Civil Society: towards common strategy
A conference organized by the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum on “The role and place of civil society in the Strategy of the Future” was held in Minsk on 11-12 April.
The event was attended by representatives of several non-governmental organizations of Belarus, heads and leaders of social movements, as well as experts of research institutes. The conference adopted four resolutions and, in particular, the National Strategy "We are one people!"
The special feature of the conference is its incorporation into the international platform of the Civil Society Forum, implying its legitimacy inside Belarus and also on the political arena of the Eastern Partnership Programme (it embraces 6 former Soviet countries) with access to the EU institutions. In the past there were no civil society institutions in Belarus with broad international legitimacy. The established dialogue with the political party (BNF) and movements ("For Freedom", "Tell the truth!") additionally strengthens this platform.
Recalling the adopted by the National Coordinating Council of the Democratic Forces on 11 April de facto ultimatum to the authorities about the conditions of participation of the opposition parties in election campaigns (see comment above), one can assume the configuration of the potential participants of the future negotiations between the government and the democratic forces (political parties and NGOs).
One of the sides in this configuration at this point is the largest political block (the National Council), which has already put forward harsh political demands. On the other side, there are Belarusian NGOs joined around the National Platform of the Civil Society Forum, with international support guaranteed by the “Eastern Partnership”, they proposed to the authorities and to the society as a whole to join a nation-wide discussion regarding the most pressing issues of political and public life, such as elections, activities of NGOs, geopolitical development strategy of the country.
The weak point of this configuration is that the representatives of political and civil society coalitions (the National Committee and the National Forum) have not yet agreed on a joint statement, which would be the best case scenario. However, the participation of the members of the National Committee and of the National Forum in the conference gives grounds to hope for future joint efforts of politicians and civil society representatives.
It is also important not to forget that the interests of political parties and civil society differ significantly at the moment. De facto, political party leaders consider it essential to maintain permanent conflict with the authorities for the survival of their institutions, while part of the civil society included in the National Platform, considers dialogue as means for survival. At the same time, the authorities consider both, political parties and civil society as having zero political force and they are not willing to start a dialogue with any of them. Today the authorities need the opposition to justify the existing problems, and to blame for the economic or policy failures.
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.