The long-running unrest in Belarus has spilled over into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, with organizers ejecting the country from the competition for songs found to have repeatedly violated rules barring political content.
The country’s original song entry, “Ya Nauchu Tebya” (I’ll Teach You) by the band Galasy ZMesta, was criticized by opposition figures who assert that lyrics such as “I will teach you to toe the line” endorsed the President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on antigovernment protests. Eurovision fans started an online petition asking organizers to make Belarus withdraw from the competition.
This month the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the international musical spectacular, wrote to Belarus’s national broadcaster, BTRC, saying that the entry was not eligible to compete in the musical talent show in May this year in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.
“The song puts the nonpolitical nature of the contest in question,” the broadcasting union’s statement said.
Belarus was given an opportunity to submit a modified version of the song, or a new tune. But after evaluating the replacement, the union said in another statement on Friday evening that “the new submission was also in breach of the rules” and that Belarus would be disqualified.
Belarus was gripped for weeks by large-scale protests last year after Mr. Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in what many Western governments said was a sham election in August. His security forces then brutally cracked down on mass demonstrations.
Both songs that the eastern European nation entered for Eurovision this year came under criticism for what many viewed as pro-government lyrics and imagery. The band that performs the songs, Galasy ZMesta, was also found to have what could be interpreted as an anti-protest message on its website, taking aim at people who “try to destroy the country we love and live in,” and adding, “we cannot stay indifferent” toward them.
Eurovision’s rules state that the event is nonpolitical and that “no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political, commercial or similar nature shall be permitted” in the contest.
Belarus started competing in Eurovision in 2004 and has fielded an entrant every year since, so it knew what it was doing in entering songs that contained political messaging, said Oliver Adams, a correspondent for Wiwibloggs, a widely read site for Eurovision news.
Although the coronavirus pandemic halted Eurovision’s 2020 grand finale, more than 180 million people watched the contest in 2019. As the world’s longest-running annual televised music competition, it has amassed a highly dedicated following of excitable fans.
The contest, which started 65 years ago, cemented its place last year as a cultural phenomenon with a Netflix movie gently mocking its eccentricities and obsessive fandom.
Countries’ being pulled up for submitting tunes with political undertones in Eurovision is rare, but has happened before. Georgia entered the song “We Don’t Wanna Put In” for the 2009 contest that was held in Moscow, but organizers rejected it for containing obvious references to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, including the wordplay in the song title. Georgia withdrew from the competition that year but denied that the song contained “political statements.”
This year, Armenia also withdrew from Eurovision. Its public broadcaster attributed the decision in part to the political fallout from the conflict with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
“This isn’t the first time that political tension has found its way into the Eurovision-sphere,” said Mx. Adams, who uses the gender-neutral courtesy title in place of Mr. or Ms.
“These outer-Eurovision bubble problems do seep their way into the contest sometimes,” he added, “but ultimately they’re never going to break it apart.”