The lure of marrying a man from Minsk

January 7, 2000

Belarussian students on courses deemed socially in demand, such as teaching, law and social work, have to sign papers agreeing to go where ordered on graduation or forfeit their diplomas.

The system of raspredeleniye - obligatory work placements on graduation - reintroduced by President Lukashenko three years ago to combat a shortage of professionals in rural Belarus has come in for harsh criticism.

The Council of Europe, which is working with education ministry officials to draw up a new higher education law for the country, has demanded it be ended.

But for students such as Lena Kadushkina, who opted for the teaching course at Minsk State Linguistics University rather than one in interpreting because it is widely considered the superior department, waiting for a change in the law is not an option.

She is considering forfeiting her diploma when she graduates next year if she is offered a good enough job in the private sector.

If she accepts her diploma, she could be forced to return to her small home town in the Vitebsk region, where she will have to teach for two years at a local school.

Nadia Gurina, a third-year student at the linguistics university, said students were having to devise increasingly sophisticated ways to avoid the forced postings.

"A popular option has been to marry a man from Minsk and then you won't be sent back home. Less attractive is the prospect of simply paying the government back for your five years at college, but few people can afford that."

Last year about 70 per cent of students studying in Minsk managed to stay in the capital, she added.

Such evasion has caused a hardening in official attitudes recently, according to Minsk-based human rights activist Luba Lunyova.

"There are signs now that even if a student is pregnant she may be directed to go and work in the Gomel region, where radioactive pollution from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster remains a threat to health," she said.

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