The EU is one step away from imposing sanctions
Following the pronounced sentence to A. Sannikov on 14 May the "Belarusian issue" re-entered the international agenda. In the course of the past week the issue of human rights violations in Belarus and the issue of sanctions against its leaders were regularly discussed at the highest international level.
The verdicts against the Belarusian opposition were denounced by Ashton (on 15 May), Clinton (on 17 May), as well as by the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia (at joint meetings on 20 and 21 May). However, to the merit of Belarus, the views about sanctions are divided.
The lack of international consensus regarding the introduction of economic sanctions gives Belarus grounds to expect that the EU economic sanctions will not be imposed and it continues a tough line in sentencing the post-elections protesters.
Firstly, the re-opened discussions about the sanctions speak about the exhaustion of means to influence the situation in the country by the international community. Joint condemning statements by the USA, the EU and Russia issued in January and February had zero effect: individuals recognized as political prisoners remain behind the bars and courts continue issuing tough sentences to ex-Presidential candidates and demonstrators.
Secondly, such behavior by the Belarusian authorities puts the international community into an awkward position and pushes for a fro-active response. Hillary Clinton and Radoslaw Sikorski talked about it the most openly, calling for targeted economic sanctions against the Belarusian leadership, including a number of state enterprises-exporters. In particular, the media reported the "blacklist" of enterprises included state-owned companies Belneftekhim, "Triple", Beltechexport and Belaruskali.
However, the responsibility for the consequences of the economic sanctions has become a restricting factor. The positions of Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as the previous position of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry about the futility of sanctions have a softening effect. The Foreign Ministers of these countries condemned the Belarusian government however opposed to the introduction of the economic sanctions, which could affect the population. Besides, Belarus managed to persuade the Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications E. Masiulis to defend its interests: on 19 May he talked about the dangers of introduction of such sanctions to the Lithuanian interests. Further, on 19 May it was announced that Belarus will not receive a loan from Russia as expected, which could be regarded as a kind of sanction. Additional economic sanctions are now able to put the EU in the position of the catalyst of the Belarusian crisis.
Thirdly, Belarus prepares a response and the Foreign Minister already warned about a possible travel ban for a number of Belarusian politicians. Also the delay in sentencing of N. Statkevich and D. Uss suggests that the Belarusian government reserves the option of pronouncing more or less severe sentences to the ex-Presidential candidates, depending on the outcome of consideration of the issue of sanctions.
The Belarusian authorities are attempting to strengthen some elements of the ‘Soviet’ education to ensure the ideological loyalty of new generations to the state. Most likely, one of the major tasks of the educational reform is to prevent growing discontent with the existing education system among the population. The educational reform aims to strengthen centralisation and adjust the system to the needs of the public sector.
In Belarus, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Economy would determine the university enrolment figures.
The Belarusian authorities do not seem to have a long-term vision of the educational reform. The education system changes depending on who leads the Education Ministry and has access to President Lukashenka. For instance, former head of pro-government communist party and Education Minister Igor Karpenko reintroduced some "Soviet" elements to the school and strengthened ideological components along with the de-politicisation of the curricula. Current generation of students and youth have not spoken against the authorities, unlike previous generations raised during the Gorbachev thaw and socio-political transformations of the 1990s.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to adopt measures aiming to prevent discontent among the population with the Belarusian education system. The authorities are mobilizing those nostalgic for the USSR and propose to return to 5-marks grading system, school uniforms and reduced curriculum. The Belarusian leadership also aims to blur the growing social stratification in society and to relax social tension due to the growing income gap between the richest and poorest.
Should the authorities adopt plans to reduce university enrolment, they would re-certify universities in order to close some of them and would reduce competition from private educational institutions. The Belarusian leadership is attempting to adjust the education system to the needs of the real economy, to reduce pressure on the labour market and to cut government spending on higher education for specialists low in demand by replacing them with graduates of secondary vocational schools requiring less time to train.