“Sex-training” courses sweep across Belarus
On 26 February, Thai police arrested Belarusian model Nastya Rybka (Anastasiya Vashukevich) and her Belarus-born “sex coach” Alex Lesley (Alexander Kirillov) on charges of arranging “sex-training” courses in Thailand without work permits.
Prior to this, Rybka and Lesley sparked a major sex-scandal in Russia involving oligarch Oleg Deripaska and the Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko. Rybka subsequently claimed to be in possession of secret recordings proving Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and requested US asylum.
While Russians have paid between $600 to $1500 for Lesley’s seduction classes in Moscow, Belarusians eagerly splash similar amounts of money on “sex training” courses and consultations with parapsychologists. Belarusian astrologers, bioenergy consultants, and “sex coaches” vigorously advertise themselves on the internet. The general decline in levels of education, as well as the demographic gender imbalance, have created a perfect breeding ground for the appearance of numerous occult practitioners and self-proclaimed “sex experts” in Belarus.
Nastya Rybka and Alex Lesley – the most famous Belarusian “sex-coaches”
Although several Western media has described Rybka and Lesley as merely “a call-girl and her pimp”, the Belarusian duo lived a much more diverse lifestyle. Nastya Rybka participated in fashion shows, agitated in support of Harvey Weinstein, and released a book called “The Diary of How to Seduce a Billionaire”. Lesley published bestsellers on seduction practices and quietly worked for Skolkovo Innovation Centre (the Russian analogue of Silicon Valley) in the meantime.
While professional psychologists described Lesley’s seduction advice as little more than manipulation techniques, “EKSMO” – one of the largest publishing houses in Russia – has published his books for years. According to Lesley, in order to win the affections of the opposite sex, women should aspire to become “huntresses”, and men – to train as “masters”. “Masters and huntresses” skilfully play with feelings of their “victims” using a carrot and stick approach. The top “huntress”, Rybka, has widely praised Lesley’s guidance, which helped her to lure Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska on a yacht trip near Norway.
At the same time, Lesley’s “sex training” classes have nothing to do with professional psychological help. Neither Rybka nor Lesley holds a degree in practical psychology. They preach a dubious philosophy of “the hunt”, which might eventually harm human relationships. Nevertheless, the Belarusian duo previously arranged tens of “sex-training” courses in Belarus, Russia and Thailand. Until the outbreak of the Deripaska-Prikhodko sex scandal, the Russian authorities turned a blind eye to the self-proclaimed “sex-gurus”. In this way, the scandalous arrest of Rybka and Lesley in Thailand has seriously harmed the growing industry of unlicensed psychological counselling in CIS states.
Why do “sex coaches” prey on Belarusian women?
Rybka and Lesley represent the tip of an iceberg; regularly held “sex-training” courses can be found in Belarus. Numerous “sex-coaches” skilfully exploit Belarus’s demographic imbalance. Taking into account the fact that at least 6% of Belarusian women will not meet a marriage partner, the competition for the available men remains high. To increase their attractiveness and competitiveness in the “marriage market”, women eagerly subscribe to well-advertised “sex training” courses.
A range of Belarusian “sex coaches” and “sex schools” skilfully apply aggressive marketing techniques. For instance, one Belarusian “school of feminity” – calling itself “Blueberry Nights” – offers a range of courses across major cities in Belarus. A one-day class called “Scheherazade Tales” offers to teach “top-secret seduction techniques used by intelligence operatives” as well as methods of hidden hypnosis to lure men.
Another “sex-training” course offered by “Blueberry Nights” – a one-day class titled “The School of a Skilful Lover” – promises to teach how to sweep men off their feet. A two-day course, “A Magnet for Men”, applies a combination of parapsychological exercises, after which women should learn “how to turn themselves into a honeytrap”. A five-week “sex-training” course, “the Geisha school”, offers an intensive coaching to help women become “the strongest drug” for the opposite sex. At the same time, the “school of feminity” does not provide satisfaction guarantees.
Apart from Belarusian “sex coaches”, foreign specialists also frequently visit Belarus, mostly from Russia and Ukraine. For instance, a “sex coach” from Moscow, Oksana Alexeeva, holds a one-day “Sacral Sexuality” seminar this week, where women will learn how to “uncover deep-down sexuality”. Numerous “sex-training” retreats bring Belarusian participants to Sochi and Crimea each summer.
Due to a high demand, prices for sex-courses do not correlate with the average Belarusian salary ($426 in 2017). “Blueberry Nights” charges approximately $200-300 for a one-day “sex-training” class and $300-400 for a two or three-day “sex-training” seminar. Oksana Alexeeva’s one-day class costs $225. A week-long “sex-training” retreat in Russia starts from $600.
Parapsychologists bombard the Belarusian internet
Apart from the regular announcements by “sex-training” courses, the Belarusian internet bustles with adverts from various occult consultants, including astrologers, magicians, and “energy” specialists. The most popular occult services include astrology prognoses, Bert Hellinger’s family therapy sessions, “energy” revivals, and esoteric practices.
Since Belarusian legislation prohibits the public advertisement of occult practices, astrologers and magicians have no choice but to promote themselves on the internet. For instance, a well-known Belarusian astrologer, Tatsiana Kalinina, runs a personal web-page and numerous accounts on social networks. She frequently appears in television talk-shows and publishes horoscopes for politicians and film stars on her blog. Tatsiana advertises a range of services, including a career horoscope, marriage prediction, and seminars for astrology beginners.
Many Belarusians eagerly pay for occult services in hope of quickly resolving their personal issues. Hence the prices of such services do not correlate with the average Belarusian salary. Tatsiana Kalinina’s individual consultation costs $100, a session of “energy revival” costs between $80-100, and an individual consultation of a shaman starts from $200.
