Laibach is causing controversy again, and that no less than 43 years after its creation. A few days ago, the Slovenian avant-garde band announced a concert in Kyiv, the capital of war-torn Ukraine, on March 31. The event has since been canceled by the organiser. The reason: Laibach's controversial statements about the war, which went down the wrong way with many Ukrainians.
The performance in Kyiv was supposed to be a big stunt, which referred to similar actions by Laibach in the past. In 1995, Laibach performed in besieged Sarajevo twice, promising to bring NATO to Sarajevo. That was, of course, a reference to the arrival of NATO peacekeepers in Sarajevo, which coincided with the performances, but also to Laibach's then latest record, ‘NATO’, which, with reworked versions of (anti)war songs, denounced the wars in former Yugoslavia. In 2015, Laibach performed twice in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. The fact that a controversial group like Laibach could play in a totalitarian state caused a lot of commotion at the time. In recent years, Laibach has also tried to perform in Iran with a special program ‘Alamut’, based on a 1938 Slovenian book about the sect of the Assassins in Persia, drawing parallels with the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Iran has not yet approved the performance, but it has already been staged in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. We expect more information about this project this year.
When Laibach announced its performance in Kyiv, it also caused controversy, of course. Laibach has always aimed to question ideologies and politics in their art, sometimes provoking strong reactions. Several tankies accused Laibach of siding with the Ukrainian fascists with their actions. (Tankies is a name used for the people who defended the Soviet tanks in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the current context, the word is used for people who justify the Russian invasion or try to dismiss it as a response to Western provocations.)
The big problem is that Laibach itself has taken quite a few tankie positions since the start of the war. ‘Russia's security requirements were basic, justified and rational,’ the band said in a recent interview in the French magazine Technikart. The group has also reiterated on several occasions that the war is a proxy war between the United States and Russia, being fought on Ukrainian soil, and that NATO is also guilty of the war by expanding to the east. These are views that are not received with applause in Ukraine, and many Ukrainians had already announced on social media that Laibach is not welcome in their country.
Laibach tried to calm things down a few days ago with a new message to the Ukrainian public. Laibach stated that the action should be seen as support for Ukraine in the war. ‘We must stress here that some of our statements, which may not have been in line with your thinking, were never intended to offend you in any way or to diminish the importance of your just struggle. (…) To all those who doubt our views, let us therefore once again make it very clear that Russia is the main aggressor in this clash of destructive political and geostrategic interests. Russia's army illegally entered foreign territory with weapons and started this terrible war. Ukraine therefore has every right to defend itself and must defend itself by all means. We support you unconditionally in this’
It did not help. The organizer announced that the concert was cancelled. After all, part of the audience of the Bel Etage Concert Hall, where Laibach was programmed, remained categorically opposed to the arrival of the group. They found Laibach's statements too similar to Russian propaganda, which also portrays the war as a conflict with the West and NATO. Ukrainians do not appreciate being portrayed as puppets of the West, especially when they are fighting for survival. So no performance in Kyiv for Laibach, although the band still has other plans for this year, which we will continue to follow up.