Motovelo Dissapoints Lukashenka – Belarus State TV Digest
Over the last week Belarusian state TV widely covered the international community discussing the situation in Syria and joint military drills with Russia.
It also reported on the visit of the head of state to a bicycle company, that had been partially sold to an Austrian investor. Journalists pointed out his disappointment regarding the company’s still insufficient level of production.
Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs on state television which signalled that Minsk was ready for dialogue with the West.
Motovelo disappointed Lukashenka? The head of state visited Motovelo – a Minsk factory that produces bicycles. Journalists reported that six years ago an Austrian investor bought the state’s shares in the company, but there were terms set that certain obligations needed to be fulfilled. The investor had to pay off the company’s debts, but has not yet fulfilled all his obligations.
Lukashenka visited the factory to check the current production ratio and also to discuss the strengthening of the Belarusian brand in the world. State television also recalled Lukashenka saying that “our economy is oriented for exports”. Belarusian journalist pointed out that in Soviet times the factory produced nearly a million bicycles annually. These days, it is supposed to produce 500,000 of them per year until 2017.
The head of the state was rather disappointed with the ongoing situation and asked the managers: “when will you fulfil our agreement?”, referring to higher production. The managers showed remorse and then promised to improve the situation. Lukashenka gave them time until 1 January to fulfill all the obligations, otherwise they could lose their positions. The head of the Austrian group, Alexander Muravev, was defending the company and proudly presented Lukashenka a new bicycle model.
During his visit Lukashenka raised the issue of the devaluation of Belarusian ruble. In his words, the state would neither weaken nor strengthen it artificially. It will all depend upon the market mechanisms of supply and demand.
The head of state spoke also about the nation’s additional reserves. According to him, those who travel abroad should be required to pay around 100 USD. “We have our own fridges… They criticise us: it’s a poor country, but they [Belarusians] spend 3bn in the EU annually, and then they bring back the junk they bought from abroad”, he concluded.
Scandal with Uralkali to be continued. Belarusian journalists reported that the debts of Uralkali reach over $2bn. They described the excessive spending of Suleyman Kerimov, the owner of the most crucial proportion of shares in the Russian company Uralkali. The state channel fully portrayed in details Kerimov’s luxurious lifestyle: expensive lovers, the number of estates in various countries he has, his ownership of a football club. To make it more vivid, the television cited the commentaries of their colleagues from Russian media, who also remained very critical and ironic towards Kerimov and his current financial troubles.
A draft budget for 2014. Belarusian journalists reported on the Council of Ministers discussions regarding a forecast of socio-economic development of Belarus next year. The politicians also discussed how to improve the economic situation, for example through diversification of exports and attracting more investment to Belarus. Journalists noted that the politicians also identified the additional sources of inflow of foreign currency. They, however, did not elaborate the topic further. “It will help to strengthen the economic and energy security of the state”, the state TV channel concluded.
Preparations for strategic military drills. Television widely reported on the period of preparations for the joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises West-2013. The media noted that this year the whole programme would take part in all areas known as polygons in Belarus and in two stages. It added that the soldiers would use new types of weapons. This year strategic manoeuvres were characterised by self-defence tactics and will prepare the forces to better secure the safety of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Journalists reported on how the Belarusian side welcomed the Russian soldiers in a traditional way, with bread and salt. They also made mention of the fact that Alexander Lukashenka approved the programme of the exercises.
Belarus-China keen on tightening co-operation. The state television covered a meeting of Lukashenka with a leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Yonshan. Belarusian journalists noted that “today both countries have many joint projects”. One of them is the Belarusian-Chinese Industrial Park. Belarus also remains interested in more direct investment from China, state TV added. State television commented that Lukashenka proposed to establish in Belarus a Chinese media holding “and in such a way people in Europe and post-Soviet sphere will better know our joint projects and initiatives”.
International position of Belarus. Minsk ready for a dialogue with the EU? Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, minister for foreign affairs. They discussed the current international affairs, among them the establishment of the Eurasian economic union, the situation in the EU, Russia, but also the crisis in Syria. Belarusian state television noted that Makei also raised the issue of relations with the EU and USA. In his words, “Belarus is ready for moving forward. The relations should be based upon equality, and be good neighbourly”.
G-20 Summit: Economy and Syria. Belarusian journalists reported on the Summit of twenty the biggest economies in the world that recently closed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. They emphasised the critical position of Beijing against any potential military intervention. State television pointed out that behind the scenes the Chinese vice-minister of finance expressed his concern over oil prices if the intervention would take place. Herman Van Rompuy, representing the European Council, spoke about European expectations to regulate the conflict in Syria through the UN, as shown by the broadcast. As Belarusian journalists pointed out, Washington was ready for military intervention regardless of anyone else’s concerns, “with or without the international community”.
