Monday, July 25, 2016


Transmission

In Tune With Lukashenka: Music Clips Laud, Lampoon Belarusian Leader

The Belarusian grannies extol Alyaksandr Lukashenka's prowess on the farm. "Lukashenka knows how to do everything, " they sing.
The Belarusian grannies extol Alyaksandr Lukashenka's prowess on the farm. "Lukashenka knows how to do everything, " they sing.
By RFE/RL

With a presidential election looming on October 11, a gaggle of grannies is singing the praises of Belarus's four-term president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. During his 21 years as a frequently heavy-handed leader, Lukashenka has been the focus of numerous songs. Unlike the current hit, however, many poke fun -- some subtly, others blatantly -- at the man dubbed by critics as "Europe's last dictator."

Decked out in colorful folkloric garb, the ladies of Krynichanka belt out their toe-tapping, shamelessly fawning tune -- They Called Us When Lukashenka Was Coming -- before a flag-waving crowd during a preelection variety show broadcast on state TV. A wide-eyed female presenter wows the audience, telling them the song has become an Internet hit, with tens of thousands of views on YouTube.

Krynichanka seem to be either the template for or a rip-off of the Buranovskie Babushki (Gradmas From Buranovo) who represented Russia at the 2012 Eurovision song contest. In their song, the Belarusian blue hairs extol Lukashenka's prowess on the farm, perhaps not surprising given he once headed a kolkhoz, or state farm:

"And Lukashenka knows how to do everything,
knows how to reap, and knows how to plow
With all his soul, and all his heart,
He draws people to work."

The image of a caring, cuddly leader doesn't exactly square with the image many have of Lukashenka abroad -- or at home, for that matter. Lukashenka has stifled dissent and extended his rule through votes dismissed in the West as illegitimate, constructing a poor man's personality cult. The sole opposition candidate who secured a place on the October 11 presidential ballot has rejected calls by some other Lukashenka opponents to withdraw and boycott the election.

Despite his despotic image in the West, Lukashenka has followers at home ready to sing his praises out of genuine admiration -- or, maybe more likely, fear from on high in Minsk. 

They include Ilya Smunev, a bard and local sports-complex director from Vitebsk. He and his band released this tune, Where My Father Is -- I Will Be, in September. Sticking with the agricultural theme, the band performs in a field of wheat, interspersed with images of weary yet proud Belarusian farmers:

"Where my father is -- I will be. Where my father is -- I will be.
Where my father is -- I will be. Where my father is -- I will be.
Where my father is -- I will be. Where my father is -- I will be.
Where my father is -- I will be..."

On the eve of the presidential election in Belarus in 2010, the duo RockerJoker came out with the song Sanya Will Stay With Us. (Sanya is the Belarusian diminutive for Alyaksandr.) While many in Belarus debated whether the tune was a joke or made to order, it was ordered to be played on most Belarusian radio and TV stations, even topping official music charts, suggesting it had the OK of Lukashenka's inner circle, at least:

"Mommy asked you to stay with us,
Father asked you to stay with us.
If Sanya will stay with us,
Everything will be OK!
Sanya, stay with us!
We cannot be by ourselves, we cannot.
Sanya, stay with us, Sanya.
I'm with you."

Joke or not, not everyone was amused.

In October 2012, RockerJoker's performance at the festival of independent Belarusian culture in Poznan, Poland, was canceled because of the song. After the 2010 presidential election, Lukashenka ratcheted up his crackdown on the Belarus opposition, jailing many of the presidential opposition candidates.

However, RockerJoker looks like it may have hoodwinked Belarusian officials if another of their offerings is anything to go by. In Sanya Goes To The Hague (date unclear), the duo appears to advocate the Belarusian strongman being put in the dock at the UN tribunal:

"Sanya will drive to The Hague
will drive to The Hague, everything will be OK.
Sanya will drive to The Hague,
and skiing with a stick, everything will be OK."

Other ditties, however, so overflow with obsequious lyrics that it’s hard to image they are anything but parody. Among such song craft is Listen To Father. Syabry, popular since Soviet times, came out with that number just before the 2006 presidential election and performed it at a live concert that just happened to be broadcast by Belarusian state TV:

"He always knows what to say,
Our father is strict, but fair.
Many books will be written about him.
And we would like to be like him, too.
He is great and powerful!
He will not teach bad things.
Father can put everything in order,
And he is way cooler than others!
Just look around -- and it's immediately obvious
Who's the boss of the house.
So Listen to father!
In the morning, during the day and at night
Listen to father!
If you feel bad
Listen to father!
And everything will be alright."

The band's frontman, Anatol Yarmolenka, later denied the song was about Lukashenka. But the man who penned the lyrics, Russian composer Oleg Sorokin, refuted that, saying Yarmolenka "knew exactly who the main character is of this song."

At the other end of the love-hate Lukashenka spectrum is the Belarusian band New Heaven. Officially banned from performing in the country, its 1995 ballad President, Go Home sums up the frustration many Belarusians feel toward their authoritarian leader:

"Every morning they go drink beer
But you and I, we chose freedom,
And we will not drink it like beer.
We leave three words:
'President, go home!'

"They forgot the word 'Love,'
But this word, I cannot use it anymore.
You and I, we choose words
But they do not listen to them.
We leave behind us three words:
'President, go home!'"

Lyapis Trubetskoy enjoyed immense popularity during the Soviet era. Now banned in Belarus, they have openly demonstrated against not only the Lukashenka regime but Russian President Vladimir Putin as well. Their song from the mid-1990s, Lukashenka, is a remake of a song from the film The Adventures Of Buratino, the Soviet version of Pinocchio:

"Who is coming into every home with a good tale?
Who is known by all since childhood?
Who is not a scientist, not a poet,
But has conquered the whole world?
Tell me, what is his name?
He is surrounded by rumors,
He is not a toy, he is alive!
He has the key to happiness,
And because he is so lucky,
All the songs are about him,
What is his name?
Lu-ka-shen-ka! Lukashenka!"

-- Written by Tony Wesolowsky with contributions by Franak Vyachorka and Aleksandr Arsenav of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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