In the same week that 12 university students and a professor were on trial in Belarus for participating in peaceful protests against the dictatorship – something that Alexander Lukashenko’s regime turned into a crime – the Federal University of Paraíba took over. announced a cooperation agreement with Belarus. State University (BSU), accused of cracking down on its professors and students.
Valid for five years, the partnership between the Brazilian Federal University and the Belarusian institution provides for the exchange of students and researchers, joint research and co-supervision of graduate students.
In the statement in which the agreement was announced, Leila Bijos, one of the coordinators of the internationalization of higher education, described BSU as “an important step in the development of education in the region, attracting students and researchers from all over Asia ”. “The international experience for a researcher, or for a student, is quite simply innovative in terms of intellectual, cultural and social standards”, explains the professor.
The BSU is however involved in several repression cases, including the trial itself initiated in May, known as the Student Case: 4 of the 12 students facing up to three years in prison come from this state university. .
Seven other students of the institution are in prison for political reasons, according to the Association of Students of Belarus, and at least 19 students have been expelled and 17 teachers have been dismissed for political reasons, according to Volha Yermalaieva Franco, representative of the Embassy of the People of Belarus. in Brazil – in opposition to the Lukashenko regime. .
In his testimony, former BSU professor Yaraslau Kot said his personal data was leaked after he declared his position against dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko. “My car was spray painted, I received calls with threats. The administration called me for conversations and said, “Why are you talking to students about politics? It’s your fault they get run over with tanks. ‘ In December, he was fired.
The university also cut scholarships and expelled 17 other students from the student residence, and more than 168 were formally reprimanded for protesting the dictatorship. Several were forced to leave the country, including Leanid Kazatchak, who was studying international relations at BSU.
He was jailed for 12 days in October last year and upon his release received a warning from the university. In February this year, after another arrest by the police, he left Belarus and was also expelled from the university.
“At present, the signing of a cooperation agreement with BSU is seen by Belarusian society as a gesture of support for the actions of the university administration, which sends its students to the dock,” Volha wrote. Yermalaieva Franco in a letter sent to the paraibana federal government.
She cited the petition launched by the Honest University initiative – which defends freedom of expression in Belarusian higher education – for a boycott of international partnerships and cooperation with the institution “until the end of the repression politics in Belarus ”.
UFPB is the only Brazilian university to maintain agreements with BSU. The partnered UnB broke ties last year after the dictatorship’s violent crackdown on protesters, a stance similar to that taken by German universities in Ukraine.
In addition to receiving criticism from other Brazilian and international universities, the UFPB is accused of censoring Internet users’ questions during an event presenting the partnership last Friday morning (18). During the videoconference, Belarusian Tsimafei Malakhouski, of the Honest People initiative, said he was excluded from the event without justification, before asking any questions.
“You were banned from the conference by the organizer” was the message he received, before returning to the meeting with an anonymous account, he said.
Another participant, Belarusian literature and culture researcher Paterson Franco, said he saw his microphone cut off when he asked representatives of the federal government in Paraíba — Leila Bijos and the director of institutional relations, Ana Berenice Martorelli – — a position on the political crisis in Belarus.
Before that, Franco had asked the representative of BSU, Professor Elena Dostanko, how the institution could guarantee the safety of Brazilian students, “since there are numerous repressions of peaceful demonstrators in Belarus”. The Belarusian professor said “that she is aware of the complexity” of the problems affecting her country, but that she would not talk about politics.
Volha also saw his microphone cut off during the video conference, as he presented figures on the BSU crackdown. Her speech was later restored by the director of international relations, but the Belarusian teacher again reiterated that she would not be talking about politics. The event, according to the activist, ended abruptly.
The Belarusian dictatorship has already made more than 30,000 arrests since the start of protests calling for the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko and free elections in August last year. As of Monday (21), there were 501 political prisoners in the country, according to human rights organization Viazna. At least 1,350 students and 270 university professors have been punished for demonstrating against the regime’s violent repression.
Folha contacted the UFPB at 8:00 a.m. (Brazilian time) and contacted one of the professors in charge of international cooperation at 9:42 a.m., but until 12:30 p.m., she still had not received a response to the request. interview.
EU extends sanctions to “drain Belarus”
“We want to make the diet [Aleksandr] Lukashenko is drying up financially, “German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on a social network after the announcement of new sanctions against the Belarusian dictatorship.
