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Children on the streets: Belarusian Humanities Lyceum closed down
Ihar Svabodzin (charter97.org), Uladzimir Katkouski
Unlike the other 90,000 students countrywide, these 141 high school students in Minsk started the new academic year quite differently. Students of the Belarusian Humanities Lyceum sat at their desks outdoors! The first day of classes was held outside because the Lyceum was closed down by the government, and the Lyceum building was blocked by the police and construction workers.
Three cold summer months turned really hot for the Lyceum’s students. Their struggle for an opportunity to get educated in their favorite institution deserves highest praise. In late May the Lyceum received a newly appointed principal – Tamara Scherbachevich. That automatically meant the dismissal of the former Lyceum’s head Uladzimir Kolas – one of the founders of the institution, which had been providing the country universities with top students for the past 11 years. Appointing a bureacurcat from ministry of education who can not speak a word of Belarusian, only Russian, was the last drop. On the same day there commenced the resistance campaign.
Five years ago, when the Lyceum was evicted from its premises on Kirava str. 21, the students had already gone on strike, collected signatures and appealed to numerous instances. The public opinion and international pressure spared the Lyceum – it had been left in peace for a while.
This year the students and their parents had to again stand up for their rights. Hardly a single day passed since June 1 without the beleaguered Lyceum’s being mentioned in news reports. They opened signature collection motion in its defense. The education ministry’s officials faced regular pickets, when going to and from work. In mid-June there was held an action in the centrally located Kastrychnickaja (October) square.
Such a massive exertion of pressure brought forth good results. The parents’ committee met with the Education Ministry officials. And then Lukashenka personally intervened in the affair. When appointing the new education minister he said: “Education is the sphere which provides an individual with spiritual and intellectual life. And it’s no place for opposition to build their nests.” Apparently, Lyceum was viewed as such a “nest” and was faced with an ever-growing pressure.
The students and teachers were told to move to other educational institutions. In response, the parental committee filed a lawsuit over the illegitimacy of the governmental ruling on the Lyceum’s liquidation. Then the authorities declared that the building is shut down for reconstruction. The government bureaucrats did their best to prevent the teachers and their students from starting their new academic year in their old building. One could get an impression that the authorities are not dealing with the children but, rather, with some undercover revolutionary organization.
Dzmitry Bandarenka comments: “The Lyceum’s closure cannot be separated from other cases of strangling the civil society in Belarus. The newspapers’ shutdowns, mass repressions against the directors and businessmen, arrests of the youth activists – all testify to the fact that the president is becoming too insolent in his impunity. In 1996 Lukashenka shut down the Belarusian “Radio 101,2”, where I used to work. Now he closed the Lyceum, where my daughter studies. If we don’t want our grandchildren to fall prey to dictatorship too, we’ve got to intensify our resistance to this criminal regime.”
Today the teachers and students aren’t going to move to the town’s different schools, preferring to continue education in their native alma mater.
On September 1st over 700 people showed up there to support the Lyceum’s students in their first day of the new academic year. The festive assembly was held outdoors. The wooden benches and desks were set up for each class. The first lessons were delivered by famous Belarusian historians and linguists. The Lyceum’s students are teaching us a lesson of solidarity. These children show us what can be achieved through genuine unity.
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