Belarusian symposium ends on a positive note


A symposium at Southwestern College on higher education in Belarus ended on a positive note this week.

At the suggestion of David Swartz, former American ambassador to Belarus, the participants agreed to develop a strategy for making recommendations to governments in the United States, the European Union and Belarus.

The agreement came by consensus.

The purpose of the strategy followed the purpose of the symposium, which was to discuss questions about higher education in Belarus and its importance to civil society in that country.

* The symposium was hosted by the Center for Belarusian Studies at Southwestern. The center was established in 2006.

A picture of higher education dominated by the authoritarian, post-Soviet government of Alexandr Lukashenka in Belarus was painted by several speakers at the symposium. Belarus was dominated by Russia under the tsars as well, speakers said.

Belarus, population 10 million, is an independent, mostly Slavic nation, formerly a republic of the Soviet Union. Belarus is located between Russia and Poland in Eastern Europe.

Ales Antsipenka, head of the Belarus Collegium, an unofficial university, proposed a draft strategy near the end of Wednesday's symposium session. His draft led with an effort to bring higher education in Belarus into the so-called Bologna Process.

That process was initiated in Bologna, Italy, in 1999 by the education ministers of 19 European countries. It encourages a Europe-wide higher education community in which shared standards allow students and faculty to pursue lives and careers that take them across borders.

Belarus is one of the few countries in Europe that has not joined the Bologna Process.

In a discussion late Wednesday, several other elements of a strategy emerged. Among them were:

Using the legislative process.

Following accepted standards.

Considering new institutions.

Alyaksandr Kazulin, former rector of Belarus State University, urged the group to consider including secondary schools attached to universities, or lyceums, in the strategy. His idea appeared to be adopted.

Paula Survilla, co-executive of the Center for Belarusian Studies, facilitated the symposium. She led the group to agree to ask the center to draft a strategy and circulate it to the participants.

Their responses should come before the end of October, it was agreed.

Swartz urged unanimity.

He pointed out representatives of the government of Belarus had been invited to the symposium, but none attended.

"Before we depart today," he said, "we should be sure we are on the same wavelength ... A document agreed on by all here surely will be a precursor of the kind of governmental document you are talking about."

Participants were also given until the end of the month to revise the papers they had presented. A compendium of those papers is expected to be published along with the final recommendations to governments, according to Andy Sheppard, co-director of the center and academic vice president at Southwestern.

Swartz and Sheppard said they considered the economics of the situation in Belarus to be key to change there. Sheppard pointed out the value to Belarus of opening its universities to a rising wave of international students. Such students brought over $15 billion to the United States last year, Sheppard said.

Another former American ambassador to Belarus, Kenneth Yalowitz, earlier described the Lukashenka government as trying to balance itself between the economic forces of Russia and Europe.

Belarus benefits from an energy pipeline that carries Russian gas and oil to heat homes in Germany. Belarus itself has benefited from low-cost energy from Russia and from favorable access to Russian markets.

Recent Russian steps to charge market prices for energy to Belarus, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics may change this picture, Swartz said.

He believes the economics of this situation provide leverage for influencing the Lukashenka government to take a more positive approach to the Bologna Process. "There ought to be a way to appeal to the better angels of their nature," Swartz said.

Paula Survilla concluded the symposium by congratulating the group on its efficiency in reaching consensus. "We look forward to our continued collaboration in the next days," she said.

Getting leaders who want to open up higher education in Belarus to agree on anything has sometimes been a challenge, Survilla's mother, Ivanka Survilla, said. Ivaonka Survilla is president of the Belarus National Republic, the Belarusian government in exile.

Participants in the symposium included Paula Survilla, Aliaksander Kalbaska of the European Humanities University, Swartz, Sheppard, Kazulin, Antsipenka, Yalowitz, author Zina Gimpelevich and former Belarus head of state Stanislau Shushkevich.



Partners: Social Network