05.04.2011
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Belarus at odds with Council of Europe on academic freedom

STRASBOURG – Under loud protest from the delegate from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign affairs, the Council of Europe’s steering committee for Higher Education and Research expressed its ’concern’ about the situation of higher education in Belarus in the wake of the presidential Lukashenko elections in December 2010, at their meeting on 4 April.

Bert Vandenkendelaere, Chairperson of the European Students’ Union (ESU) said: “We are talking here about the abuse of higher education to prevent people from exercising their freedom of association and expression. This must be put to an end and the Council of Europe should take a clear and strong stand on this, especially because the repression is ongoing.”
The statement was agreed upon in presence of a Belarussian delegate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Belarus is a member of the steering committee (CDESR). Despite loud objections from the Belarussian representative, Vandenkendelaere said, at the meeting: “ESU is eager to cooperate with students in Belarus in a constructive way. However, this will require the students to be more free from educational obligations, free to travel, free to associate, and free to speak and that is in practice unfortunately not the case yet.”

Shared concerns
The CDESR shares the concern expressed by the education ministers from Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Sweden, who have all written to their Belarusian colleague about the measures taken against staff and students who participated in the demonstration.

This was done in reaction to an urgent request from ESU and its national members after the violent repression of demonstrations against the Lukashenko elections, in December 2010. Many students were jailed and expelled for participating in these demonstrations or for missing their winter exam sessions while they were imprisoned.

Intensified cooperation
The CDESR calls upon all actors in European higher education to “intensify cooperation aiming at fostering democratic culture in higher education in Belarus”. The statement reads: “A commitment to academic freedom, institutional autonomy and student participation is key among the fundamental values of the European Higher Education Area. We call upon the public authorities of Belarus to ensure respect for these fundamental values through their policies and practice.”–END–

Published: 5 April 2011

For more information, please contact:
Bert Vandenkendelaere, ESU Chairperson: +32473669892 or Bert@esu-online.org
Marianne Slegers, ESU Communications Manager: +32473669894 or Marianne@esu-online.org

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