Staunton, October 4 – Those who wonder where Belarusians got the ideas that have driven them into the streets against Lukashenka need look no further than the following statistic: More Belarusians now study in Poland – some 7,000 – than in the Russian Federation – some 5,000 – not to mention those enrolled in Germany, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.
Vyacheslav Sutyrin, the director of the Gromyko Association of Foreign Policy Research in Moscow, says that the number in Russia has fallen by half over the last seven years, while the number in Poland has doubled over the same period, and that those in Poland are more likely to be in residence while those at Russian institutions are less so (kp.ru/daily/217190.5/4297667/).
“In the not-distant future, people who do not have a common past and a common historical memory will come to power in Russia and Belarus,” he continues. “And if this tendency toward division is not reversed, out countries will simply go their own ways,” with elites that see the world differently and the future of their two countries different as well.
Moscow and Minsk have open borders, but Western countries have promoted educational exchanges while Russia has acted as if Belarusians have no choice but to come to Russia if they aren’t going to study at home. Moscow offers fewer scholarships, refuses to accept the Belarusian school examinations, and treats Belarusian students like foreigners, he says.
Western countries are more supportive. If Belarusians with a Polish language certificate apply, they are treated more like Poles than like foreigners; and for 15 years, Warsaw has operated a system known as the Konstanty Kalinowski scholarships to help Belarusians attend and acquire democratic values they can take home.
When Lukashenka expelled numerous Belarusian students from Belarusian universities in 2006, Polish universities were quite prepared to take them in. About half of the graduates remained in Poland, with some working in groups like the NEXTA telegram channel, but half have gone back and taken part in the subsequent rounds of protests.
These are people, Sutyrin and others say, who are “oriented toward liberal reforms” like those which have taken place in the European Union rather than supportive of the kind of government arrangements that exist in Russia. Russia might have countered this trend earlier, he continues.
In the first few years of the Union State, Moscow had a program to promote educational exchanges; but those have lapsed. And the consequences can be seen in the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities.