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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President

The report was prepared by the Belarusian Student Support Association (BeSSA), an association of initiatives and organizations of the Belarusian diaspora working to support the Belarusian academic community. The association was established in autumn 2020 in the wake of repressions against students, employees of Belarusian universities and research institutions, in particular, the National Academy of Sciences. To date, BeSSA brings together organizations and academic initiatives from at least 10 countries, including Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the United States. The focus of BeSSA's activities is on consolidating resources to create programs to support the target group, and on finding and disseminating information about existing opportunities for continuing education and / or academic careers outside the Belarusian education system.

In the situation of information opacity, incessant new waves of repressions and constant pressure, which means intimidation of fired and repressed students, teachers, academics, employees of the higher education administration, the report does not try to statistically define the current state of repressions against the Belarusian academic community. It is not possible to show the full picture. However, the aggregated data collected on the basis of requests for assistance in finding opportunities to pursue an academic career and work in the specialty, allow us to highlight the following tasks for the report:

  • to document and describe known cases taking into account their diversity;
  • to present both successful and less in-demand support formats;
  • to Identify gaps in existing support formats and suggest options for improving existing support programs.

The general confusion and unpreparedness for the situation is evidenced by both sides: those who need help and those who want to help. Thus, after a detailed description of the target group, Sections I and II reflect the patterns of behavior of both parties, the following blocks with conclusions provide tips and tricks to improve the quality of their interaction with each other. The central idea of ​​this report is the need to establish a channel of communication between representatives of both parties to improve the speed and quality of care. Expressing this idea, we draw on the experience of cooperation with repressed members of the Belarusian academic community, the real feedback of participants in the already implemented support programs.

The main purpose of this document is to draw attention to the problem of ban on profession in the academic sector, to demonstrate the need for decision-making and the allocation of new resources to support the target group.

During the preparation of this report, the war in Ukraine began, which, unfortunately, emphasizes the urgency of immediately creating new quality support programs.


Despite the general terrible state of independent science, the fact that independent sociological research is de facto banned[1] and pressure on researchers affiliated with think tanks[2], this report focuses on repression in public universities and the National Academy of Sciences. This is, firstly, due to the fact that since 2020 there have been repressions incomparable in scale and openness with any of those known so far in the days of sovereign Belarus. Secondly, the methods of pressure and potential consequences may differ significantly from those practiced for decades in the third sector.

The flexibility of the higher education system as opposed to the school one, as well as the relatively greater possible academic mobility at the third level of education make it possible to work with special formats of assistance that are not always suitable for education staff on the other levels of education system.

Summing up, this report examines the cases of (former) employees of Belarusian state higher education institutions, research institutes at universities and the National Academy of Sciences. Here and hereafter, the plural is used to simplify the perception of the text, meaning representatives of either sex.

Thus, the target group described in the document is teachers and scientists from Belarus, for whom repression actually becomes a ban on the profession. This report is based on 234 BeSSA well-known cases.

    I.        Perspective: I want to help

The reaction of neighboring countries to repressions in academia

The availability of world-known scholarship funds to support repressed scholars, such as the Scholars at Risk (founded in 1999), the Scholar Rescue Fund (2002), and the Philip Schwartz-Initiative (2016), shows that the issue is so acute for Belarusian academics in 2020, is not new globally. Even for Belarus alone - back in 2006, with the support of the Polish government, Kastus Kalinouski program was designed specifically to help Belarusian youth. Thus, this is not the first time that issues of freedom of speech and non-politicization of education and science have arisen.

Neighboring countries, most informed about the Belarusian realities, were the most likely to react to the situation with teachers and academics. An example of such activity in Poland is the NAWA program "Solidarni z naukowcami", owing to it 35 teachers in 2020 and 42 in 2021 received support. As well as the program of Kastus Kalinouski-2, which provided an opportunity for an internship for one year.

