Belarussians Rock against Lukashenko in Poland
Unable to perform freely in their authoritarian homeland, half a dozen bands from Belarus are rocking against the regime at a music festival in Poland near the border with their country.
"This is a unique festival, where bands can sing in Belarussian and not in Russian and shout out 'Long live free Belarus'," Hanna Piekarska, spokeswoman of the annual BASowiszcza festival, told Agence France Presse by telephone as the two-day event got under way Friday.
Launched in 1990 by the BAS -- a student association from Poland's ethnic-Belarussian community -- the annual festival is held near the northeastern village of Grodek, just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the border.
It has acquired an increasingly political flavor as an outlet for protest against President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled ex-Soviet Belarus with an iron fist since 1994.
His hardline regime has clamped down on its opponents, and use of the Belarussian language has been restricted in public life in favor of Russian.
The Belarussian groups on this year's bill cover a swathe of genres, and include fiercely anti-Lukashenko icons such as punks Neuro Dubel, funk-rappers IQ48, folk hardcore band Terrakod and post-grunge proponents BN.
Polish groups also traditionally turn out for BASowiszcza, with the current edition boasting ragga sextet Raggafaya and veteran punks Farben Lehre.
The festival draws some 6,000 fans a year, mostly young Belarussians -- though getting there is not simple, as Poland and Belarus lie either side of the European Union border.
"If there was no requirement to get a visa to come to Poland, there'd be plenty more fans coming to the festival," Piekarska claimed.
"For young people, spending 60 euros ($73) for a visa is really expensive," she added.
The Polish government is one of the backers of the festival, giving a 90,000-zloty (21,000-euro, $26,225) grant this year.
Poland is a vocal critic of Lukashenko, taking in activists who have fled Belarus.
It also funds the Belsat TV satellite station to beam uncensored news over the border, and Radio Racja, which gives airplay to anti-Lukashenko music.