The Lukashenko Youth
The youth of today are the politicians of tomorrow. The Belarusian government is well aware of this, and so tries to bring as many young people as possible under its wing, through membership - voluntary or otherwise - of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union.
The Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) is huge. Officially this youth organisation for people aged 14 to 31 has over half a million members, all of whom strictly support the policies of President Alexander Lukashenko. Founded in 2002, BRSM declares its goals as supporting patriotism amongst the youth, and bringing young people and students to the collective. It helps them to integrate into the association through a variety of organised activities. It is not a coincidence that the association is fully funded by the government.
"We understand that the election is an excellent opportunity to teach political culture to young people through observing it", says Andrei Belyakov, second secretary of BRSM. He adds: "One of the priorities of our social and economic development is the development of the youth, the government trusts our youth." The organisation itself is very reminiscent of the Soviet-era Komsomol, which organized and instructed the Soviet youth about the "right path".
Almost obligatory to join the BRSM
"I became a member of the BRSM when I was at school", recounts Aleksandra (name changed). She remembers that "it was almost obligatory for all children to join the organisation". Later, there was "a lot of gossip that only BRSM members could get a place in the student dormitory", she says. Even if it appeared to be just gossip, nobody knew the exact source.
Even though Aleksandra is still a member of BRSM, she does not agree with the view of second secretary Belyakov regarding voluntarism. "Almost everything is decided using command-and-control methods, and it is not only about observing the election. We had some kind of meeting of teachers, and we were just told when we have to be at the polling station."
Student self-governance for building a civil society
Besides BRSM there are other, more independent youth organisations. One of these is BOSS, the Brotherhood of Organisers of Student Self-governance. One of its founders is Alexander Lutsevich: "Our organisation was conceived as a student union, because there were no such organisations in Belarus and they still do not exist in Belarus." Lutsevich underlines the importance of student self-governance for building a civil society.
"But our government says there is real student self-governance in our country, that everything is in order", criticises Lutsevich. In other countries, he explains, leaders of student self-governance very often became leaders on the political stage and then they do a lot to improve the country. "In Belarus only BRSM provides such an opportunity for young people. "But it is not student self-governance, it is a government-organized non-governmental organization (GONGO)," explains Lutsevich. By preventing the youth from becoming active participants in civil society, the government preserves the existing power structures in decision-making processes.