Lukashenko in the spotlight of a diplomatic row
While talking to journalists on 26 April, the President Lukashenko impartially spoke about the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich, and also named the Chairman of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso with an insulting Russian word with extremely negative connotations.
The emotional reaction of the Belarusian President to an informal request to withdraw participation in an international donor conference in Kiev on April 19, attended by Mr. Barroso, had several implications for the regional policy projects involving Belarus.
Firstly, an attack on the first person in Ukraine, which along with Belarus is involved in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Eastern Partnership, will apparently freeze the expected support of the Ukrainian Delegations to their Belarusian colleagues for an indefinite period of time. Previously Belarus managed to create the inner lobby in the EURONEST of the delegations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which were calling for the equal participation of the Belarusian MPs in the EURONEST. Then Ukraine expressed a mild desire to side with Belarus, and now the political climate for such support has seriously deteriorated.
Secondly, the statement of Lukashenko is a marker of the bilateral relations between Belarus and Ukraine. In particular, Belarusian and Ukrainian experts believe, the dramatic deterioration of the diplomatic relations may impede the state border demarcation process, important for Ukraine, successful completion of which is impossible without the support from Belarus. This process needs to be completed for the Ukraine could fully participate in a number of integration projects with the EU.
Finally, thirdly, the Belarusian president made his statement on the day a meeting between presidents Medvedev and Yanukovich was held in the city of Chernobyl, dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. President Lukashenko planned to participate in the aforementioned events, but then stayed in Belarus. The Belarusian president’s ignoring of the high-level meetings speaks about a serious crisis of his international legitimacy. During his 4th presidential term as of 26 April, he had not paid any international visits. Indeed, the cutback on legitimacy was one of the reasons for the unexpected departure of Lukashenko to Turkmenistan on 27 April.
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.