Sannikov and Bondarenko released
In the context of recent statements by high level officials and President Lukashenko, it could be stated, that the range of issues for a dialogue is rather wide. Belarusian authorities made Europeans understand, that the release of the political prisoners is far from being the only concession they are prepared to make.
Minsk is ripe for compromises: from the abolition of the death penalty to a certain liberalization of the upcoming parliamentary election campaign.
At the same time, the liberalization trend is yet far from being irreversible. Evidently, Lukashenko has hard time making decisions like that. The future of this trend will largely depend on the external factors; it could be undermined by a minor provocation.
Brussels should not overestimate its own efforts and the efficiency of the sanctions. Indeed, the latter played a significant role, however the situation should be treated systemically. During the recent conflict Moscow was inflexible and did not offer the alternative to Lukashenko. Quite the reverse, Kremlin’s position was less attractive for Minsk, compared with pompousness of Brussels. On the other hand, Belarusian leader, perhaps, recons the situation is not hopeless enough to implement the “North Korean” scenario.
The release of two political prisoners coincided with the Easter celebrations (a very significant festivity for the Orthodox). On the one hand, it allowed the authorities to save face to an extent (in the view of Christian mercy), and on the other, to minimize the public interest.
Authorities’ concerns about the potential public response turned out unjustified. Society (including the opposition) had lukewarm reactions to Sannikov and Bondarenko being set free. Their release was something everyone expected, moreover, after signing clemency appeals, their heroic aura had faded considerably. It is worth to note, that the release of a large group of activists in September last year provoked stronger emotional reactions in the society.
One could anticipate that Sannikov would try to take advantage of the moment to try to win leadership in the opposition or at least to increase his own influence. However his first statements were not firm enough. It is clear, that if before the end of the week Sannikov does not take a pro-active stand, the radical part of the Belarusian opposition will continue marginalizing in the future.
Analysis of the first comments on the Charter97 website demonstrates, that Charter97 intends to stick to the previous practices of many years: to do minimum inside the country and concentrate on lobbying outside the country. As well, the nature of the messages they send to the West has not changed either: do not trust the “vile regime”, apply new sanctions and isolation.
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.