Belarus is located between the European Union to the west, Russia to the east, and Ukraine to the south, and Lithuania and Latvia to the north. Belarus is a sovereign country whose people have a unique national identity and are struggling to secure democratic changes and fundamental freedoms under a dictatorial regime. Since the fraudulent presidential election of August 9, 2020, a longtime autocrat clings to power while large-scale peaceful protests ensued for several months as never before in Belarus' recent history. The Belarusian authorities' ongoing violent crackdown, which has led to the imprisonment of thousands, and the protesters' shifting tactics have created stalemate conditions. The United States, along with the European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom, imposed additional sanctions on senior Belarusian authorities and entities responsible for this oppression. The Lukashenka regime actively hinders, harasses, and at times arrests the Belarusian citizens that the regime views as opposing it, and people are under constant surveillance. Consequently, academic freedom, as understood and practiced in the West, is much more restricted in Belarus. Teachers and students are prohibited from exercising their civil liberties both on and off campus and many have been jailed for attempting to exercise their basic liberties.
The system of higher education is state-run and reflects its Soviet roots with little substantial change since the fall of Communism. The Belarusian Ministry of Education governs 42 public (State) and 9 private (non-State) higher education institutions that operate under unified standards of teaching, management, assessment, and research. Most of the higher education institutions are in the capital city of Minsk. The academic year runs from September 1 through June 30 and is traditionally divided into 2 semesters, with the second semester beginning in early February. However, in the fall semester, lectures are usually scheduled between September and mid-December, and the spring semester, between early February and May.
There have been few efforts at educational reform over the last several years. In May 2015, Belarus was awarded membership in the European Higher Education Area conditioned on fulfillment of a road map emphasizing not only Bologna degree structures, but also academic freedom, university autonomy and democratic and civic values. Belarus took certain efforts to bring its degree programs into compliance with European standards, yet the Soviet Union's legacy is still apparent in the country's higher education sphere. These and other issues must be resolved before Belarus is made a full member of the Bologna process.
Outside of academia, Belarus offers ample opportunities for recreation. Belarus has developed infrastructure and a high quality of life with rich cultural offerings. The Internet is cheap and fast, except of course when the government cuts it off for reasons of political control. The air is relatively clean, despite Belarus having received significant radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and many natural areas are pristine. Minsk is a great jumping off point for weekend trips to regional capitals, such as Kyiv, Warsaw, and Vilnius, which are reachable by car (although COVID restrictions have significantly disrupted travel temporarily).
A Fulbright placement in Belarus is a great opportunity to explore this vibrant country, contribute to the development of its educational system, and engage with partners across the country. Local people are genuinely interested in interacting with Americans and learning more about the American experience.