Developing a unified strategy for the opposition
Discussions related to the development of a strategic action plan for the Belarusian opposition in the aftermath of the presidential elections are taking place at various venues with participation of a number of political, civil and other expert groups.
The recent debates on “Strategy 2012”, held on 6 April in the Minsk office of the BPF Party (Belarusian Polular Front) with participation of representatives of the movements “Belarusky Ruh”, “Tell the Truth!”, “Belarusian Popular Front”, consortium EuroBelarus and others, confirmed that the main obstacle is a split of ideas between the main political forces regarding the strategic choice of further actions. Roughly speaking, the split breaks down to two major strategies:
- Boycotting any dialogue with the authorities until all political prisoners are released (Belarusky Rukh) and
- Continuation of negotiations with the government on holding free elections (National Platform of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership).
Conditions of political and civic organizations’ participation in the unified strategy of the democratic forces as well as what the final version of the strategy will look like, is still not clear. All in all, there are reasons for doubt whether the project will take place at all. At the same time every passing electoral cycle makes it more and more complicated to consolidate the democratic forces.
Today there are no grounds to believe that so-called supporters of the “dialogue” will ever come to consensus with the so-called supporters of “revolution”. The challenges of coordination of their positions associated not only with differences in goals, values, political preferences, interests and assessment of the current situation by various groups, but also with extremely low level of trust within the democratic community.
In its turn, low level of trust, along with the complex joint history and unavoidable mutual grievances given the extended shared experience, is a result of the dominating perception within the community that competition for popularity, financial and human resources requires complete destruction of the enemy (i.e. in essence democratic politicians use almost the same logic as the regime, however compared with the latter they seriously limit themselves with the choice of means).
Another important obstacle on the way to consensus, or at least to minimal coordination of the actions of the opposition is that during the election campaign and events that followed, both groups failed. It is obvious that the “dialogue” strategy bogged down in repressions, and the strategy of “revolution”, having gained certain moral victory (the Belarusian regime has not been recognized by the international community, i.e. their short-term goal fulfilled), was defeated because its leaders were not able to establish superiority. It is likely that in the near future, in particular, after harsh sentences rendered to political activists, advocates of the strategy of “revolution” will still not be able to have the odds in their favour.
Finally, the draft project of consolidation of the democratic forces “Strategy 2012” described above, was not proposed by a political party, it is a “baby” of the association of civic organizations, partner organizations of the International Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership. This neutral platform could become a real ground for uniting the opposition. However, previous negative experience of the Rada of the Belarusian intelligentsia in trying to identify a single opposition candidate for the presidential elections in 2010 gives reasons for treating the new initiative quite critically. The upcoming conference “The role and place of civil society in the future strategy”, scheduled for April 11-12 will dot all i’s and cross all t’s in this regard.
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.