Belarusian experts fear a top-level but unpublished directive may halt visits to the country's universities by overseas academics.
Evidence of the ban came from a Roman Catholic priest who is librarian of London's Francis Skarnya library and museum, the most important centre of Belarusian studies and culture outside Belarus.
During the past four years Monsignor Alexander Nadson has spoken at several universities in Belarus. But on his most recent visit, when he was scheduled to speak about Belarusian studies and the Belarusian community in Britain to students in Minsk and Mogilev, his hosts at the Belarusian State University in Minsk told him they must not let him talk to the students in his capacity as a priest. Instead they would introduce him simply as the head of the cultural centre.
The lecture took place, with Monsignor Nadson making no attempt to conceal his true identity. But when he moved on to Mogilev, he was told that staff at the institute where he was due to speak had received a phone call from "on high" forbidding any contact between students and foreign lecturers. Once again, the institute was prepared to ignore the ban, and the lecture took place. The ban is either not yet universal or is being silently ignored.
Alan Flowers and Ivor Evans, lecturers from Kingston University, have just returned from a visit to the International Sakharov Institute of Radio Ecology in Minsk. "No one said anything about a ban to us," Dr Flowers said. "We had a five-day visit with student contacts of five hours a day, including lectures. We lectured on energy resources and energy policies in Western Europe."