In conclusion, Belarusians of all ages aspire to build successful relationships, improve health, and reach financial stability. Demographic imbalance pushes Belarusian women into competition for available men.Therefore, occult practitioners and “sex coaches” will continue to flourish. With the decline of education level and scientific research in Belarus, mass critical thinking diminishes, and magical thinking develops instead. This creates an additional ground for pseudo-experts to exploit a naïve faith in miracles.
Belarusian language: declining in state education, strengthening in civil society
Only 13% of pupils in Belarus study in the Belarusian language. The authorities therefore roused great public interest with a recent promise to establish Belarusian-language groups in kindergartens in each district in Minsk.
At present, the near impossibility of receiving pre-school education in the Belarusian language concerns some parents. Others cling on to even the slightest possibility of ensuring their children’s education in the Belarusian language. Yet others wonder why the question arises at all – thinking that it would be better to teach students English or Chinese.
The rapid disappearance of the Belarusian language from the education sector (from 19% in the 2010/2011 academic year to 13% in 2017/2018) paradoxically coincided with the increasing popularity of various kinds of Belarusian cultural initiatives and projects.
Russian language dominates the education system
The reduction in the number of pupils studying in Belarusian stands in tension with the growing interest in Belarusian language and culture in society. Founded several years ago, Belarusian language courses under the “Mova Nanova” initiative gather hundreds of people in Minsk and other Belarusian cities. Crowdfunding enables the publication of Belarusian-language books and the translation of movies into Belarusian. Inscriptions on the jerseys of Belarusian football players increasingly appear in Belarusian. The education system in Belarus, however, still shows signs of Russification rather than Belarusisation.
Fewer and fewer children today study in Belarusian. Of the six regional centres, Belarusian-language schools exist only in Minsk. In some of the regional cities schools do have small Belarusian-language forms. However, most of the Belarusian-language schools are located in villages. Totally only 13.3% of all pupils study in Belarusian according to the National Statistical Committee of Belarus.
The situation looks more problematic in pre-school and higher education. Belarusian-language kindergartens represent a minority among the preschools. In the biggest cities there exist only small groups with the Belarusian language. Until now, Belarus has no university providing a Belarusian-language education.
The problem of access to the Belarusian-language education grew in importance for Belarusian society. On 21 February, International Mother Language Day, a group of parents in Minsk visited the Ministry of Education to discuss pre-school education in the Belarusian language. During the meeting, parents proposed the introduction of more Belarusian-language groups in kindergartens and schools. Later, the Ministry of Education promised to open a Belarusian group in each Minsk region.
Parents struggle for more education in Belarusian
To date parents have to fight for the education of their children in the Belarusian language. Increasingly, parents collect signatures for the creation of Belarusian-language groups in kindergartens and schools. On 21 February, public activists of the Young Front collected 2,000 signatures in Minsk for creating a Belarusian-language university.
Occasionally, local authorities meet with parents to discuss the status of the Belarusian language in education, as happened on 21 February. One of the participants of the meeting, Volha Kavalchuk, told to Radyjo Svaboda that her child can not get into a group with Belarusian as the language of instruction. “Due to the shortage of Belarusian speakers, kindergartens take in Russian-speakers, who become a majority later,” and the group becomes a Russian-speaking one.
Belarusian-language parents worry that their children gradually shift into the Russian language from studying in a Russian-language system. At the meeting of pro-Belarusian parents with the Ministry of Education on 21 February, parents noted that groups exist only in certain areas of the city and that this is logistically inconvenient for many parents. Often, as is the case in the Pershamajsky district of Minsk, different age groups emerge. These factors influence the quality of teaching; many parents have to send their children to Russian-language kindergartens.
How has the status of the Belarusian language in education changed?
Since Alexander Lukashenka came to power, the Belarusian language began a gradual decline in the education system. In 1994-1995 more than 75% of pupils studied in Belarusian. After the referendum in 1995, when the Russian language received the same status as Belarusian, the latter started to disappear from education. From that moment on, many Belarusian schools and kindergartens began to teach partially in Russian.
In the years after the collapse of the USSR Belarus’s neighbours, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine, actively worked on the transition of schools into teaching in the national language. In contrast, from 1995 the Belarusian authorities embraced a Russification of education system. The titular language of Belarus appeared as a threat to the authorities. Lukashenka saw the main threat to his power in the Belarusian-speaking opposition and methodically narrowed the space for studying the language and culture. Whereas 22% of pupils studied in Belarusian in 1988, the comparable figure for 2017 was 13.3%.
In recent years, after events surrounding Ukraine’s Maidan, the Belarusian language situation within the education system started to improve in small steps. Observing Russian aggression in Ukraine, the authorities began to demonstrate more support to the Belarusian language and national history at different levels, so-called “soft Belarusisation”. However, until now, soft Belarusisation hardly affected schools, kindergartens and universities.
The fate of Belarusian language: in citizens’ hands
Social activists continue to do the most work promoting the Belarusian language. For example, recently created initiative, Perakladaton, has translated the civil code into Belarusian with the help of volunteers and plans to translate other laws (only 3% of legislative acts in the country are written in Belarusian).
Social activist Ihar Sluchak has long communicated with the Belarusian government and commercial organisations, trying to force them to speak Belarusian. Recently an online catalogue of Belarusian businesses and services, SVAJE, appeared. Regular updates include new businesses and places where the staff speak Belarusian.
This work of social activists partly compensates for the poor condition of the Belarusian language in the education system. However, some positive signals appear from the government. For the first time the authorities have allowed the holding of a celebratory concert on Alternative Independence Day in the centre of Minsk. If the concert does not bring police detentions, then it might give some hope that the “soft Belarusisation” will extend into Belarusian schools, kindergartens and universities.