Organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest on March 11 rejected the entry submitted by Belarus and threatened the country with disqualification if it did not submit a modified version of the song or a new entry.
The song I'll Teach You by the band Galasy ZMesta has sparked a backlash for singing the praises of Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka with lyrics such as, "I'll teach you how to dance to the tune, I'll teach you to take the bait, I'll teach you to walk the line."
In announcing its decision to reject Belarus’s entry, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said the song would put the “nonpolitical nature” of the contest in question, and that “recent reactions to the proposed entry risk bringing the reputation of the ESC into disrepute.”
Lukashenka has faced nearly daily protests to step down since the country's presidential election on August 9 handed him another term despite charges the election was rigged.
More than 30,000 people have been arrested, hundreds beaten, and several people killed in the government crackdown on protesters.
Calls to kick out Belarus's entry to the annual Eurovision Song Contest had been growing in the run-up to the event in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam on May 18-22.
Belarus's national broadcaster, BTRC, on February 9 announced it had selected Galasy ZMesta to represent the country at the contest.
Galasy ZMesta has slammed the country's pro-democracy movement, writing on its website that the group could not stay "indifferent" while "political battles try to break the country we love and in which we are living."
The five-member group has backed Lukashenka, and its front man, Dzmitry Butakou, openly laments the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Butakov denied the song breached the competition's rules and said the EBU's decision was expected.
"They took the hockey world cup from us, and Eurovision is peanuts compared to that," Butakov told Reuters, referring to Belarus earlier being stripped as host of this year's world ice hockey championships.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
The BTRC had already caused a controversy when it chose Galasy ZMesta over the Belarusian duet VAL, which had been selected to represent Belarus last year before the 2020 competition was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
VAL were expected to represent Belarus this year, but the BTRC decided differently, announcing the two “lacked a conscience" after giving an interview critical of the state broadcaster and life in Belarus under Lukashenka's rule.
The Eurovoix News Service, a music news service with a focus on Eurovision, had also voiced shock over the choice of Galasy ZMesta, and stated it would limit its coverage of Belarus's participation at this year's event.
"The lyrics of the song support a government agenda that silences its citizens and imprisons its journalists for speaking out over basic human rights issues," it said in a statement issued on its website.
An online petition demanding Belarus be pulled from the competition had gathered more than 2,000 signatures.