When news broke that one of Belarus’ national finalists for Eurovision 2014 was disqualified, nobody was shocked. After all, Belarus has, by far, been one the most mercurial participants in the Eurovision Song Contest. With disqualifications, last-minute song changes, and presidential politics thrown into the mix, no Eurovision country compares to the Belarus’ fickle 11-year run.
On 5 November, the Belarusian Telegraph Agency reported that the list of 15 Belarusian national finalists had been trimmed down to 14. Fans noticed that Alexei Gross’ entry, “If I could do it all again” (listen on YouTube) had apparently already been performed live before. It was, no less, performed previously in the Maltese national final for 2011 and therefore disqualified. ESCWebs.net reports that Gross didn’t even know his song had already been performed.
This wasn’t the first time the Belarusian selection generated controversy, however. Let’s take a look at the history of Belarus’ contentious Eurovision national selections.
2005: Angelica Agurbash – “Love Me Tonight”
Belarus’ fickle nature began eight years ago in 2005, the year after this ex-Soviet country’s Eurovision debut. Model, actress, and singer Angelica Agurbash won the national final with the song “Boys and Girls” on 1 February of that year. A couple of weeks later, after hearing bad reviews of her song, Agurbash looked to two alternatives: “Show Me Your Love, Honey,” penned by Eurovision veteran Svika Pick (writer of Dana International’s winning hit “Diva”) and “Love Me Tonight” from Nikos Terzis and Nektarios Tirakis (the team behind Sakis Rouvas’ “Shake It”, that won third in 2004).
Reports say Belarusian broadcaster Belarusian Television and Radio Company (BTRC) wasn’t even notified that Agurbash was changing her song, and that the Belarus Ministry of Culture took over the selection process.
Eventually, Agurbash chose “Love Me Tonight”, which ended up not qualifying to the Final that year.
2010: 3+2 – “Butterflies”
While it took another five years before Belarus caused controversy again, 2010 brought in an entire new variable into the mix: politics.
After two years of back-to-back non-qualifications, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko was displeased with the way things were going. Lukashenko shanked BTRC and gave All-National Television (ONT), Belarus’ second channel, host the national selection instead. ONT then opened a call for either male soloist or a group of six female singers, but after the girl band thing fell through, ONT produced Musical Court, a program designed pretty much like a regular national final.
Everything ran according to plan, except for one major hitch: ONT was not a member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which is the main requirement to host a national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. ONT was still in the process of applying for EBU membership, and, according to this archive article from ESCToday, by running a national final and by using official Eurovision logos, ONT had even jeopardized their chances at membership.
ONT kept Musical Court running though, but backpedaled to say that it does “not necessarily” exist to find a song for Eurovision. And so the ball was back in BTRC’s court.
Meanwhile, after all the hubbub, BTRC internally selected group the song “Far Away” by the musical group 3+2, who, by the way, apparently got second place in Musical Court.
However, in the end, 3+2 eventually changed the song three days before the deadline to “Butterflies”, which had a completely different feel from “Far Away”‘s uptempo rhythm. Belarus qualified to the Eurovision Final but achieved a measly 24th place, just one away from the United Kingdom’s last-place finish with Josh Dubovie’s “That Sounds Good To Me”.
2011: Anastasia Vinnikova – “I Love Belarus”
After 2010’s comparatively successful internal selection, BTRC was keen on finding another song on their own. This time, they picked an extremely patriotic song from the pool of entrants. Anastasia Vinnikova’s “Born in Belorussia” (don’t miss the epic eyeroll at 0:33) was so overly patriotic with its proclamation of love for the Soviet Union that, just three days later, it was re-titled to “I Am Belarussian” and its lyrics slightly changed to a “more contemporary way of describing Belarus”.
All’s well that ends well, right? Apparently, not, as Vinnikova’s song was found to have been released too early and, therefore, disqualified.
It was back to the drawing board for Belarus, but the final product wasn’t too far from the original, bringing us the memorable “I Love Belarus” (got it deep inside)!
Still, despite Vinnikova’s nationalistic efforts, “I Love Belarus” fell short of qualifying to the Eurovision grand final.
2012: Litesound – “We Are the Heroes”
BTRC decided it was high time for the people to help select Belarus’ contestant for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Baku–but they may have decided too soon.
Eurovision fans erupted in protest after Alyona Lanskaya won the final for Eurofest 2012 in Minsk with the song “All My Life”, because, apparently, nobody in their right mind would vote for such a poor performance. Indeed, soon after the national contest ended, President Alexander Lukashenko personally started an investigation which found that the televote was rigged.
“Alyona Lanskaya should receive official apologizes,” said Lukashenko. “She suffered the most. She performed from her heart and did her best to win. But justice is justice. According to the criteria used in the contest, the winner is Litesound who should represent our country.”
Indeed, the golden ticket to Baku was handed to second placer Litesound with their song “We Are the Heroes”.
It doesn’t end there though. In true Belarus fashion, Litesound retooled their song with a more punk feel for the actual contest, much to fans’ consternation. The song suffered from the revision and ended up not qualifying to the final.
2013: Alyona Lanskaya – “Solayoh”
After Belarus’ dismal placement in the 2012 contest, it was back to Eurofest to choose a song for Europe. This time, a combined jury and televote would choose the winner, perhaps to avoid the previous year’s fiasco–and guess who’s back. Alyona Lanskaya avenged herself and won top marks from both televote and jury with her song “Rhythm of Love”.
A few weeks later, BTRC unsurprisingly revealed that Lanskaya could change her song. Reports came in of Lanskaya recording new music, at Abbey Road, no less, but fans were a bit peeved that a publicly-chosen song was up for revision. (Said fans probably weren’t used to Belarus’ flip-flopping.)
Eventually, it was revealed that Lanskaya was singing “Solayoh” at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö. Belarus finally got back into the grand final, where they placed in the middle at 16th.
At this point, who knows in which direction Belarus is taking us for Eurovision in Copenhagen. Will President Lukashenko be somehow involved in the process again? Will the winning performance at Eurofest ever see the light of the Eurovision stage? Time will only tell.
Eurofest 2014 will be held on 10 January. The list of participants can be found here.
Who are you rooting for to represent Belarus in Copenhagen? What do you think of this country’s rocky past when it comes to national finals? Tell us in our Belarus 2014 forum, or leave a comment below!