Future of Belarus in the EURONEST
On 21 April during a meeting with the Belarusian MPs in Minsk, the Head of the Parliamentary delegation of Azerbaijan to the Parliamentary Assembly of the EURONEST Ali Huseynov spoke against the policy of isolation of Belarus and called on other “Eastern Partnership” countries to defend full membership of Belarus in it.
The statement by the Head of the Azerbaijani Parliamentary Delegation is in line with the statements made by the Head of the Parliamentary Delegation of Armenia to the EURONEST Vahan Hovhannisyan, during an enlarged meeting of the Bureau of the European Parliament on 25-26 January. The position of the Armenian Delegation regarding Belarusian involvement in the EURONEST was also supported by an official representative of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Ddelegation.
One can argue that the official Belarus made progress in building up its “internal” lobby in the EURONEST, given it was originally excluded from it for non-compliance with the democratic standards of the OSCE. To date, the Belarusian lobby consists of the Heads of Delegations of Armenia and Azerbaijan with a moderate supported by the Ukrainian delegation. The Belarusian lobbying group is headed by Deputy of the National Assembly, member of the Communist Party and Head of the Parliamentary Commission for International Affairs and Relations with the CIS, appearing in the EU “black list”, Igor Karpenko.
On the other hand, Belarus failed to form “external” lobby in Brussels. The European Parliament in the person of EP Delegation to the EURONEST Kristian Vigenin, supported by the EP President Jerzy Buzek spoke emphatically that following the 19 December events in Minsk, Belarus could not be represented in the EURONEST at the official level. The following meeting of the EURONEST is scheduled for 3 May and most likely will be held without the official Belarusian Delegation.
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.