09.02.2011
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Northern European countries unite in battle against Belarus

OSLO – In response to letters from the European Students’ Union (ESU), the Norwegian ministry of Education intends to issue a joint statement with ten other Northern European countries in which they express their common concern about the violation of academic freedom in Belarus. So far, Estonia, Denmark and Lithuania already confirmed their participation.

In the draft, addressed to the Belarusian minister of Education Sergey Maskevich, the education ministries say it “is deeply unjustified” to keep academic staff or students away from the opportunity to pursue “their quest of knowledge” because they have expressed their political views. The draft still needs to be confirmed by the other seven national ministries.

On 19 December 2010, around twenty Belarusian students were jailed following violently repressed protests against the election of the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko. These students are now facing expulsion from their universities for having participated in the demonstrations. “ We are disgusted to see the same situation as in 2006 happening all over again. We receive reports of house searches and KGB interrogations that remind us of Stalinist times. If international pressure is not enough, we ask for additional measures to be taken, especially to protect those who stood up for their opinion, says Bert Vandenkendelaere, Chairperson of ESU.

Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Scotland, Sweden and the UK are among the countries that are invited to participate with Norway in the joint statement. Oslo initiated the statement after ESU and its national member unions sent out requests to the authorities to put diplomatic pressure on the Belarusian government to stop the arrests and to release the students that were imprisoned.

The Austrian ministry of Education already urged Maskevich, in letters that are dated 7 and 10 January “to ensure the immediate stop of any reprisals against students” . Vienna says in its letters that they have received “official information that arrests of students and ex-matriculations from universities took place” . Beatrix Karl, Austria’s education minister writes: “The measures taken by your government contradict not only to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly but also to the main principles of the European Higher Education Area.”

BackgroundLukashenko has been in power for 16 years in the former communist state. According to the outcomes of the recent elections, which are strongly questioned by the international community, he won 80 percent of the votes. Over 650 demonstrators, opposition leaders, journalists and students, were taken into custody in the wake of the elections.
END

Published 21 January 2011
Updated 27 January 2011

For more information, please contact:

Bert Vandenkendelaere, ESU Chairperson: +32 4736 6 9892 / bert@esu-online.org

Marianne Slegers, ESU Communications Manager: +32 4736 6 9894 / marianne@esu-online.org

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