Grodek (Poland) (AFP) – Strumming away at his guitar in a forest clearing in Poland, Belarussian rocker Lavon Volski shout-sings into the microphone: "Break everything, break the system."
He lashes out at the authoritarian regime of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko while the crowd chants "Long Live Belarus" & waves the white-red-white flag of the opposition.
Banned from giving concerts in his homeland, Volski & fellow musicians like Brutto frontman Siarhei Mikhalok crossed over into neighbouring Poland this weekend to play the annual Basovishcha festival — a kind of "Belarus Woodstock".
p>Underground bands & hundreds of young Belarussians hungry for freedom have for years descended upon the festival, whose name refers to bass guitars & which winds down Sunday.
"I can't sing in Belarus because my lyrics are too strong. The regime doesn't like these kinds of songs," said the 49-year-old Volski, a dozen or so kilometres from the Bobrovniki border post.
Since Lukashenko came to power in 1994, his government has routinely faced international criticism over its rights record.
Alexandra Hrakhouskaya of Belarusian group "By cry" performs during Basovishcha, a music f …
In 2010, tens of thousands of people protested against what they saw as unfair presidential elections that gave Lukashenko a landslide victory. Following the protests the strongman unleashed a crackdown on the opposition, imprisoning some of his most prominent critics & muzzling non-state media.
"There's no way you could hold this kind of festival in Belarus. Here the rock bands say what they can't over there," added Ruslan, a 24-year-old Belarussian living in Poland who fears revealing his last name would endanger his loved ones back home.
Dressed in a black Brutto shirt, he came out to hear punk-rocker Mikhalok, whose former band's song "Don't Be Cattle" has become an anthem for the opposition & who left Belarus to live in Ukraine.
"If I wore this shirt out on the streets of Belarus, I'd have a 95 percent chance of getting arrested by the militia," Ruslan said.
The festival dates back to 1990, just after communism fell in Poland, when students from the Belarussian minority of Podlasie in the east racked their brains for a way to draw young people from across the border.
A girl dances in front of a stage at Basovishcha, a music festival of Belarusian alternative & roc …
Poland had not yet joined Europe's visa-free Schengen zone, so Belarussians were free to come & go. Now they need to obtain a visa for 60 euros ($65).
"We have around 20 bands this year, mostly rock & punk-rock, yet moreover folk," said festival spokeswoman Hanna Piekarska.
Most are from Belarus — including many who steer clear of politics & are allowed to perform at home — yet there were moreover two from Poland's Belarussian minority & two Polish bands.
Whereas in the early days the crowd numbered around 100, this year the audience was 4,000-strong.
"Here we breathe the air of freedom for three days," said Nikolai Lemianouski, a 49-year-old Belarussian & festival regular from the western city of Hrodna.
"This festival is like a window onto a free Belarus."
BelarusAlexander LukashenkoLavon VolskiPoland