WENR, September/October 2003: Russia & The Commonwealth of Independent States

Russia & The Commonwealth of Independent States


Academic Exchange Program Shuttered
The International Research and Exchanges Board [1] (IREX) was ordered to close by the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and did so Aug. 6. The IREX program aimed at broadening academic and professional contacts, providing free and unlimited Internet access, and supporting independent mass media. A statement from Promedia, a Belarusian independent-media advocate, suggests that the closure of the IREX office is part of a detractive campaign against foreign humanitarian and technical aid programs conducted in Belarus.
IREX, which has operated in Belarus since 1997, administers four programs, two of which focus on academic and professional exchanges. The others provide training for Internet users and independent reporters. IREX’s accreditation was denied because, officially, the organization was conducting activities inconsistent with its charter. In other words, an academic exchange program has no business helping develop independent newspapers and television stations.
Aug. 6, 2003
President’s Ideology Becomes Mandatory University Course
Belarusian students are being forced to learn a new subject – state ideology – as of the start of the new academic term in September. The new course, mandatory at all state and private universities, has been greeted with suspicion by pro-Western analysts and students alike. In a meeting on Aug. 13 to discuss the state’s plans for imposing its ideology on the population, President Lukashenko told those present that his speeches could be used as a source for ideologists, adding that “the wording (of the Belarusian national ideology) may not be too refined or coherent, but is good enough to use.”
In another development, Lukashenko has recently reshuffled his cabinet and replaced former Education Minister Pytor Brigadin with Alexander Radkov, a former rector of Mogilev State University [2]. The president justified the replacement by the need to step up ideological training in schools and colleges, stating, “The opposition will never set foot in education.” Analysts believe the Education Ministry has rushed the new course onto the curriculum because it is worried about the political attitudes displayed in many classrooms. The Yakub Kolas Belarusian Lyceum of Humanities in Minsk was closed down by the authorities last month for “supplying dissidents to colleges across the country.”
While Belarusian dissidents and opposition activists agree that Belarus currently lacks a recognizable national identity, they denounce the government’s attempts to fabricate and impose a way of thinking on the younger generation. But the authorities press on with their Soviet-style methods of indoctrination and are preparing to set a large propaganda machine to work. Every industrial enterprise employing 300 or more workers, and collective farms employing more than 150, now must have a deputy manager for ideological education.
Institute for War and Peace Reporting [3]
Aug. 20, 2003


Same Rules Now Apply at State and Private Schools
As of the beginning of August, state as well as private institutions of higher education must be licensed by the Kyrgyz Education and Culture Ministry, akipress.org reported on Aug. 8, quoting the State Commission on Entrepreneurship. Previously only private institutions were required to obtain licenses. The objective of the new requirement is to raise teaching standards within the framework of ongoing reform of the country’s educational system.
RFE/RL [4]


Aug. 11, 2003


Demand for University Places Higher Than Ever
Competition for university places was unusually fierce this summer, and demand for majors involving technology has skyrocketed, school officials said.
The country’s 657 institutions of higher education stopped accepting applications in early July and had to make decisions by the end of July as to the 594,381 students to be admitted, according to Education Ministry Spokeswoman Larisa Chegayeva. Moscow State University [5] (MGU) received a total of 19,813 applications for 3,660 openings in its 25 departments, almost 500 more than last year. Moscow’s Bauman Technical University [6] received more than 7,000 applications for its 3,100 places, with most competing for places in the departments of information technology and programming. Other popular majors this year around the nation have been public administration and financing.
The number of applicants from the regions also increased markedly. Almost half of the tuition-paying students that MGU enrolled for the fall term came from the regions, in sharp contrast with years past, when two-thirds were residents of Moscow and the surrounding Moscow region.
The Moscow Times [7]
July 23, 2003


US$20 Million from World Bank to ‘Modernize Education’
The World Bank has approved US$20 million for an “Education Modernization Project” to be carried out in Tajikistan in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Education.
Tajikistan inherited a quality education system during the Soviet era. But, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, coupled with five years of civil war between 1992 and 1997, the system crumbled and will take years to rebuild, experts say. Eight years of education was compulsory in Soviet Tajikistan, and this requirement was expanded to nine years in the newly independent republic. Authorities in Tajikistan still claim 98 percent of the population is literate, which aid workers say is simply not feasible. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) put the average enrolment for all levels of education (ages six to 23) at 62.1 percent in 2002.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [8]
May 30, 2003


Russian University Applicants Targeted
According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, quoting sources in the Turkmen Education Ministry, an unwritten order “handed to us from above” encourages universities to reject applicants with non-Turkmen surnames–especially ethnic Russian, considered some of the most talented in the country.
While thousands of Russians left the country when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Turkmenistan gained its independence, a large number stayed. The 150,000-strong Russian-speaking community includes other minorities, such as Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks and Kazaks. Some analysts believe that the authorities’ harsh attitude has been prompted by the recent cancellation of a bilateral agreement with Moscow that granted dual citizenship to those in Turkmenistan who wished it. But it is not just Russian-speakers who are facing discrimination. A decree issued last month by President Saparmurat Niazov rules that only those who have done two years’ work after leaving school are allowed to go onto higher education (see July/August issue WENR [9]).
The rule has angered many, who now fear for their children’s future in the former Soviet republic, which has severe economic problems and high levels of unemployment. And there is little to be gained from leaving the country to study abroad, as foreign qualifications are not recognized in Turkmenistan, irrespective of the academic excellence of the university at which they were acquired.
Institute for War and Peace Reporting [3]


July 16, 2003