Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko may be looking forward to his country’s annual song festival, but Russia has persuaded Belarus to take a more active part in the war against Ukraine and the aggressors must focus on a new enemy – Ukrainian songs.

Belarus is about to start the qualifying stages of the “Slavianski Bazaar” festival – an international song contest, established in 1992, that brings together one-time Soviet countries to celebrate Slavic music.

Despite the lack of harmony in the region, the festival is scheduled to go ahead in July next year at its usual location of Vitebsk in Belarus.

The first round of the competition began on Nov. 1 and will end on Dec. 15.

While Belarus is selecting some good tunes it is also sending trainloads of ammunition and armored personnel carriers to assault Ukraine. Large numbers of mobilized Russian soldiers are also going to Belarus but not, I fear, to take part in the song competition.

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In fact, despite President Lukashenko’s enthusiasm for the event, the “Slavianski Bazaar” may not take place at all in 2023. Political leaders from “fraternal countries,” including Vladimir Putin, may have blessed the festival with their presence in the past, but I cannot see any political leaders taking this song contest seriously now.

Far from being full of melodies, the air above Belarus rings with the sound of military maneuvers. Ukraine is ready for any attack from its northern neighbor. Now that Lukashenko is singing in unison with Putin, that assault may happen soon.

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Meanwhile, on the Crimean Peninsula, war is being waged against a Ukrainian folk song called “Hey Hey Rise Up,” adapted by Pink Floyd (sans Roger Waters) and Ukrainian pop-star-turned-soldier Andriy Khlyvnyuk. Based on a 17th-century Cossack song, it was reworked in 1914 as “Hey in the Meadow the Red Guelder Rose” by composer and poet Stepan Charnetsky. It then became very popular among the Ukrainian rebels who fought against the Soviet regime both during the civil war of 1918-21 and after the Second World War.

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Recently, Khlyvnyuk and Pink Floyd’s modern version has been heard with increasing frequency in Crimea, and the Russian authorities are desperate to silence it.

In August, in the Crimean town of Shcholkine, a scandal broke out in the “Crab” karaoke bar over another Ukrainian song – “Wild Field,” by rapper Yarmak. One of the clients ordered the song and sang it into the microphone – as is normal in a karaoke bar. But afterward, the DJ was detained for ten days and the karaoke equipment was confiscated. The police also forced the owner of the bar, the DJ, and the client who sang the song to video-record repentant messages.

“Wild Fields” is an old Ukrainian Cossack name for the Donbas, and the song praises the way the Cossacks fought against their enemies.

This scandal became a discussion topic on central Russian TV, with propagandist Vladimir Solovyov calling for the “Crab” karaoke bar to be burned down, and the DJ and the singer to be imprisoned for five years each.

A few weeks later, the karaoke bar closed.

In mid-September, in the Crimean Tatar town of Bakhchysarai, the Arpat restaurant was closed down because wedding guests had danced to “Hey Hey Rise Up.” The wedding host and four guests were arrested. The Russian authorities have promised to find and punish anyone who dances to the song.

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The rantings of Russian patriots and propagandists have gone viral, increasing the song’s popularity. Recently two young Russian patriots from the peninsula – one of them Miss Crimea 2022, Olga Valeeva – posted a video on Instagram showing them sitting on a balcony, singing “Hey Hey Rise Up.” Both friends were immediately detained by the FSB. Valeeva was fined, and her friend was imprisoned for ten days.

The rhythm of the mobilization campaign in Russia is much slower than Putin would like. There are villages in Siberia from which all the men have fled into the forest, leaving no one to be called up into the army.

In Sakhalin, the ruling United Russia Party is trying to help the military with the arduous task of finding more soldiers. The head of the local branch of the party, Mikhail Shuvalov, said: “The government of the Sakhalin Region has reached an agreement with fishermen, and about nine tons of fresh-frozen fish have been allocated to Sakhalin Region – flounder, pollock, and chum… our volunteers, will bring five to six kilograms per person to the families of mobilized men.”

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Sakhalin has always been a fishing industry center. One can only wonder what must have happened to create a situation where families would consider exchanging their menfolk for a few kilos of flounder.

In the heated battles in the east and south of Ukraine, an ever-growing number of recently mobilized Russian soldiers – some from as far East as Sakhalin – are being captured by the Ukrainian army. These prisoners of war must be under considerable stress. Perhaps they would benefit from hearing a playlist of Ukrainian folk songs. Let them listen and calm down. They might even find themselves humming the catchy tune of “Hey Hey Rise Up” when they return home, after the war.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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