Soccer Fans in Belarus Call Putin a Dickhead, Get Arrested by KGB

You can drink at a soccer game, you can fight at one, and you can certainly swear at one — just don’t get political. That’s the message that Belarus’s government sent on Friday when the local KGB fined and arrested soccer fans at a qualifying match between Ukraine and Belarus for the 2016 European Championship ...

MAXIM MALINOVSKY/AFP/Getty Images
MAXIM MALINOVSKY/AFP/Getty Images
MAXIM MALINOVSKY/AFP/Getty Images

You can drink at a soccer game, you can fight at one, and you can certainly swear at one -- just don't get political. That's the message that Belarus's government sent on Friday when the local KGB fined and arrested soccer fans at a qualifying match between Ukraine and Belarus for the 2016 European Championship after they a sang a song comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin to a very sensitive part of the male anatomy.

The song, Putin-Huilo!, which roughly translates as "Putin is a dickhead!" became a popular chant during the Maidan protests in Kiev as a form of opposition to the Russian leader and has its origins among Ukrainian soccer fans. The chant has since spread across Eastern Europe. In June, Russian officials called for the resignation of then-Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya after he joined Kiev protesters in singing the slogan. In July, a group of Ukrainian activists decided to exact revenge by adopting a star and officially naming it "Putin-Huilo".

After the match, about 100 Ukrainians and 30 Belarusians were initially held and taken to a KGB station in Minsk, according to the Belarusian opposition website Charter '97. The majority of the detained fans were later released, but eight Ukrainians were placed under arrest for 10 days, 12 local fans were slapped with a $50 fine, and four Ukrainians were given fines of $140, according to Radio Free Europe. The charges vary from hooliganism to the use of foul language.

You can drink at a soccer game, you can fight at one, and you can certainly swear at one — just don’t get political. That’s the message that Belarus’s government sent on Friday when the local KGB fined and arrested soccer fans at a qualifying match between Ukraine and Belarus for the 2016 European Championship after they a sang a song comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin to a very sensitive part of the male anatomy.

The song, Putin-Huilo!, which roughly translates as "Putin is a dickhead!" became a popular chant during the Maidan protests in Kiev as a form of opposition to the Russian leader and has its origins among Ukrainian soccer fans. The chant has since spread across Eastern Europe. In June, Russian officials called for the resignation of then-Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya after he joined Kiev protesters in singing the slogan. In July, a group of Ukrainian activists decided to exact revenge by adopting a star and officially naming it "Putin-Huilo".

After the match, about 100 Ukrainians and 30 Belarusians were initially held and taken to a KGB station in Minsk, according to the Belarusian opposition website Charter ’97. The majority of the detained fans were later released, but eight Ukrainians were placed under arrest for 10 days, 12 local fans were slapped with a $50 fine, and four Ukrainians were given fines of $140, according to Radio Free Europe. The charges vary from hooliganism to the use of foul language.

At the match, it was Ukrainian fans who started the Putin-Huilio chant, but soon both sides came together to deliver a rousing rendition. The stadium can be seen erupting into the chant in the video below.

Despite the normally tense atmosphere on the soccer pitch, fans from both sides appeared to be supporting one another. Belarusian fans were heard voicing their solidarity with Ukraine by chanting the popular slogan, Slava Ukrayini, ("Glory to Ukraine"). Ukrainian fans returned the favor by chanting Zhyve Belarus ("Long Live Belarus"). The exchange can be seen in the clip below

Belarus’ strongman president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has become surprisingly popular among Ukrainians for his critical statements about Putin’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

But despite Lukashenko’s criticisms of Putin’s actions abroad, at home he bears a strong resemblance to the Russian president. In power since 1994, Lukashenko has sought to eliminate all political opposition to his rule. Following protests over vote rigging in Belarus’s 2010 presidential election, the government unleashed a massive political crackdown, and the autocratic president has been wary of all forms of opposition ever since — even the seemingly apolitical. Political activists have often used creative ways, such as clapping and singing songs to show dissent, and authorities in Minsk have been quick to quell anything that could be a symbol of protest.

Ukraine won the match 2-0, but the incident should be a firm reminder to Ukrainians that Putin may not be the only huilio sharing a border with their country.

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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