Despite low wages, teachers appear to remain loyal to government
On September 1st, teachers’ salaries increased by 25%, but working hours rose from 18 to 20 hours a week. Taking this into account, their salaries rose only by 3% on average.
The slow pace of teachers’ wage growth and increased working hours has raised discontent among teachers. However teachers are not prone to open conflicts with the authorities, and use other means, such as leaving, to demonstrate their discontent. Meanwhile, teachers are one of the most loyal social groups.
Despite teachers’ salary increases in 2013, they still make less than average. In August 2013 teachers were earning 60% of the average wage. However teachers’ protest moods have not visibly increased and their loyalty has not decreased.
All in all, teaching as a profession is not prestigious in Belarus. Small salaries and heavy workloads have prompted many to leave. Secondary school teachers are often either quite elderly or poorly qualified; many become teachers because they cannot compete on the labour market. The shortage of teachers results in a greater workload for the remaining ones, meaning that any salary increases are levelled.
Yet teachers have played an important political role in the government system since the mid-2000s, when ideology became dominant in education. In the midst of the 2011 currency crisis Lukashenko said, that ‘you [teachers] are the basis for the government policy, all political campaigns rely on you’. Meanwhile Lukashenko ordered purges in the education system to get rid of ‘oppositional’ teachers.
During election campaigns, teachers form the core staff of the district election committees. Commissions are usually chaired by education administrators, and polling stations are mostly located in educational institutions.
Teachers’ political loyalty stems from their high dependence on the state. As the welfare state shrinks, the government will cut down expenditure in areas where the risks of growing social tension and public discontent are lowest. Closer to the election campaign, the state will start buying teachers’ loyalty by pumping up their salaries.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.