Dissenters hit by new curbs

April 11, 1997

Senior academics at the Belarusian State University have been disciplined because students took a leading part in demonstrations banned by president Alaksandr Lukashenka .

A presidential edict made it impossible to get permission to hold any meaningful rally or demonstration but a series of significant events in late March and early April were marked by gatherings of the pro-democracy opposition - and police violence and arrests.

Six deans received various grades of reprimand from the rector, Alaksandr Kazulin, for failing to instruct students from their departments in "law and discipline", or to analyse the moral and psychological environment within the student body. Seven students from the departments in question - physics, chemistry, geography, history, law and journalism, were detained by the police last month.

One student, Siarhiey Martsaleu, who had been reading international relations, was expelled from the BSU while on hunger strike, serving a ten-day jail sentence for having helped organise a student protest rally on March 20.

Student opposition to President Lukashenka's increasingly authoritarian and pro-Russian policies clearly spans the whole range of disciplines. In 1995 the president tried to curb the growth of "nationalism" in schools and universities by banning all the history and literature textbooks published since Belarus became independent in 1991.

Professor Kazulin's censure of the deans came in a directive entitled "On improving the instruction of BSU students in law and discipline". This style of rule-by-directive is significant; Professor Kazulin is a Lukashenka appointee, imposed on the university last September, when the president deprived the BSU of its right to elect its own rector.

The campaign against dissent in Minsk has extended beyond the BSU. There have been widespread "inspections" of student hostels, carried out jointly by the police and university and college authorities. Students' rooms are searched and banned national symbols removed from the walls. Students are made to sign statements saying that they are familiar with the text of the presidential edict banning unauthorised rallies - and that they promise to obey it.

Last month's demonstrations focused on a number of significant dates - the anniversary of the adoption of the post-independence constitution; the anniversary of the declaration of the short-lived Belarusian National Republic of 1918; the meeting in Minsk of a congress of diehard communists from the CIS who want to restore the Soviet Union; and April 2, when President Lukashenka was due to sign his treaty of "integration" with Russia.

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