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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.