Belarus crackdown on student protest criticised

Pressure on student activists has raised questions about the Eastern European state’s acceptance into the Bologna Process

December 11, 2015
Belarus protest bologna
Source: istock
Student activists have been told not to take part in protests against new exam fees, the European Students’ Union claims

Belarus’ involvement in the Bologna Process should be investigated in the wake of a crackdown on student protests, the European Students’ Union has said.

In a statement published on 5 December, the European student body said that it was “appalled” by recent events in the Belarus capital of Minsk, in which some universities allegedly threatened students with expulsion for taking part in protests over new exam fees.

It also said that the offices of student organisations have been ransacked, with some universities also setting additional tests to discourage students from taking part in the “March of Love and Solidarity”, which took place on 2 December.

In the protest demonstrations, hundreds of student activists marched through the streets of Minsk in opposition to moves by Belarusian State University (BSU) to introduce charges for retaking exams.

From January, students will have to pay the equivalent of $2 (£1.30) to retake a failed exam, $18 to $34 for a course paper and $156 for a graduate thesis defence, the BelTA news agency reported in November. The average monthly wage in Belarus, a landlocked country situated between Russia and Poland, is as low as $200 a month, some commentators claim.

Most students will not have to pay the charges because they do not fail their exams, BSU has said, according to the EuroBelarus blog.

It reports that university officials met with students behind the fees protest and urged them to stop their activity, stating they were “engaging in political activity and had some political forces behind them who were paying for these protests”.

“Most students had to stop their involvement,” reports Vadzim Smok, a researcher at the Institute of Political Studies Political Sphere – based in Minsk and Vilnius – in the post for EuroBelarus.

“Male students have additional reasons to worry about expulsion – they fear conscription to the army after being kicked out of university,” he adds.

Mr Smok explains having joined the Bologna Process in May 2015, Belarus is obliged to “implement the road map of higher school reform and comply with western academic freedoms and values”.

However, the Bologna committee, which monitors the implementation of the Bologna standards, has indicated that violations of student rights remain, he says.

“University administrations continue to order students to vote early and to participate in official events and political campaigns,” Mr Smok says.

 jack.grove@tesglobal.com

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