Open Letter to Partner Institutions
of Minsk State Linguistic University
September 5, 2020
As students, alumni, and faculty of Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU), a public university in the Republic of Belarus, we are writing this to address all its partner organizations.
Over the past weeks, the entire nation of Belarus has been embroiled in mass protests and police brutality following the presidential election of 2020 that saw opposition candidates jailed, independent election observers barred from polling stations, and local election committees pressurized by authorities to sign voting tally sheets falsified in favor of the incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko. This flagrant disregard for due electoral process has triggered a wave of peaceful protests throughout the country, met with mass detentions and brutal violence by the riot police aligned with Lukashenko. Anyone in a position of power who dared speak out against the state terrorism of the Lukashenko regime, from creative professionals and church leaders to government officials and diplomats, has been removed from office or forced to resign. Thus, many have chosen to stay silent, fearing for their careers, if not their safety.
Minsk State Linguistic University has, too, been affected by the ongoing turmoil. On September 1, 2020, the first day of a new academic year in Belarus, protesters — largely MSLU students — demonstrating peacefully in front of the university were detained by the riot police; some were kidnapped by unidentified militia.
Others tried to seek refuge inside the university, but were initially met by locked doors and only then reluctantly let in after pleading with the administration from another group of students who were locked inside. In the university’s main lobby, the students were confronted by a member of the administration who warned them that, if they persisted in protesting against the falsified election and the police brutality, students would start getting arrested inside the university as well. While the students were eventually able to escape arrest by leaving through another exit, the university representative offered no reassurance that MSLU would do anything to support those detained and kidnapped. Instead, the university released a statement calling on students to stop protesting on the premises and in the vicinity of the university, which demonstrates zero concern for what is happening to those protesting elsewhere.
MSLU students reported numerous further instances of police and unidentified masked militia being present on the university’s premises and inside its buildings, filming those protesting and threatening them. More MSLU students have been brutally detained by the militia inside the university amid inaction by the university’s administration and security personnel. At least one lecturer has resigned in protest, others have petitioned for the administration to intervene in the brutality. It was not until September 4 that the rector chose to hold an emergency meeting with students and parents, where she promised to “investigate the situation” and make an effort to prevent further arrests inside the university. By that point, to many of those who had witnessed the escalating brutality of the past days, these words rang hollow — particularly given that the investigation in question would apparently be led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which has itself been complicit in the mass detentions and political violence. As we are writing this letter, we are worried about what might come next for those studying and working at Minsk State Linguistic University.
As a public university whose staff are effectively state employees, and whose rector Natalia Baranova has been personally appointed by the incumbent president, MSLU enjoys very little academic freedom or protection from the potentially severe repercussions of defying the regime's demands. We understand MSLU officials’ anxiety not just for their own careers, but for the future of the very university that means so much to all of us. However, we cannot help but feel dismayed that the university’s response so far has demonstrated a lack of the moral leadership so badly needed by those studying and working here at this juncture in time. MSLU has taught us to think critically and has empowered us to speak to the world in its many languages; now, it pains us to see how a place so dear to our hearts has failed to stand up for justice, due process, and basic humanity.
We are urging MSLU’s international partners to reach out to the university administration and to condemn not only the ongoing political violence in Belarus, but also the MSLU leadership’s failure to respond to it and support its own students, faculty, and alumni.
We are asking your organization to take a stance, because, while our voices may not be enough, yours can make a difference. As the nation’s leading institution in foreign languages and international studies, MSLU takes much pride in its international network and its cooperation with institutions around the globe. If these institutions express their concern about the situation at MSLU and call on the university to support its people over its political allegiance, this will go a long way toward protecting the students and faculty from persecution and toward making the university a safe harbor for freedom of speech and political expression, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.
Students, alumni, and faculty of Minsk State Linguistic University
As current and former students and faculty at MSLU, we have penned an open letter to rector Natalia Baranova, calling on the university leadership to finally find its voice and speak out against the falsified election and in support of peaceful protesters and activists, including many MSLU students, who have suffered violence at the hands of the Lukashenko regime. The letter has been signed by over 2,000 people (and counting) and is available here.
Annex I. News reports and statements by international organizations on the 2020 election in Belarus and its aftermath
Prominent opposition figures arrested in Belarus as presidential election approaches (Euronews): https://www.euronews.com/2020/06/03/prominent-opposition-figures-arrested-in-belarus-as-presidential-election-approaches
Belarus poll workers describe fraud in August 9 election (Associated Press): https://apnews.com/72e43a8b9e4c56362d4c1d6393bd54fb
Lukashenko's claim of landslide victory sparks widespread protests (The Guardian): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/09/belarus-election-lukashenko-landslide-victory-fixing-claims
UN rights experts express ‘outrage’ at Belarus police violence against peaceful protesters (UN News): https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1070172
Belarus: Internet Disruptions, Online Censorship (Human Rights Watch): https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/28/belarus-internet-disruptions-online-censorship
Belarus sacked director for backing protests. His actors promptly resigned (Reuters): https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-theatre/belarus-sacked-director-for-backing-protests-his-actors-promptly-resigned-idUSKCN25E29I
Belarusian ambassador resigns after supporting anti-government protesters (Euronews): https://www.euronews.com/2020/08/18/belarusian-ambassador-resigns-after-supporting-anti-government-protesters
Scores Detained as Students March Against Belarus President (New York Times): https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/09/01/world/europe/ap-eu-belarus-protests.html
Belarus protests: Students held as marches mark new term (BBC News): https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53984815
Police drag Belarus students from university building, arrest five (Reuters) https://de.reuters.com/article/uk-belarus-election-protests-idAFKBN25V1UQ
Belarus: Statement by EU High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/84140/belarus-statement-high-representativevice-president-josep-borrell_en
Belarus: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union on the presidential elections: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/08/11/belarus-declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-european-union-on-the-presidential-elections/
UK Statement: Belarusian Presidential Elections 2020: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-statement-belarusian-presidential-elections-2020
UN human rights experts: Belarus must stop torturing protesters and prevent enforced disappearances: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26199&LangID=E&fbclid=IwAR0TyJ3m6mmz5bntR7dK-lIPNTHeY2M8Y0vXCM6PHKcpaRTDlwmnz31Cz1g