1 December 2020, Tuesday, 15:08
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Why University Professors Are on Strike

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Why University Professors Are on Strike
PHOTO: NN.BY

Students and professors have shown miracles of self-organization.

Professors are on strike in Belarusian universities.

The professors of the Minsk Linguistic University (MSLU) and the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (BSUIR) have publicly announced their participation in the national strike, Alena Spasiuk writes in an article on the website naviny.by.

Professors from various Belarusian universities and gymnasium teachers record and distribute video messages on social networks in which they speak out against violence, election fraud, and pressure on the academic community.

In general, many professors in universities are in solidarity with the striking students, but they do not do it so openly.

"This is not a classic strike"

Since the beginning of the academic year, associate professor of BSUIR Aleh Rolich thought about how to support students, but so far, he has not had a chance to openly express his position. Now he has joined the strike.

"What is happening at BSUIR is an act of solidarity with the protesting students and university staff of the country, doctors, workers, IT specialists, and others who are not indifferent," Rolich said. "This is not a classic strike," said the assistant professor.

"Solidarity with caring like-minded people of BSUIR, with students, with the protesting people of Belarus" helps to overcome fear." Frankly speaking, I'm tired of living in the grip of the current government," Rolich said.

"It is impossible to put up barbed wire barriers on free thoughts"

At BSUIR, 44 professors supported the strike. The list began to form on October 26. In total, the university employs over 300 professors.

The strike is a self-organized initiative of local professors, said Dzmitry Samal, associate professor of BSUIR. He is sure that many more university employees agree with the demands of the strike, but people are not ready to publicly express their position - there are personal constraints, for example, many live in service housing from the university. "And some works with freshmen, most of whom are minors, and this is a special responsibility," the assistant professor said.

Dzmitry Samal noted that the university professors have an active public position of supporting the strike because the process of studying at BSUIR becomes meaningless if the current policy continues in the country:

"Many IT companies are already sitting on suitcases. The intelligent IT cluster formed over the past 10-15 years will be forced to emigrate. Here its representatives will not be able to work physically due to moral contradictions with the regime. And our graduates will not be in demand. I do not think that this is a purposeful policy - to force all active people to move abroad in order to set up a concentration camp in Belarus. The authorities rather solve their tactical tasks without thinking about the strategy and the future."

As for the consequences for the professors participating in the strike, Dzmitry Samal has no doubts that they will be. He says that he likes working with students, but if he loses his job, he will not be lost: "I can always earn my piece of bread."

Speaking about the goal of the professors' strike, Dzmitry Samal noted that, on the one hand, it is clear that the university administration cannot fulfill political demands, being just as hostages of the situation as the teachers. On the other hand, the administration is able to take at least some steps towards academic freedom, to compromise with teachers and students, despite the rigid vertical of power existing in the country:

"Universities should be places where free thinking is encouraged. If the freedom of thought extends only to the technical direction where you can create but is not recommended in public political life, cognitive dissonance arises sooner or later. It is impossible to put up barbed wire barriers on free thoughts."

"This is provoking the authorities to make mistakes"

Teachers' activity is a natural reaction to the events taking place in the country, says Vadzim Mazheika, an analyst with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS).

And this activity, in his opinion, "demonstrates diametrically opposite positions, a split."

For example, after a conflict with the dean of one of the faculties of BSUIR, a criminal case was opened under Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them), a 21-year-old student who called for going on strike was arrested.

"The strike has activated the protest potential of students. The professors began to react to this - someone, like a professor at the Linguistic University, shows his middle fingers to students, and someone defends students in front of the rector, as it was at the University of Culture and Arts. The academic environment is rather inert. Often people are not ready and do not know how to show their position publicly. Some professors do not go to pickets and choose a strategy of other resistance. Professors communicate directly with students; they can, while reading their lectures, engage in the discussion of socio-political topics, thus engaging in civil work. Often such things do not go beyond the audience," said Vadzim Mazheika.

The strike of professors, the expert believes, has not an economic, but an informational and psychological effect: "It is provoking the authorities to make mistakes."

In fact, it is not the strike itself that is effective, but the inadequate actions of the authorities in response to it: "Such strikes are something symbolic. Inadequate reactions and actions of the authorities urge society to faster become aware of what is happening."

The reaction of the authorities has already followed. On October 27, at a meeting on the preparation of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly, Lukashenka ordered to expel the striking students: "Whoever went to unauthorized actions in violation of the law is deprived of the right to be a student. Please send them, as I said, some to the army and some to the street. Let them walk down the street. But they must be expelled from the university. The same teachers, there are also very few of them, who behave disgustingly in universities".

This has already happened - for example, the professors of the Belarusian State Medical University who recorded a video message against violence were fired. It became known from social networks about the dismissal of the dean of the Faculty of International Economic Relations of the Belarusian State Economic University, Mikhail Mishkevich, for a civil position.

Today, dismissal from the university for a mobile and qualified specialist is "not a tragedy; the problem can be solved," said Vadzim Mazheika. There are European programs of solidarity with politically expelled students and employment opportunities for teachers. There is also short-term support for those dismissed for political reasons:

"Of course, the question of qualifications arises - to what extent a teacher can work abroad. So far, many people find it difficult to take the risk of making a decision to go on strike. They are not loyal to the regime, but they are afraid."

In any case, teachers' and professors' political protest activity is "a historical event that has not yet happened in the modern history of Belarus," said Pavel Tserashkovich, an expert in the field of education.

He quoted Vladimir Lenin, who in the pre-revolutionary period said about the intelligentsia that it could not but rebel against despotic oppression and violence: "In other words, in this case, the one who really is a representative of the intelligentsia and whose conscience does not allow to remain silent protests."

"It is too early to make predictions about the future of the protest, including the participation of teachers in it. As a historian, I can say that there are no prospects for a regime that exists at the expense of violence. The only question is time. So, the teachers participating in the strike and supporting the students in other ways contribute to their future, preserving their conscience and academic authority," concluded Pavel Tserashkovich.