School and Education in Belarus


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.

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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 in Minsk.

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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.

Belarus Country Flag

Belarus flag source:

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 the missing.

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 repression.

In October 2004, a referendum was amended amending the constitution so that Lukashenko could stand for a 3rd presidential term.

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”.