Walking in Bakiyev’s Shoes
There is one thing many commentators on Belarus fail to understand. Alyaskandr Lukashenka has no geopolitical preferences. The Belarusian president will be friends with whomever is ready to support the survival and longevity of his regime. Some want to read in his oil dealings with Venezuela a signal to Moscow. But the notion that Belarus is going to replace Russian oil with Venezuelan oil is ridiculous.
Similarly, giving asylum to the ousted Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev is similarly seen as a challenge to Kremlin. Although such events may stimulate prolific political analysts they have little serious implications. Moscow has nothing to lose from Bakiyev's stay in Belarus. Not only the Russians helped Bakiyev to flee Kyrgyzstan, but he can now be used as an additional tool to influence power struggle in that unstable Central Asian country. For Lukashenka personally, protecting Bakiyev, a former president-turned-dictator is very symbolic. A Russia-supported revolt is a very realistic scenario for overthrow of Belarusian president who wants to express solidarity with Bakiyev. He will bash Russia not because he is anti-Russian but because he does not want to end up walking in Bakiyev's shoes.
Perhaps the Belarusian president hopes that if this scenario comes true there will be a friendly dictator who would be willing to accept him and his sons. Being a true Russian ally standing up against both the corrupt elite of Russia and the greedy West is the name of the game Belarusian president is playing. Taking the words and gestures of Lukashenka seriously is like trusting an experienced actor on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Belarusian Higher Education System is Undergoing a Steep Decline?
Belarus is the only European country which has not signed the Bologna Declaration on the European Space for Higher Education. It still relies on a largely unreformed Soviet model of higher education. The main goal of that model was not to encourage creativity and ability to adopt to non-standard situations but simply to accumulate knowledge.
Science and technical disciplines such as computer science is still in a relatively good shape in Belarus because of heavy Soviet investments in these areas. However, many former students emigrate to the West to do their PhDs and stay there because of better opportunities and living conditions.
The way in which humanitarian disciplines such as political science, management and economics are taught in Belarus is very unsatisfactory. Soviet traditions of teaching these disciplines does more harm than good. In addition, Belarusian universities are insulated from the broader European academic community.
There are very few foreign exchange students in the country except for some Chinese students. Belarusian students are effectively prohibited from traveling to other countries – they have to obtain special permissions each time they go abroad from the Ministry of Education. Those who are politically active and travel abroad without permissions can be expelled from their universities. Today Belarusian economy is heavily subsidized by Russia and afford to be inefficient. Belarus has a number of additional nontransparent sources of income such as trade in weapons and murky financial deals with dodgy regimes around the world.
The extent to which Belarus is behind other European countries will become evident when the country will lose its questionable sources of wealth and generous subsidies from Russia. Twenty years after reunification, Eastern German universities are still struggling despite enormous subsidies from Western Germany and the European Union. It will take Belarus decades to catch up with the rest of Europe when its economy and politics come out of the shadow. Read more on the topic – Belarus: The odd-one-out in Europe at University World News web-site.