However, it turned out that not only Belarusians were completely unprepared for such a wave of repression in the academic sphere, but also countries trying to help most often face the internal question of structural changes in their own approaches. Kalinowski program, well known to repressed students in Belarus, was almost the only known place to help with the onset of repression, leading to overcrowding, reduced response to each request, and communication gaps with fellows. Thus, even for existing support mechanisms, the inability to respond quickly to new circumstances leaves those who need support urgently confused.

Later, many countries went through the process of urgently creating new programs on their own experience: in November 2020 Czech Republic announced special support for repressed students from Belarus. After several months, in the process of communicating with students, each university decided the exact measures on its own, e.g. speeding up the process of issuing student visas, urgent search for places in language courses and dormitories. As practice has shown, in such situations a lot depends not only on the initiative and commitment of individuals on site, but also on the speed of response and timely knowledge transfer between all involved institutions. For example, Czech universities have addressed this issue through regular discussions at the Czech Rectors Conference (CRC) since August 2020: “The CRC has been active in planning assistance to Belarusian scholars and students who have been the target of widespread repression.”[3]

Germany responded by creating a special program based on the Students at Risk model in April 2021[4]. It took more than six months from the moment we realized the need to respond to the announcement of the competition, and the same amount of time until the first students and scientists were able to take part in the program. For comparison, a similar program[5] in Norway invited Belarusian representatives to participate in the regular competition in December 2020, as the program itself existed before and was developed not from scratch. Following the example of Germany, the situation in the Belarusian academic sector has managed to draw attention to structural problems on the part of those countries and institutions that want and have the resources to help repressed students, scientists and teachers. As can be seen from the speed of Germany's response to the political situation in Afghanistan in August 2021, adaptation was much faster when the decision-making structures were not only pre-activated but also saw a specific program - a tool to help. So, in a few weeks there are at least 2 support programs for scientists and students from Afghanistan: a special quota of 30 places for Afghanistan under the Hilde-Domin Scholarship Program[6] and the Transitional Fellowship for Afghanistan of the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD[7]. Aleksander von Humboldt Foundation has taken the example of the DAAD by setting up a temporary support program for repressed scientists in Afghanistan[8]. For comparison, since the founding of Hilde-Domin's program in the spring of 2021 to the end of February 2022, only 15 people from Belarus have received scholarships, incl. at least 1 is for writing a doctorate and the rest for undergraduate or graduate studies. As of the seventh day of the war in Ukraine, many German universities, such as Humboldt University in Berlin[9] and Dresden University of Technology[10], have publicly spoken out against the war, and special support programs for Ukrainian students and scholars have been actively developed since late February 2022.

Undoubtedly, the example of the events in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Belarus is shocking with varying degrees, but we are seeing a shift in attention from one group to another. With the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the repression against Belarusian teachers, scientists and students not only did not stop - on the contrary, many who found asylum in Ukraine, for the second time in a year have to start their life anew. When designing support programs for academics and students, one should take into account the importance of dividing people in need and fear by nationality or nationality. If the funds allocated for the opportunity to continue their studies or work in their field, it is necessary to focus on the main general criterion of the target group - the forced immediate cessation of life and the main activities of the individual. Whatever the reason.

And yet one of the main problems remains the speed of response. Where assistance is most often needed immediately, in fact the application process is very complicated, a long series of documents need to be collected and submitted, and documents can be submitted once or twice a year.

Emergency support

Small and flexible support programs, most often implemented by NGOs or initiative groups, are able to respond quickly. In addition, they understand the needs and specifics of their target group better. Those non-profit organizations that managed to urgently find funds to support repressed Belarusian teachers and scientists showed good models of assistance, taking into account the requests of the target group. A combination of rapid call based on the degree of criticality of individual situations, scholarship and moral support, a parallel educational program to develop the necessary competencies and soft skills, mentoring in job search or opportunities to continue research, laid the foundation of DGO-Fellowship-Programm Belarus[11].

