History tends to repeat itself.
In Belarus, there are massive dismissals of workers of factories, plants, hospitals and clinics that are objectionable to the authorities. Earlier we reported that Lukashenka's “optimization” has reached the education sector. The layoffs of teachers and other employees of educational institutions began.
Associate Professor of the Department of Pedagogy and Psychology of Childhood at Hrodna State University named after Yanka Kupala, candidate of pedagogical sciences Maryna Saltykova-Vaukoovich also fell under massive layoffs. In an interview with Charter97.org, she told her story.
- First, I was summoned to the university administration and told that they should have a conversation with me. This happened two weeks before the dismissal. At our university, the rector did not see anyone personally, all dismissals were carried out by the hands of other people who followed orders from the leadership. At the moment, the rector of Hrodna State University is Iryna Kiturka, the vice-rector for security issues - Aliaksei Biazzubik. These people are now in the shadows. I would not like it to remain so, it is very important.
The formal reason for my dismissal was the fact that I was in the “Hrodna State University for Changes” chat, which was founded after the August 2020 events. Both students and teachers gathered there. In this chat I once made a comment about the actions of the vice-rector for educational and ideological work, Vasil Sinko. He called the police to the students when they staged a small picket near the main building of the university. Some students were then detained, many were expelled. It was a very ugly moment, to put it mildly, and I wrote a comment in support of our students - “Shame on Sinko for calling the police against the children”. Everything I said or wrote in the chat, I said at the university. The entire faculty knew my position.
During the first conversation, I was reminded of all the comments and messages that I posted in this chat. They also began to ask me questions about whether I was going to take the students out to protest actions or participate in the strike announced by Siarhei Dyleuski. I then replied that these are children, that I am responsible for them and I am not going to invite them to the demonstration. I also said that I was not going to participate in the strike. The person I spoke with replied: “I understood you, thank you, sorry for having bothered you. I was told I had to talk to you.” He was very polite. I smiled, and replied that I understood that it was his job.
Two weeks later, there was another call. Again they called for a conversation. During this time, our chat was recognized as “extremist”. The person with whom I spoke was talking very incoherently. I can’t even quote his exact words. But the point was, that I was being watched, some information was collected. Then he said that he was entrusted with a mission, he had to report that the university leadership no longer needs my services. He also warned that a characteristic would be drawn up for me, with which I would not be able to get a job anywhere.
- Did the dismissals affect other teachers of your university?
- I moved to Poland two weeks ago, so I don’t know how things are going at the university now. But at that time there was a big mop-up, my case was not the only one. In some faculties, not only teachers were fired, but also employees who had nothing to do with students. I explained to my students that I did not quit voluntarily, but I was fired. Many employees simply took their work books and left quietly, but we need to talk about this, these are broken lives. All employees were given the so-called “wolf tickets”. This means that these people will not be able to get any normal job.
- How do you think, for what purpose did the dictator start a “purge” in the field of education?
- From my point of view, he is a bandit who, if not stopped, he will beat on and on. Lukashenka is tightening the screws so that people are in fear, so that no one dares to utter a word. Education is an area that is close to the people, close to children and students. The regime, in principle, is afraid of everyone, not just the teachers. For example, I didn’t shout slogans “Down with Lukashenka” and so on, I didn’t take part in the strike, but I faced repressions. Also, this “purge” can be a preparation for a referendum to keep everything under control. Although I think that his banal fear is more active here, which translates into intimidation of others.
-There are also known cases of other, absolutely absurd measures on the part of the regime: after the so-called elections in universities, they began to detain students even for white-red-white socks, the Belarusian language or songs. How did the teaching staff and administrations of educational institutions react to this?
- As far as our administration is concerned, our rector has perfectly fit into the state policy. What drives her? Probably the fear of losing your position, your life, maybe.
The university administration showed itself immediately. Although in the autumn, about a year ago, after I joined our chat “Hrodna State University for Changes”, the rector organized a general meeting. At it, she stated that she would not fire any of us for our position, unless we hold rallies and call people to something. But later layoffs began. Among others, Valiantsin Askirka was dismissed, who, moreover, served 10 more days of arrest.
There were layoffs even earlier, before the massive wave that began not so long ago. Those layoffs were held in different ways: some were not elected through a competition, for some the contracts were not renewed. My contract expires only in a couple of years, but this is what they did to me.
- What is the state of the Belarusian education today?
- It seems to me that those people who carry out layoffs do not care who will teach their children. The main thing for them is to stay in their places. But we have a lot of good people. Many came up to me and provided moral support after my dismissal. Everyone is shocked by this situation, both teachers and students. It is wrong to fire professionals despite all their achievements.
- To what extent are university professors today a protest electorate?
- I think that initially they were not such a link that went to the actions and took an active part in the protests. But I, for example, went to the courts of political prisoners in Hrodna, wrote them letters to different colonies and cities. I kept in touch with their families and tried to somehow support them. I am sure that more than 90 percent of teachers have an adequate, good position. They do not yet show themselves, do not show some kind of strong resistance. But what they have inside is sure to manifest itself at the right time.
- In 2020, Hrodna became a city where, in fact, the authorities made concessions. What is the secret and the power of what happened in your city? What then was not enough for the final victory?
- I think that it was necessary to not just take to the streets at a certain time, hold rallies and disperse. It was necessary to go to the end, to seize buildings, district executive committees, city executive committees and so on. At that moment, something naive worked. People thought that they could march a little, and they would just give up the power. At that time, everything was held by a thread. If the Hrodna region were the first to take power into its own hands, then the rest of the regions would begin to catch up. If we had pressed in a little then, other regions could have followed us. But there was not enough pressure. You couldn't just stand with flowers, you had to convince the army to take your side, talk with the commanders of the troops, the soldiers. The fact that this was not done, in my opinion, greatly influenced the outcome of the confrontation.
- You are a psychologist by profession. How would you rate the psychological state of the authorities and their behavior? Is it fear, or how else can it be explained?
- I completely agree with the conclusions given by my colleagues in the medical profession. There is fear in the first place, but not only it. Impunity allows the bandit to continue crimes and think that he will get away with everything. History tends to repeat itself. Today's time is similar to the 30s of the last century, when the most active citizens were first imprisoned and fired.
Then they took on those who were not very active, like me, for example. Next will be the turn of those who think to sit out, who think that it’s neither their headache nor their piece of cake. But no one will be able to sit out. Further, the authorities will dismiss, persecute, imprison, and give fines even to those people who think that they will not be affected, because they do nothing at all. Then the spiral of repression will reach those who now support the Lukashenka regime. Although there are actually very few of them, they will eat themselves. No one will be able to sit out in the trenches.
- What would you like to wish to students, teachers and other Belarusians who continue to struggle for democratic values?
- Hard to say. Probably, this is what I would wish for myself - to believe. Believe that everything is in our hands. Although it sometimes seems very distant, one must believe for the sake of those people who are much worse off than us, for the sake of those who are in prison. They rely only on us, they have nothing more to hope for. For the sake of these people, we must have strength, for the sake of their families. We must have tthe strength, and at the right moment stand to the end.