What it means to be a teacher in protest-struck Belarus

Without the principle of academic freedom, there will be nothing good in education. And with this system, nothing will change. The authorities know that teachers are a key…

Without the principle of academic freedom, there will be nothing good in education. And with this system, nothing will change. The authorities know that teachers are a key link that needs to be kept, through which they can carry out their policies. Most of my former students with active civic positions do not work in the education system, they couldn’t survive there.

The administration of the university was well aware of my views, but I did a good job with the duties of deputy dean for academic affairs. I was never sent to collect any signatures for the nomination of an unknown person [for an official post], to any rallies or parades. In 2010, I also went to the “Ploscha” [protests on Independence Square in Minsk after the presidential elections on 19 December 2010 – ed.], but I was not detained. The administration knew about this, but since I wasn’t detained, they did not do anything to me. But at the end of August this year I was told: “Clean up your social media immediately, are you an idiot? Keep your position to yourself. You hold a position, you have students, they will associate it with a state university. Keep quiet, be smarter. We all think the same way, but we are silent.”

But I continued to write what I think, and from vacation I was asked to appear at the university regarding my dismissal. I did not expect anything bad from people, I still had to finish my lectures, but my pass was canceled. The students began to be indignant, and they were told that no one forced me to quit – the idea was that I was tired of this job. I told the students directly that I was faced with a choice: either I clean up my social media, stop expressing my position and continue working calmly, or the administration expects to receive a letter [of resignation] from me.

It turned out that the first student action at the university took place in support of me. I was even told (in the administration) that I had decided to “promote myself”. According to the same logic, all those people who have had to go abroad, who are in prison, who are losing their jobs and paying fines now, simply decided to “promote themselves”. I did not expect this support from former students and teachers of other faculties, I received several offers and now I am no longer unemployed.

Doctors saw with their own eyes the wave of beaten, crippled people that came to them for help, and it became difficult for them to remain indifferent. Teachers seem to understand everything, but they do not have the courage to lose something. Everyone’s an observer – and few agree to sacrifice something. After the elections, there were constant discussions of what was happening, and I listened to questions: “Well, everything is already calming down, are we losing?” I always answered: “Did you whip something up? Which side did you play on? You are just passive observers!” Yes, everyone seems to see everything perfectly and agree that it is impossible to endure further, but at the same time they say: “Come on, you go for us, fight, and we will see.” It is absolutely unclear how this will end, and this is why many people choose this position.

Freedom is responsibility for yourself and your decisions. And our people didn’t really want to take on this responsibility. But everything has changed. I saw this whole galaxy of people on the first Sunday march, hundreds of thousands. You cannot change these people, and you cannot turn back.


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