The organizers have gathered participants' feedback, which allows to consider in more detail the strengths and weaknesses of the program, as well as to better understand the needs of the target group:

Of the 28 participants in the three-month educational program on pedagogical design and digital technologies in education, all 28 successfully completed it, and 24 filled out the feedback form. It is noteworthy that attending three-hour classes and completing practical assignments was not a condition for receiving a scholarship. At the same time, the average attendance of all meetings was 25 people, even taking into account the fact that during the program some participants were under administrative arrest.

BESSA report 0

Similarly, on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (crucially important), participants gave weight to the factors that motivated them to participate. Below they are presented in descending order of importance for respondents:

  1. content of the educational part and new knowledge;
  2. an opportunity to interact with other program participants;
  3. individual mentoring to develop your own educational online products;
  4. individual counseling on career opportunities;
  5. scholarship (in this case, even for this last factor, the average weight is 4 points).

This indicates a high demand for mutual support and communication with like-minded people, to create a professional community and develop their own competencies for their further application in the profession. Which can be traced in the written feedback of the participants:

“Getting to know the organizers and participants of the program is a real fortune. Thank you. ”

"It was really very valuable: in terms of knowledge, advice and support!"

“I really liked the atmosphere of the classes, emotional and friendly, and also the high level of knowledge and professionalism of teachers.”

“You are an inspiration! This is what moves us, takes us out of monotony and routine. You are the motivation! Often you need not so much knowledge (and it too!) but to "prepare" for the start / further movement. You are a human attitude! This "sphere" has shrunk to the core in modern Belarus. It was very comfortable !!!”

“Many thanks to the team for this course and for the human warmth and support! You are wonderful! Thanks to you, our meetings have become an outlet for us, an island of emotional comfort in the middle of an ocean of worries and problems. Thank you!”

BeSSA report 1

100% of the participants, all 24 people, would advise their acquaintances to participate in a similar program.

The disadvantages of this and similar small support programs, which are able to respond more quickly and quickly - in their uncertainty, non-recognition and lack of resources. Hence the inability to help more victims, despite the good reviews of the participants of the first set.


Unfortunately, Belarus is no exception, and the demand for academic support programs is only growing. If you do not start looking for ways to support from scratch every time, you can provide a faster response rate. Victims often needed assistance urgently.

It is noteworthy that most of the above examples relate to working with students, as for scholars and teachers, centralized support programs are almost non-existent. And the problem with the previously mentioned SAR or PSI is that such programs with a large and yet long-term competition exist for the best of the best. This is evidenced by the selection criteria and the total small number of seats. Those who are able to pass such an elite competition often have a great chance in programs that are not aimed directly at repressed candidates. Good at foreign languages, with publications and supervisors, often with previous research or study experience abroad, these candidates, while repressed and deserving of recognition and support, do not reflect the status of the average target group. Probably, also because this "average" simply does not exist. Programs aimed at emergency care must take into account the individuality of the cases and create the most appropriate criteria for participation.

Along with the need to provide universal selection criteria, there is a need for a defined entry point. It is both a matter of gathering information for the target group and of pooling the efforts of institutions and foundations that offer special support programs. This would help to avoid duplication of work, for example, on the verification of candidates, or to check the level of foreign language proficiency, to avoid situations of double funding of individual candidates and thus support more people. In addition, it is important to ensure the process of accepting and reviewing applications on an ongoing basis. At the same time, the response rate; structure flexibility; desire and ability to help instantly; The criteria for verification and selection of candidates, developed taking into account the mastery of the situation, are the factors that may suffer if the task is solely on the centralization of structures.

Structuredness allows you to share experiences timely and solve problems in a coordinated manner. But we need a combination of strengths and large and small institutions, a structured approach and flexible structures.

The same centralized structures may have special lines of urgent fundraising for humanitarian aid, including for the allocation of more flexible non-governmental and non-profit organizations. In situations that require speed of response, nonprofits can provide it on the one hand, and on the other hand, they could use the resources of existing large structures primarily to ensure better contact with the target group.

