People's University challenge to regime

February 12, 1999

Belarus, where higher education is coming under increasing pressure from the authoritarian regime of president Alaksandr Lukashenka, has become the latest country in Europe to launch an alternative education.

Like the Society of Academic Courses in pre-Solidarity Poland or the Alternative Academic Educational Network in Serbia, the new "People's University" aims to provide those disciplines not available in the state system.

Its "prospectus" (a brief note in Naviny, the country's last independent newspaper) offers politology, the history and culture of Belarus, and the "necessary minimum of knowledge about the market economy".

In addition to these core courses, optional courses are on offer in political psychology, mass media, local government and "the workers' movement". Lecturers will be drawn from "scholars and specialists well known in Belarus".

Classes are held in the headquarters of the Belarusian Popular Front, a movement committed to democracy, market reform and independence.

How long the authorities will let the courses continue is an open question - a favourite method of harassing opposition organisations in Belarus is to confiscate their premises on the pretext of some breach of fire or safety regulations.

The "pro-rector" is Yury Khadyka, a physicist who nearly died on hunger strike in 1996 before Russian president Boris Yeltsin ordered his release.

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