Until independence in 1991, Russian was the main language
of the schools. In the quest to strengthen a national
Belarusian culture, the authorities have since then promoted
Belarusian language, literature and history at all levels of
education. However, a shortage of teachers and teaching
materials means that in practice, Russian is still the
dominant language of instruction (72%), while 27% receive
instruction in Belarusian (2002). There are also Polish- and
Lithuanian-speaking classes. Requirements for teaching in
Ukrainian have not been met.
The school obligation covers 9 years. All children attend
8 years in public middle school. Some continue there for
another 2–4 years, others choose 4–5-year middle school or
3-year vocational school. Literacy in the country is
estimated at 98%.
Higher education encompasses a growing number of
universities. in Minsk, Homel, Hrodna and Novopolotsk, as
well as technical colleges, academies and theological
seminars. Independent educational institutes have been added
in recent years, such as the European Humanities University
The September presidential election was also criticized
by both international observers and the opposition. At the
election, Lukashenka was re-elected for a second term.
In 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected
Lukashenko's proposal to establish federal soviets. Since
Belarus's GDP is only 3% of Russia's, this makes no sense.
Instead, Putin proposed a merger of the two states, or a
union following the same model as the EU. In contrast,
Lukashenko referred to the 1999 agreement signed by Boris
Yeltsin, which respects the independence of both states.
Freedom of speech is heavily controlled by the
government: over 20 magazines and newspapers were closed.
Journalists and politicians claimed to have been tortured
while others had disappeared. The government does not want
to contribute to the resolution of the cases, and
Parliament's interest in most cases is severely limited. In
September 2002, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe expressed its concern about human rights and other
fundamental rights violations. But the situation remained
serious. On October 30, 2003, the president of the car
workers union, A. Bukhvostov, was convicted of trying to
conduct a demonstration in the capital.
In February 2004, Minsk reacted strongly after Moscow
decided to reduce gas supplies to Belarus. Lukashenko
accused Russia of "large-scale terrorism", since the
disruption of gas supplies was disastrous for the country's
energy situation. Temperatures frequently drop to -20 ° C in
winter. In Minsk, the interruption was the expression of
Russian "extortion" to gain control of the pipelines that
bring the gas to the markets in Western Europe. The
president declared that the interruption "cooled and
poisoned" the relationship between the two countries for a
long time to come. Moscow declared that the shutdown was due
to Belarus not having completed its gas payments to Russia.
Following Lukashenko's violent reaction, the two countries
signed a "temporary" agreement to resume gas supplies.
In April, the Council of Europe issued two highly
critical reports on the human rights situation in Belarus.
The council accused Lukashenko's government of being
responsible for the disappearance of four people - including
a public figure and several other opponents of the
Lukashenko regime. Acc. The report had blocked the
investigation into the 4-person disappearance in 1999-2000:
2 politicians, 1 businessman and 1 cameraman. The report
pointed to several members of the government and to
Lukashenko himself as involved in the disappearances. The
government rejected the accusations, declaring that it had
done everything in its power to resolve the events and find
At the same time, Mikhail Marinich was arrested and
charged with removing documents and dealing in weapons. He
is a former minister, ambassador and mayor and was the
opposition candidate in the presidential election, which was
won by Lukashenko. The opposition issued a joint communiqué
in which the government was called the suppressor of civil
society and the democratic forces. For the opposition, the
arrest of Marinich marked a new wave of open political
In October 2004, a referendum was amended amending the
constitution so that Lukashenko could stand for a 3rd
Belarus was the only European country featured on
Washington's list of "rogue states" published by US newly
appointed Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in early 2005.
The announcement came weeks after Belarus's neighboring
country, Ukraine, after controversial elections, elected a
pro-Western president . But Belarus did not seem to follow
in its neighbor's footsteps. Lukashenko responded by
attacking Washington's warlike discourse, declaring: "some
do not want the kind of democracy soaked in oil and blood."
Lukashenko won the presidential election in March 2006
with 82.6% of the vote. After the result was announced,
thousands protested in Minsk, and hundreds of opposition
people were arrested. International election observers
characterized the election as abnormal. The OSCE, which also
had observers in Belarus during the election, characterized
it as "neither free, fair nor democratic".
In May, Belarusian journalists reported that after the
election, the regime had carried out a campaign aimed at
freedom of the press.
In January 2007, the government decided to expel the
Helsinki Committee from the country. The rationale was "tax
fraud". The committee was the last human rights organization
to operate in the country. The United States accused
Lukashenko of being "the last dictator of Europe".