Belarusian opposition declares consolidation

April 22, 2016 17:47

On 29 June in Minsk representatives of six opposition parties and democratic movements have signed an agreement on conditions of participation in the upcoming Parliamentary elections.

They have put forward demands to the authorities: to release political prisoners and guarantee free elections. The agreement was signed by the leaders of UCP, BChD, BPF, “Fair World” party, “For Freedom” movement and “Tell the Truth!” civil campaign.

Comment

On the one hand, the Belarusian opposition demonstrates consistency in the coordination of their positions and step by step approach to forming a consolidated view on key policy issues: resolution of political crisis after 19 December and the Parliamentary elections of 2012. The most topical issues include the release of political prisoners and a likely boycott of the Parliamentary elections, depending on the reaction of the authorities.

However, this event should be regarded as tactical rather than strategic step. Regardless of the obvious progress in the rapprochement of positions, representatives of political parties and movements emphasize that the signed document is an agreement, not an action programme. Also a joint statement by the leaders of political parties and movements should not be considered as establishment of a new coalition.

Therefore the agreement has no “added value” in political sense and represents yet another formal document, repeatedly voicing usual claims to the Belarusian authorities. The more so, one of the signatories of the agreement, the leader of the “Fair World” Party Mr. Kalyakin talked previously at the party congress about the Party’s participation in the Parliamentary elections on condition of democratization of the electoral system.

In the first place, the agreement is not addressed to the authorities, rather to other democratic partners and represents a „trial balloon”. Its main objective is to test the grounds for potential future coalitions. At the same time, optional and tactical nature of the agreement provides a strong reason to doubt that it will be signed by new parties.

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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.