Belarusian TV also drew attention to the financial aspect of the potential intervention, estimated to cost as much as $200m USD. It noted the statement of John Kerry who said that the Arab countries were keen on contributing to the intervention expenses. Journalists commented saying “if that is true, he still did not reveal the name of these countries. It is also unclear how to judge the fact that the Arab states would sponsor the American war”. The state channel concluded that “in any event a decision on military operation against a sovereign state appears to be a serious violation of international law”.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
Getting To Know Belarus: Impressions of Belarusian Education
Universities in the United States often bring to mind school spirit, frat parties and caffeine-fueled late nights studying at the library. I was not expecting the same situation in Belarusian universities, but I did hope for some semblance of a college lifestyle.
What I found was a somewhat bleak network of university buildings filled with students and teachers alike who expressed disappointment with the educational system and methodology of teaching. Despite their reservations, the students were bright and motivated to learn. I found myself wondering how and why a system that earned so little trust from its participants managed to be so successful in teaching its students what they needed to know.
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I was assigned to work at the Belarusian State Economic University to serve the English teaching faculties as a reference for native English language and American culture. I worked mostly with the departments of International Business Communication and Tourism and Hospitality Management, where I presented lectures on American life, facilitated communication activities, and taught a class on English reading skills.
Getting acquainted with my students was the first challenge; some of them had never met a foreigner before, let alone a native English speaker who also happened to speak some Russian. When I introduced myself to the classes the students who, before class, had seemed so garrulous were at a loss for words and had trouble working up the courage to ask me questions.
When I introduced myself to the classes the students who, before class, had seemed so garrulous were at a loss for words Read more
Over time, they warmed up to me, but they still skipped class frequently (some groups only had two or three students attending class each week) and rarely did their homework. Though it was discouraging, I realised after some time that this was just one of the idiosyncrasies of Belarusian student culture.
How Things Work
My understanding of Belarusian student life became clear through my full immersion in the environment. Belarusian students enter the university by passing state-run exams in three subjects that determine their eligibility to enter various departments in the public universities. Once they enter their university and their department, there is virtually no flexibility in changing courses or studying topics outside their curriculum. They have their classes with the same group of approximately eighty students for the entirety of their five years in the university.
Because the government values the statistic that labels Belarus the most educated of the former Soviet republics, most of the adult population of Belarus is literate (99.6% according to the UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report). Furthermore, there is ample opportunity for Belarusians to study free of charge at the public universities, on one condition: that they complete two years of “service” in their field as assigned by the Belarusian government after graduating.
Some of my friends and younger colleagues expressed their plan to get out of the field of education as soon as their assignment was over, because it is nearly impossible to live on the salaries that teachers earn, even at the university level. Such systems seemed reminiscent of Soviet times to me, yet I could not help but feel a bit envious that the government paid so much attention to recent university graduates, something that doesn’t happen in the United States.
One on One
During the spring semester, in an effort to get to know my students better on a personal level, I implemented a tool that I called “Lunch with Monika” (coincidentally, this is also the name of my personal blog), where I would meet with my students outside the classroom to eat lunch, drink coffee, or simply to take a walk and talk. It was during such sessions that I learned about my students’ dreams and plans.
Some of them already worked (which is why many of them did not manage to come to class), and, as third year students ranging in age from 18 to 22, were reconsidering their plans for life. Because most of them were on scholarships, they were on track to finish their studies and to complete their post-graduation assigned service work, but were already taking part-time courses at private technology firms or language schools to develop skills that would be useful in spheres other than hospitality management.
In essence, the students, while unhappy with the university system, decided that it was worth it to finish their studies because they weren’t paying for the diploma that they would eventually get. They supplemented their studies and satisfied their curiosity by engaging in other educational pursuits outside of the university. Some students even tried to start their assigned service work early, so that they could cut short their duty to the government.
Against all odds my students were motivated to learn and bright enough to pursue what they wanted to. Many of my students communicated in English impeccably, having started their study of the language in early childhood. They reached out to native speakers through the Internet, and some had even traveled abroad through programs like Summer Work and Travel. It was their own initiative, and not their commitment to their university studies, that predicted their success.
In some cases, this motivation exceeded the amount of patience that the students had. Fearing their Belarusian degrees would be worthless in other countries, several of my students expressed their desire to leave the university system altogether, abandoning their studies to travel abroad or to pursue work. Some students sought ways to become eligible for European citizenships or long-term visas, hoping to enter a “real” university beyond the borders of Belarus.
Alternative educational institutions, such as the European Humanities University in Vilnius, Lithuania, welcome such students to study in Europe, but at a price higher than they would pay in Belarus, and with the occasional bit of trouble from the border patrol officers.
On the one hand, the university system in Belarus left much to be desired. Due to low salaries and scarcity of materials (one printer shared between twenty teachers and a constant shortage of chalk) at the university itself, teachers were often unmotivated, and this lack of enthusiasm was passed on to the students.
On the other, the students who managed to work through these difficulties and maintained a strong sense of drive and motivation could identify the university’s weaknesses. The deficiencies of the system motivated these students to succeed, and, as long as they keep that perspective, there is hope that Belarus will make some progressive changes to its current educational system.
Monika was a Fulbright scholar teaching in Belarus in 2012-2013.