The lure of the bear hug

August 25, 1995

The independent state of Belarus has ordered the replacement of all university textbooks on history, literature and the social sciences with material from the Soviet era, in an effort to combat alleged "political bias".

President Alaksandr Lukashenka has instructed his ministry of education to remove books published since 1992 because they are unsuitable for "modern educational requirements".

The decision, announced only two weeks before the new term starts, affects books commissioned by the ministry of education after the declaration of Belarusian independence four years ago this week, which were intended to eliminate from the syllabus the distortions of the Soviet period. Some subjects were not even covered in the old texts - Belarusian history, for example, was taught only as part of the history of Russia and the USSR, while many major writers of the past were not even mentioned in the literature courses.

But it is the new literature and history textbooks which, according to the president, show the greatest "distortions".

President Lukashenka, a former collective farm manager, is not - to say the least - an expert in the humanities, and claims that his decision was taken on the recommendation of an expert commission which has been sitting over the past four months. Media requests for information about the identity of these "experts" have so far been ignored.

Whether the reinstated Soviet texts are still available is open to question. Independence came suddenly to Belarus in the wake of the failed Moscow coup of 1991. The Soviet textbooks for the academic year 1991/92 had already been printed, but were never issued. Whether they were simply stored or sent for recycling is unclear.

The director of the National Education publishing house, Ihar Laptsionak, says he was surprised by the president's decree. It would be impossible to produce appropriate textbooks in so short a time, he added.

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