(Washington, DC--December 9, 2003) Uladzimir Kolas, acting headmaster of the now disbanded Belarusian National Humanities Lyceum, told an RFE/RL audience last week that the forced closure of his unique high school in the summer of 2003 reflects the fate of Belarusian society, which now faces the imposition of a Belarusian "state ideology" defined by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in all state-run institutions.
Kolas stated that the Lyceum, which taught its curriculum in the country's native Belarusian language, was widely recognized as one of the top educational institutions in Belarus. Describing the circumstances of the closure of the high school, which had functioned since 1990, Kolas said, "Our Lyceum was liquidated without any reason."
The school was closed, Kolas said, after attempts were made to put the Lyceum under the control of a non-Belarusian speaking director whose purpose was to "enforce the new state ideology." The closing of the Lyceum was delayed for several weeks because the faculty and students enjoyed public support: "The people usually just obey, [but] this time they did not," according to Kolas. Video footage shown during the briefing provided visual evidence of protests, demonstrations, and a petition with 10,000 signatures, including those of police who ultimately occupied the Lyceum.
Kolas also described the Belarusian government's efforts during the past six months to impose an official state ideology for Belarus. He stated that, as of September 1, ideology officers have been introduced throughout the education system, in state offices, factories and cultural institutions even though a textbook for teaching the ideology is still being prepared. Kolas noted that the ideology is in a formative state: "Lukashenka doesn't know what it should be himself, but he knows what it should be used for." Kolas suggested that the "role [of the ideology] is to justify and explain the state policies of the president of Belarus."
The result of non-compliance with Lukashenka's decree concerning the teaching of the state ideology, Kolas said, is dismissal from one's job, citing as examples the dismissals within the last few months of the State Orchestra conductor and director of Belarus State University. He said that the parents and teachers of the closed Lyceum have been pressured for their refusal to work at or send their children to state-approved schools. The students continue to take informal lessons from their teachers, thus maintaining the Lyceum as a veritable "underground" high school. Kolas said the students, teachers and the parents of the Lyceum hope for support for their school from other countries, including the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania and the U.S.
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