Pop Musicians and People's Leaders: The Case of Aliaksandr Lukashenka

  • Datum: –17.00
  • Plats: IRES Library, Gamla torget 3, 3rd floor
  • Arrangör: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES)
  • Kontaktperson: Mattias Vesterlund
  • Seminarium

The irreplaceable President of Belarus, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, can be complimented on providing a constant inspiration for the song writers at home and abroad, ever since his first election to the post in 1994. There are dozens of songs about him, often written not only by Belarusian but also by Russian musicians, in either Russian or Belarusian. These songs belong to a wide range of genres, from folk (‘Lukashenko luchshe v mire net’ by Krynichan’ka, 2015) and estrada (‘Nash prezident’ by Natal’ia Montik, 2008) to rock-n-roll (e.g. ‘Lukashenko rok-n-roll’ by Dmitrii Chernus’, 2006), rap (‘Daite gazu’ by Il’ich, 2011) and punk (‘Tvoi bats’ka fashyst’ by deviAtion, 2009). The songs can broadly be divided into three categories: pro-Lukashenka, anti-Lukashenka and ambivalent. The satirical and critical mood numerically dominates, especially in the songs by Russian authors (such as Murzilki International), whose peak seems to coincide with Dmitrii Medvedev’s relatively liberal presidency and Lukashenka’s 2010 reelection, when it was possible, publicly and with impunity, to criticize Lukashenka in the Russian media, often as a proxy figure for Russian domestic issues. 

As for Belarusian songwriters, their approach to Lukashenka as a subject seems to be largely determined by evolutionary concerns, given that music in general originates from the depth of mankind’s history as a powerful survival mechanism (e.g. distracting people from negative emotions, uniting people in front of danger and earning a substantial cultural and/or monetary capital for the songwriters). For authors living under a kind of modern-day autocracy (or illiberal democracy), a short-term survival strategy would be praising the country’s ruler, while a long-term survival strategy would be undermining the ruler (even at a risk to the author’s individual wellbeing, for the sake of the happiness of future generations). The first strategy results in complimentary songs, while the second, in the critical ones.

The third (ambivalent) strategy – undermining the ruler by ostensibly praising him/her – is also evident in Lukashenka’s case but does not appear to be widespread, possibly because, being a reasonably safe option for the songwriter, it proves to be fairly confusing for the audience.  A brief comparison of the main trends in the songs about Lukashenka with those about Lenin, Stalin and Putin will also be made.

Andrei Rogatchevski is Professor of Russian Literature and Culture at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. His latest book is A War of Songs: Popular Music and Recent Russia-Ukraine Relations (ibidem 2019; co-authored with Arve Hansen, Yngvar Steinholt and David-Emil Wickström).