  II.        Perspective: I need support

How the target group acts when faced with pressure

The experience of direct communication with repressed teachers from Belarus shows that the situations are so different that they are not just difficult to classify, but each requires an individual approach, mentoring support and parallel psychological assistance often.

Out of the 234 recorded BeSSA cases as of early March 2022, we note the following methods of pressure on scientists and teachers: 

  • 1 teacher is recognized as a political prisoner;
  • 119 teachers were dismissed or did not get the contract prolongation;
  • 22 teachers resigned as an act of protest;
  • 42 teachers got administrative arrests (total number of days of administrative arrest - at least 496).

Among other pressure mechanisms the most common are:

  • financial (fines, disciplinary action, salary reduction, demotion);
  • psychological (threats of dismissal, preventive talks and coercion to write explanatory notes, written reprimands, detentions without a report).

These are just the factors that can be tracked at least some way. And we can only guess how many there are immeasurable and not taken into account methods of intimidation and moral pressure. We know of cases where management forbids talking about certain topics, when a person cannot function properly due to threats to other family members, when health deteriorates due to stress. Unfortunately, it is impossible to even imagine how many fates have been crossed through such immeasurable factors of influence. The reaction to any of these can also vary greatly depending on resilience and life circumstances: from the decision to change professions to the need to urgently leave the country, fearing continued persecution.

Based on individual situations, it is possible to identify the main factors influencing the decision on further steps:

  1. (un)will or (in)ability to physically leave the country. The reasons for this can be different: from a principled position to family circumstances;
  2. age and previous work experience, presence or absence of scientific publications, special competencies (including the level of foreign language proficiency), field of science. These factors affect the competitiveness of candidates in scholarship programs and the international job market.

We consider those cases that we know about, but obviously there are those whose information is currently not available to us. Also common is unwillingness to seek help, motivated, for example, by mistrust or fear of visiting whom to turn to; self-esteem; the principle "I need less than others"; or even a lack of need.

Algorithm of response of the target group to repressions

In this section, we try to describe the algorithm for deciding on next steps, which is valid for most members of the target group.

BeSSA report 2

In accordance with the decision made by the representative of the target group, appropriate formats of assistance can be identified. The table below identifies suggestions for existing support formats. Regardless of which of the above algorithms an individual follows, the main thing is to show teachers and scientists the algorithms by which they can respond, and to provide them with relevant knowledge, competencies and contacts. This reduces the overall high level of confusion of the target group, forced to face a new reality.


[1] https://news.zerkalo.io/economics/6254.html, https://rec.gov.by/files/2020/spis_opros.pdf

[2] e.g., https://prisoners.spring96.org/ru/person/taccjana-kuzina, https://prisoners.spring96.org/ru/person/valeryja-kascjuhava

[3] Czech Rectors Conference Annual Report 2020, https://www.crc.muni.cz/en/documents/annual-reports/2020

[4] Hilde-Domin call as of 14.04.2021 https://www.daad.de/de/der-daad/kommunikation-publikationen/presse/pressemitteilungen/hilde-domin-programm/

[5] Students at Risk Norway, https://www.studentsatrisk.no/about

[6] https://www.daad.de/en/the-daad/communication-publications/press/press_releases/mehr-hilfe-afghanistan/

[7] Bridge Scholarships Afghanistan, daad.de/go/de/stipa57627490

[8] https://www.humboldt-foundation.de/en/apply/sponsorship-programmes/philipp-schwartz-initiative/bridge-fellowships-afghanistan

[9] https://www.hu-berlin.de/en/press-portal/nachrichten-en/february-2022/nr-22224?fbclid=IwAR3cdxPPmTXIaLPGvCQhMgOXbrizRdSQPVCShZGV6kAv0DjiofVLczuWt5Q

[10] https://tu-dresden.de/tu-dresden/newsportal/news/stellungnahme-zum-russischen-ueberfall-auf-die-ukraine

[11] https://dgo-online.org/neuigkeiten/aktuelles/ausschreibung-dgo-fellowship-programm-belarus/