President Alaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus has accused the Soros Foundation of being a covert talent-scout for the West. The Soros Fund, he said, entices young people abroad with scholarships - and then encourages them not to return home.
He told a group of prize-winners in the school "Olympiads" (nationwide contests in mathematics and science), that the Soros Foundation should not be allowed to fund the education of the country's brightest.
President Lukashenka promised the prize-winners that he would make himself responsible for the education of "talented youth" either out of his "reserve fund", or else out of the state budget.
For the academic community of Belarus, these words had a hollow ring. Apart from the payment of salaries (and even these are often months in arrears) the state budget this year made no allocation whatsoever for higher education and research. There is no money for equipment, the purchase of new books and journals, nor for lighting, heating and telephone bills.
University rectors and department heads are having to try and scrape together what money they can (letting out rooms to private businessmen - particularly those with western partners - is one popular solution). The prospects are so depressing that Alexander Lutzko, rector of the Minsk-based International Sakharov Institute for Radio-Ecology, said recently that he is seriously thinking of transferring the whole institute, lock, stock and isotopes, to Stavropol in the northern Caucasus, where a new ecological university is being established.
Earlier this year, the Soros Foundation of Belarus suspended all funding, in protest against the new tax laws which took away its charitable status and made the recipients of its grants pay income-tax on them. Eventually the tax problem was resolved (and officially attributed to a "misunderstanding") but representatives of the SFB feel it is only a matter of time before it is closed down.
The president's attack on Soros's funding came only two weeks after his across-the-board ban on all textbooks in the humanities and social sciences published in the last three years. After vigorous protests from leading educationists, President Lukashenka denied ever having issued such a ban.
However, in a "message to pedagogues" for the opening of the new academic year, he made it clear that he considers the books in question are politically unsound - and that "we will solve this problem correctly and energetically - especially as far as history books are concerned".