’ll Teach You, which appears to mock protesters who have taken to the streets against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
The song, performed by the five-piece group Galasy ZMesta, was chosen by Belarus’s national broadcaster to compete in the Netherlands in May, rather than by a public vote as other entries have been in recent years.
Galasy ZMesta have been vocal supporters of the Lukashenko regime, writing on their website that they “cannot remain indifferent” while protesters were “trying to break up the country we love and in which we live”. The frontman, Dmitry Butakov, a former military translator, has said he has a “Soviet” mentality and still finds it hard to accept the collapse of the USSR.
Mass protests broke out in the former Soviet state last summer when Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 26 years, claimed victory in a rigged election. At one point the demonstrations seemed set to topple the regime, but police responded with a violent crackdown, torturing arrested demonstrators and forcing opposition figures into exile.
Butakov described the Russian-language song as satirical and said it did not address the protest movement openly. But the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which runs the competition, said there was a political undertone to lyrics such as “I’ll teach you to walk on a string / You will be happy and glad about everything … I will teach you toe the line”.
In a statement, the EBU said it had “carefully scrutinised” the entry to ensure it complied with the rules of the rules of the competition, which bans political statements. “It was concluded that the song puts the non-political nature of the contest into question.”
The EBU said Belarus would have to rewrite the song, find another entry, or face disqualification.
The statement came as Belarusian officials said they had completed their investigation into Sergei Tikhanovsky, the husband of the opposition leader-in-exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was jailed last May after he announced his intention to stand against Lukashenko for the presidency.
He faces up to 15 years behind bars on charges of inciting mass unrest, following the jailing of a number of other activists and journalists.
I’ll Teach You is not the only entry to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest to have caused controversy. In Cyprus, the Orthodox church has demanded the country withdraw the song El Diablo by Elena Tsagrinou, which it said promoted Satanic worship.
Russia’s selection of the Tajik-born singer Manizha to represent the country with Russian Woman, meanwhile, provoked a xenophobic backlash online, with some claiming a television vote had been rigged. Other conservative elements in Russia criticised Manizha’s support for LGBTQ rights.
Songs have banned from Eurovision before because of political content. In 2009, shortly after a war with Russia, Georgia was blocked from entering We Don’t Wanna Put In, a barely veiled reference to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Georgia refused to change the lyrics and withdrew from the competition.