Joint press release of Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights and the Audiolith Records about the musician and political prisoner Igor Bancer (Ihar Bantsar). Update 19 March: Igor Bancer was released from prison. He was sentenced to 1.5 years penal work (“Khimiya”). He is free until his appeal hearing, but is not allowed to leave Belarus.
Igor Bancer, musician and cultural networker, is one of the current 287 political prisoners in Belarus, submitted to an unfair, political process. He has been on a dry hunger strike since the start of his trial on 3 March. We fear that an extraordinary voice of the European cultural scene is going to be silenced.
Bancer, a member of the Polish minority in the west of Belarus, has studied in Poland and acted as spokesperson for the association of the Polish minority in Belarus which is regularly under the regime’s scrutiny.
Multiple and close connections to Hamburg
As frontman of the legendary Belarusian street punk band Mister X, he is an important cultural bridge maker for the European punk music scene. He supports the development of the Belarusian alternative music scene – for instance by promoting the first female punk band of the country or bringing Belarusian musicians to Western countries. In turn, he introduces Western bands to Belarus, organizing concerts and tours. “Many German and European musicians found access to Belarus and its cultural scene through Bancer”, says Lars Lewerenz, managing director at Hamburg-based Audiolith Records, which produces Bancer’s records.
Bancer’s outspoken progressive views, including his stance against homophobia, have often caused a stir not only in Belarusian official circles, but also in his own subculture. His tireless commitment to freedom of speech and the fight against discrimination and oppression have now brought him into prison. He was arrested in October 2020 on charges of hooliganism in after dancing in front of a police car in his underwear, was recognised as a political prisoner by the influential Belarusian NGO Viasna. His trial began on 3 March 2021, to which he responded by announcing a dry hunger strike. The trial’s progress has been artificially delayed time and again, while Bancer’s life is on the line.
His colleagues from Hamburg are utterly worried: “The way we know Igor, his threat to hold on through the end is serious. We therefore call upon all those who care about European cultural exchange to raise their voice and use their influence to establish Igor’s immediate release”, says Lewerenz.
“Bancer’s bridge-building across the borders between East and West has become an indispensable part of the alternative music scene. His voice must not be silenced in Belarus and Europe. His actions draw attention to the situation of many political prisoners in Belarus, the face-like trials, the absurd accusations and the disproportionate sentences. His political persecution must be stopped now. As all the political prisoners, he must be released immediately and unconditionally”, demands Imke Hansen, Vice Chairwoman of Libereco.
Frontman of the street punk band “Mister X”
Bancer grew up as a member of the Polish minority in Grodno, in the far west of Belarus. As a teenager, he began to get involved in civil society. During his International Relations studies at the University of Warsaw, he promoted human rights and democratization in Belarus. After his return, he became involved with the Polish minority in Belarus that was viewed critically by the regime. He worked as an editor of two Polish diaspora newspapers became the Association of Poles in Belarus’ chairman.
As frontman of the legendary Belarusian street-punk band “Mister X”, he established a tight network of contacts in various European subcultures and became a central figure in a niche of European cultural exchange. His mission was to bring together people, and especially musicians, from different corners of Europe. He organized countless concerts in Grodno and arranged entire tours to Minsk and other cities throughout Eastern Europe for Western-European bands. . “His historical-cultural city tours of Grodno are legendary, and he makes sure that no guest musician misses out on this experience,” recollects Lars Lewerenz, of Audiolith Records.
Igor Bancer has a special relationship with Hamburg. With his band “Mister X” he released several records with the Hamburg-based record label Audiolith Records. He is an ardent St. Pauli supporter and visited the Millerntor stadium many times. He played concerts in the fan rooms and on the alternative stage of the port’s anniversary (Hafengeburtstag). Recently he asked to be sent a St. Pauli sweater to prison.
Active far beyond the borders of Belarus
Bancer discovered and promoted the first Belarusian riot girl band, “Messed Up”, and helped the young women form a punk band, then something very unusual for Belarus, and organized their first concerts and tours. He even arranged a record deal with Audiolith Records, where the band released their first album in 2019.
Even as the spaces for alternative culture in Belarus shrank, Bancer remained active. He organized festivals with several bands from abroad under challenging conditions, such as the latest one, a big concert in Minsk on 6 March 2020, with musicians from three different countries and guests from all over Europe. Only Corona led to temporarily stop his public performances – even if the state did not restrict concerts. Instead, he streamed and broadcast online.
He and his bandmate produced the video podcast “Neonunderground”, where they eloquently criticized homophobia in the Russian skinhead scene. Shortly before his imprisonment, he sent a song to Hamburg, which appeared on a solo sampler for political prisoners’ families in February.