Hanna Vasilevich’s comment on minority education in Belarus at the European Regional Forum on Minority Issues

Hanna Vasilevich’s comment on minority education in Belarus at the European Regional Forum on Minority Issues

This comment was presented at the panel “Public policy objectives and practices for education in minority languages” of the European Forum on Education, Language and Human Rights of Minorities by ICELDS Board Chair Dr. Hanna Vasilevich:

Belarus still represents a white spot on the map of Europe, as little research was done on addressing national minorities in Belarus in general and the minority education, including education in mother tongue/minority language, in particular. Minority education is represented by the four schools in Belarus, where a minority language is the main language of instruction – two schools with the Polish language (in the cities of Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk) and the other two – in Lithuanian language (in the villages of Rymdziuny and Pieliasa).[1]

The essential criteria for the establishment of minority school in Belarus (with the instruction in a minority language) are to obtain approval by the country’s Ministry of Education and to have a sufficient number of proactive parents who want to send their children to such school (declaration of will is necessary). In addition to these formalities, in many cases, parents have to overcome additional obstacles. One of the most eloquent examples of this approach of the authorities is the artificial limitation of the number of first graders at two minority schools with the Polish language of education. The limitations were lifted almost every time, but only after the protest by the parents and all the children who wanted to study in this school were enrolled.

Tendencies of minority education in Belarus:

  1. a limited number of minority schools in Belarus with no new schools being introduced since the late 1990s;
  2. the state mostly reacts to the situation related to minority education, instead of being proactive, i.e. no initiative comes from the state, just a reaction on the problems and criticism;
  3. a formalistic approach towards minority education;
  4. the lack of political will of the accommodating state (home state) to support the creation of these schools.

The most common explanations of the tendencies in minority education by the government are:

  • the decrease in demand for education in minority languages;
  • the possibilities to obtain an education in national minority languages in the already existing schools or language classes;
  • insufficient effort and willingness of parents to teach their children in languages other than the official ones.

Recommendations to Belarus:

  1. Although the ratification of the FCNM and ECRML could be an important tool to ensure the protection of minority rights, this step does not seem feasible in the close future because Belarus is not a member to the Council of Europe. However, adoption and implementation of anti-discrimination legislation could become highly beneficial for the protection of minority rights.
  2. Raising awareness is an important tool to ensure the protection of human rights in general and the minority rights in particular,
  3. Bilateral agreements are an important instrument for minority rights implementation (the case of the Lithuanian minority in Belarus), but it is advisable to avoid the politicization of minority groups or to involve them in the political agendas (the case of the Polish minority in Belarus).
  4. Financial aspects are not always an issue. The core aspect is the political will and fulfillment of the obligations and responsibilities. The example is the case of the only private school – the Lithuanian minority school in Pieliasa which is fully funded by the Foundation of Culture and by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport of Lithuania. While the school is financed by Lithuania, the education process is based on the programs of the Ministry of Education of Belarus.


[1] Although Russians are considered a national minority in Belarus, schools with the Russian language of instruction are not regarded as minority schools due to the constitutional status of the Russian language as one of the two official languages in Belarus.

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