Since 1994, Belarus has been dominated with a tough hand by Aleksandr Lukashenko. After the fraudulent outcomes of the 2020 presidential election, a whole bunch of 1000’s took to the streets for months – to no avail. Now the regime has additionally settled accounts with the musical conscience of the protests: a three-member collective known as the Tor Band.
Behind closed doorways, the Belarusian judiciary took greater than a month and a half to ship its verdict on October 31. Frontman Dmitri Halavach, the band’s singer and guitarist, is sentenced to 9 years, Yauhen Burlo, the drummer, to eight years, and Andrei Yaremchyk, the bassist, to seven years and 6 months in jail. All three should additionally pay a wonderful of 100 minimal month-to-month wages.
The three had been imprisoned in Jail Quantity 3 within the metropolis of Gomel for nearly a yr. Yauhen can solely transfer round on crutches. He spent most of his time within the jail infirmary. The 32-year-old sound engineer was additionally recognized with an oncological illness. Packages with meals and drugs that volunteers delivered to the jail on behalf of the human rights group “Vjasna” (Spring) weren’t accepted.
Russian and Belarusian
The Tor Band sings in each Russian and Belarusian. The songs “Shive” – for “Shive Belarus” (Lengthy reside Belarus) – and “My Ne Narodets” (We’re not a mob), impressed by a press release by Lukashenko concerning the inhabitants, grew to become an integral a part of the protests within the scorching summer season of 2020 .
The main focus is on guitar rock, however the music additionally contains acoustic ballads, rap and pop songs. The Russian-language “Oechodi” (Go Away) is admittedly appropriate for a stadium. Within the first days of the protests, even the youngest Belarusians chanted: “Go away! In peace, quiet and serenity / Go away! We’ll discover folks worthy of us / Go away! That is the time of the courageous, not the cowards / Go away! It’s the will of Belarusians.”
“Batka” (father) – as Lukashenko is commonly known as by the state media – additionally speaks clearly: “I’ll by no means name the individual father / who let his canine free / on my mom and my little sisters / on my trustworthy brothers / the one who thought to be an enemy / the very best a part of my folks / who used weapons in opposition to flowers / won’t ever be my father”.
The three musicians come from Ragachow, a provincial city on the Dnieper within the east. When Belarus was nonetheless a Soviet republic, Ragachev, with its 32,000 residents, was thought-about rich. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most corporations closed. Younger folks moved to bigger cities akin to Homel, Mahilyov, Minsk or one of many Russian metropolises.
acquaintance of the band says: “Trendy Ragachow is a miserable and hopeless place. I believe that gave the boys the concept that one thing wanted to vary. I bear in mind how they talked about it from the stage earlier than the mass protests. They acquired loud applause. Her easy concepts struck a chord with all Belarusians.”
Dmitri, the singer, made his cash by taking pictures and filming weddings. Collectively together with his spouse Yulia, who additionally labored as a psychologist within the kindergarten, he based the primary photograph studio in Rahachow. Yauhen, the drummer, labored as a sound engineer on the native cultural middle till he was fired.
Performances in secret
After he was launched, they couldn’t discover anybody with equal expertise. Andrei joined in 2020. He changed the earlier bassist, who discovered every little thing too dangerous. A local of Vitebsk, he labored as a historical past instructor at a secondary faculty.
Though they have been already ignored by the state media, the band confronted doubly tough instances after the falsified 2020 elections. Solely secret appearances have been nonetheless attainable. Dmitri was not discouraged: “Some individuals are pessimistic. They inform me everyone seems to be afraid. However then I say: We’re nonetheless standing right here and speaking. The concert events we give now are for round 30 folks. These are occasions that the viewers by no means forgets.”
After the road protests have been lastly suppressed, the noose started to tighten across the opposition in Belarus. The judiciary had a free hand to take motion in opposition to the remaining dissenters. The final human rights organizations and impartial media have been banned throughout 2022. Lots of of journalists, activists and even odd residents disappeared behind bars.
Even in Russia, Belarusians have been discovered to have supported the protests. Kickboxing champion Alexey Kudin fled to Moscow after pushing cops at an illustration. He was arrested within the Russian capital and despatched again. He spent two years in a camp in Belarus.
Yana Pinchuk was arrested and extradited in St. Petersburg as a result of she took half in a chat concerning the protests from Russia. She was sentenced to 12 years in jail in her dwelling nation. The 26-year-old is housed underneath inhumane situations in jail #1 in Minsk.
On the finish of October 2022, Lukashenko’s repressive equipment discovered its means into the province. With nice fanfare, the three musicians have been arrested by particular police items. Throughout a home search, frontman Dmitri’s guitar was confiscated as proof. All the things was turned the wrong way up. The musicians have been charged with “membership in an extremist group” and “insulting ruler Lukashenko”. They have been additionally accused of fomenting “social hatred” with their songs.
A regional human rights activist managed to get his arms on some courtroom paperwork associated to the case. In December 2022, a decide accused Dmitri of an administrative offense: “The defendant produced and saved the audio materials ‘Rodnaya Tsiamlja’ utilizing a guitar with a case and strap with the intention to distribute it inside the extremist formation Tor Band, realizing full properly that the tune was already had been added to the nationwide checklist for extremist materials.”
The judiciary noticed Yauhen’s offense in his look within the video “Shive”: “Along with different musicians, the defendant had himself filmed on a meadow, utilizing drums, wood drumsticks, metallic stands and cymbals.” This recording was additionally thought-about extremist designated.
For the video shoot for “My ne narodets,” followers from everywhere in the nation have been requested to sing the refrain in entrance of cameras. The automobiles arrived in rows on the agreed location on the Dnieper. In the long run, solely the bravest gave permission to make use of the fabric. And never with out cause. After the musicians have been arrested in 2022, all the folks showing within the video have been visited by the police and several other authorized proceedings have been initiated.
Whereas the band members have been in custody, “My ne narodets”, which had been seen over one million instances, was faraway from the band’s official YouTube channel like all different movies. It was clearly little one’s play for the judiciary in Belarus to get prisoners at hand over their mobile phone, social media and YouTube login particulars.
I’ll by no means name the daddy / who let his canine free / on my mom and my little sisters
Lyrics of the tune “Batka” (Father) aimed toward ruler Aleksandr Lukashenko
In accordance with the pinnacle of the YouTube/Google press workplace, the platform itself didn’t intervene. Nonetheless, on the finish of March 2023, a request was comprised of the official channel to take away all Tor Band movies from different channels. YouTube complied, citing copyright infringement as the rationale. Since then, each new music video posted by the band has been instantly eliminated.
Yuri Stylski, a Belarusian punk legend, performed with the band a number of instances. He had beforehand fled to neighboring Poland due to an impending trial. In his hometown of Brest, he was among the many first to be arrested in August 2020. A crowd in entrance of the police station demanded the discharge of the well-known musician.
Stylski was despatched dwelling however needed to signal a protocol promising “by no means to protest once more.” He then gave secret concert events and recorded the tune “Busel” (Stork). In it he tells the story of a collision between the majestic fowl and the presidential helicopter over Minsk. Lukashenko falls to his demise and the stork turns into a nationwide hero.
“In a rustic the place folks haven’t any time for honest legal guidelines, that is the brutal actuality,” says Stylski. “Talking about human rights is equated with against the law. Individuals who sing about freedom of speech and democracy are sentenced to exorbitant punishments as in the event that they have been murderers. The members of the Tor Band are heroes of our time. And now these younger individuals are rotting in basements simply because they opened their mouths in the course of Europe.”