The chancellors of the 27 countries that visited the European Union agreed on Monday (21) to add 78 people and 8 entities to the list of those subject to restrictions, in retaliation for the hijacking of a commercial aircraft and the arrest of journalist Roman Protassevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega at the end of May.
The new sanctions, the fourth round since the start of the violent crackdown on protesters in Belarus, are the largest ever imposed on an Eastern Bloc country, according to analyst Ben Aris, a specialist in post-Soviet countries. For the first time, they are also targeting seven economic sectors of great relevance to the economy of the post-Soviet country, such as potash (used in fertilizers) and petroleum products.
Potash exports account for one-fifth of Belarus’ budget revenue, and refined petroleum products another third of the country’s GDP. “Sales can be redirected to Asia and Russia, thus avoiding an economic collapse, but the sanctions will still hurt Lukashenko and increase his dependence on Moscow,” he said.
The strategy behind the sanctions, he said, is to increase the cost of Russian support to the point that President Vladimir Putin gives up support for the Belarusian dictator. It is estimated that Russia will spend between $ 2 billion and $ 3 billion per year (between R $ 10 billion and R $ 15 billion) on soft loans and debt relief, which could drop from $ 6 billion to R $ 10 billion (from R $ 30 billion). 50 billion reais). ) with penalties.
“It will hurt. It will seriously harm the Belarusian economy,” said Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief. The measures still need the approval of the leaders of the countries, at a meeting between Thursday and Friday this week.
The financial sector will also be affected: EU banks will be prohibited from lending or investing in the country. Alexander Schallenberg, Austrian Foreign Minister – one of Belarus’ leading financial service providers – says the aim is to target the state but not the residents. “We must press the ‘angels’ [‘thumbscrews’, instrumentos de tortura que apertavam os polegares de interrogados] after this cruel state air piracy action, ”he told the Guardian.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, who led the opposition front against Lukashenko in last year’s presidential elections, met ministers ahead of the meeting and called on the EU to step up sanctions to put pressure on the dictatorship to it frees more than 500 political prisoners in the country. Among them is Svetlana’s husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, arrested in May last year while launching his candidacy for the presidency.
Lukashenko’s most popular opponent, executive Viktor Babariko, has also been in prison since before the presidential elections. “Sanctions are not a quick fix, but they can help end violence and free people,” Tikhanovskaya said on social media.
The EU has already imposed three rounds of sanctions, reaching a total of 155 people, including Lukashenko and his son, and 15 entities, who have been banned from traveling and their assets frozen. The measures are seen as symbolic, as the country’s elite have few assets in the European bloc.
After the interception of the Ryanair flight by a military fighter and its diversion to Minsk airport, the EU and the United Kingdom banned the overflight of Belarus by their airlines and closed the airports of the bloc to Belarusian planes .
UNDERSTANDING THE CASE
What is happening in Belarus?
Since August 2020, demonstrators have been protesting against an election considered rigged, according to the results of international organizations, and demanding the ouster of dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
Who is Lukashenko?
Former director of a collective farm during the former Soviet Union, he won the country’s first presidential election in 1994, the only one considered free and fair. Since then, he has concentrated power, represses the opposition and is reelected in the following elections.
What has changed last year?
The candidacy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, in front of other opposition groups whose candidates have been arrested or exiled, generated strong support in the country, suggesting that, for the first time, opponents of Lukashenko would have a chance to stand up. go to the polls. But observers were prevented from following the vote and the dictatorship reported that the president had secured 80% of the vote, sparking riots and protests.
Why has the EU launched a new round of sanctions?
At the end of May, Lukashenko ordered the interception of a Ryanair flight departing from Greece to Lithuania and had on board an opponent of his regime, blogger Roman Protassevich, 26, arrested on landing in Minsk and prosecuted for three misdemeanors. This act was seen as an attack on civil aviation safety and human rights.
If three other waves of sanctions didn’t work, why this one?
The early rounds banned travel and froze the assets of individuals and institutions involved in the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, but were seen as symbolic, as the Belarusian elite have little investment in the European bloc.
Now, for the first time, sectors that are economically relevant to the regime will be affected, such as arms, tobacco, petroleum products and potash, which are responsible for a considerable share of Belarusian revenues. The strategy is to increase the cost of Russian aid so that Vladimir Putin’s government no longer supports Lukashenko.