Belarusian security forces enlisted Russia’s FSB support
On April 6, Head of the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia Vladimir Pronichev said during a meeting of the board of the Union State Border Committee of Belarus and Russia that Russia will not allow Belarusian citizens banned from leaving Belarus to cross Russian border.
The mutual understanding between the State Border Committee of Belarus and the Russian FSB border service substantially reduces the Belarusian authorities’ costs of a symmetric response to the EU visa sanctions against a number of officials. Previously Belarusian authorities have restricted the right to travel outside Belarus for a number of representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society, however the Eastern border remained open and some opponents of the authorities could travel to the EU countries via Russia.
Involvement of Russian border guards into the process of “filtering” of the Belarusian opposition and pro-democratic activists means the Belarusian authorities save on tracing and detentions of its opponents in Belarus, for instance, previously Lebedko, Kalyakin and Otroschenkov were detained on a train en route Minsk-Moscow. Now it can be done at the Russia’s external border within the framework of exchange of information between security agencies of Belarus and Russia, which will simplify the job greatly.
In order to finalize co-operation with the FSB Border Service, Belarus will have to somehow legitimize the lists of citizens restricted to travel abroad.
Authorities still have not provided with clear answers to the questions about criteria or the number of listed individuals. It is clear that these lists are not official and were approved by informal orders of the senior management of the country. Earlier, President Lukashenko publicly acknowledged the existence of such lists; he as well indicated the possibility of their extension.
Moreover, the agreement is not only a symbol of support of the Russian partners of the senior Belarusian management, above all, it also strengthens the domestic political influence of the State Border Committee, a power authority controlled by the eldest son of the President Viktor Lukashenko. Law enforcement agencies of Belarus are not interested in the resolution of the conflict between Minsk and the EU. Therefore, it is likely that they will use the agreement with the Russian Federal Security Service to increase repressions and, consequently, their influence on the decision-making in Belarus.
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.