Prague, 19 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As Terry Boesch explains it, his sudden expulsion has no explanation -- at least, not officially.
"The Belarusian government denied my visa and ordered me to leave the country on the same day [14 July]," he told RFE/RL. "But the government kept my documents and visa so I cannot leave the country until I get them back. I have been here for two years and I have shown by my behaviors and teaching that I am trying to help the Belarusian people."
However, Boesch has his own ideas of why he and his two daughters have been kicked out of Belarus. In a letter posted to the website of the Belarusian human rights group Charter-97, the American wrote, "Before taking part in the 2006 presidential election, [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka has started a big cleanup aimed at representatives of the West."
Boesch told RFE/RL that he has avoided politics and contacts with the opposition while staying in Belarus, where he has concentrated on academic and humanitarian activities, including the organization of exchanges for Belarusian students, visits of guest lecturers, and donations of English-language textbooks.
"We were able to attract some interest from schools and libraries in the United States who donated more than 40,000 books," Boesch said. "I paid for the shipping of the two large ocean-going containers to get [them] here. Unfortunately, I contacted the Ministry of Education here in Belarus when that happened, suggesting that I thought we could bring over 400,000 books, but there just has not been an interest in bringing English textbooks, or English-language books, into Belarus by this government."
"So, the Belarusian State University, to my knowledge, is the only university now in Europe without an international relations vice president or vice rector. Second, there has been an elimination of at least three international programs that have been long-standing in our university." - Boesch
Boesch's case is not the first expulsion of a Western educator from Belarus. In July 2004, Belarusian authorities invalidated a multiple-entry visa for Alan Flowers, an expert in radiology based at Kingston University in London, and banned him from visiting the country for the next five years. No official reason for Flowers' expulsion has ever been given.
Like Boesch, Flowers was careful to steer clear of what in the West would be termed "politics." What he did, however, was to foster pro-democracy activities among Belarusian students -- debate and discussion clubs -- and to assist them to participate in such activities at an international level.
But promoting democratic ideas among Belarusian students, or simply exposing them to ideas not supported by the state, is what Lukashenka abhors in the first place in his attempt to reconstruct Soviet-style education in Belarus.
Last year, state ideology was introduced as an obligatory course at all universities in Belarus, both private and state-run.
In July 2004, the government closed the privately funded European Humanities University (EHU) in Minsk, a school that provided Western-style education and promoted the exchange of ideas between students from Belarus and the West. Lukashenka subsequently acknowledged that the EHU was closed because it was training a new Belarusian elite that would make the nation pro-Western. Earlier this year, the EHU reopened in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Boesch says that Belarusian State University has been undergoing a process of "continued politicization" and isolation from international contacts following the appointment of former education minister Vasil Strazhau as rector in November 2003. "One of the first things that the new rector did was to cancel the international relations pro-rector's position," he said. "So, the Belarusian State University, to my knowledge, is the only university now in Europe without an international relations vice president or vice rector. Second, there has been an elimination of at least three international programs that have been long-standing in our university."
Boesch said he is planning to leave Belarus with his two daughters on 20 July for Lithuania, where he said he hopes to relax after "72 hours of hell" in Minsk after he was told to leave.
(RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Irena Chalupa contributed to this report)See also:
Lukashenka Sees To University Education (21 September 2004)
Higher Education -- Lukashenka-Style (9 March 2004)