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Belarus: Militarisation of minors

One of our earlier analyses touched upon the Sovietisation of Belarusian schools that have lately been mostly renamed after Soviet heroes. This trend has taken place amid an even more worrying development in the Belarusian education system: pushing minors into military activities and indoctrination with paranoia.

Soviet-style ‘military and patriotic upbringing’ in schools

In September 2021, in parallel with harsher repression, the regime established a new teaching position in Belarusian schools: supervisors of ‘military and patriotic upbringing’. These positions, often occupied by retired career military officers, are similar to the pre-conscription training at schools that occurred during Soviet times. By March 2023, 93 per cent of secondary schools and 52 per cent of colleges reportedly had such a supervisor.

Speaking at a national seminar, Deputy Education Minister Aliaksandr Kadlubai called those hired for the positions as supervisors for the ‘transmitters of state ideology’ and described instilling a patriotic upbringing as ‘an extremely important and urgent course of action’.

In April 2023, Education Minister Andrei Ivanets also called for making Saturdays days of ‘patriotic upbringing’ and ‘historical legacy’ at schools. In historical studies, Belarusian schools now focus on the Soviet and Russian Empire periods. Putin in Moscow must be delighted to know that the historical indoctrination in Belarus is copying his own project.

A new school course to help translating potential English-speaking POWs

In January 2024, the Belarusian Ministry of Education published the curriculum of ‘Military Translation’, a new elective for tenth and eleventh graders. Placed within the subject of the English language, it consists of 69 teaching hours. Among other desired outcomes, the course evaluates pupils’ capability to translate ‘a talk with or an interrogation of prisoners of war’ and ‘to identify ranks and categories of service personnel of the US and UK armies based on their insignias’.

Although the rhetoric of Lukashenka’s 30-year-long regime has always been hostile to the West, obsession with confronting the US, the UK, and the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxons’ is a recent trend which mirrors that prevalent in Russian state and pro-Kremlin outlets.

Authorities often base the state-directed ideological ‘upbringing’ of children in Belarus on anti-Western and anti-modern sentiments. State propagandists have lately targeted Halloween-related events as ‘evil western manifestations’. In one of the regular ‘Sunday sermon’ programmes on a state TV channel, an Orthodox priest criticised modern toys and praised the return to ‘historical traditions of Slavic toys’ as a means to protect children from soullessness. ‘The modern game civilisation is essentially a manifestation of neo-Paganism with deification of idols and passions in its centre’, the presenter said. Earlier he claimed that Lego constructions [Danish toy brand stimulating children’s creative developments] provoke aggression among children.

‘Military and patriotic clubs’ for children

Besides school classes on a ‘military and patriotic upbringing’, since 2022 some schoolchildren have been increasingly involved in more extensive and broader ideological and military training through the so-called ‘military and patriotic clubs’. The first club of this sort came into existence in October 2021, months before Lukashenka signed a May 2022 decree regulating the creation and functioning of such institutions.

These clubs belong to and are supervised by units of the Interior Ministry troops, army and other security forces or the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Currently, more than 54 functioning clubs teach over 3,000 children to shoot, provide first medical aid, use unarmed combat fighting, and even attack a tank with a fake hand grenade after letting it go over a trench.

Praising a three-day retreat of one such club, a January 2023 report of the STV TV channel said, ‘Unforgettable impressions, new friends, and useful experience – this is what children get here in the course of a few days.’

There is a similarity to the DOSAAF organisations, which existed in the Soviet Union and have re-surfaced in Putin’s Russia, where youth are encouraged to learn basic military skills, disciplines and display affection for the armed forces.

A screenshot from a Belarus 1 TV report about a military retreat for minors

An October 2022 report by a state TV channel portrayed the outcome of ‘patriotic upbringing’ in the first Belarusian ‘military and patriotic club’ of this sort. Dated to the club’s first-year anniversary, it showed children in military uniform praising the Belarusian ruler and threatening his political opponents. The slogans they said or shouted on camera were, ‘Our president is the best’, ‘Enemy will not pass through’, ‘Comrade President, we will not fail’, ‘Don’t have any hope, zmahars’ and alike. ‘Zmahars’ (‘fighters’ in Belarusian) is a denigrating label used by state propaganda to describe Lukashenka’s political opponents and Belarusians with pro-democratic views.

A screenshot from STV TV report about one of the ‘patriotic clubs’ in the city of Maladzechna

State propagandists even aired the idea of forcefully taking children away from the families of political dissidents and putting them in ‘patriotic clubs’. One wrote on his Telegram channel in May 2023, ‘Children of priests and representatives of security forces are the most stable social foundation of our state. So, I see usefulness in the idea of upbringing social orphans – and children of political extremists (‘zmahars’) can also be added into this category – in monasteries and military and patriotic clubs’.

‘Military and patriotic’ school groups

Beyond dozens of ‘patriotic clubs’ attached to units of military and security forces, in the past two years ‘military and patriotic’ groups are mushrooming in schools. Soldiers or representatives of various security forces occasionally supervise their child members. At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, around 80 ‘patriotic groups’ at schools functioned. Their number multiplied by 10 times by spring 2023. In October 2023, Education Minister Andrei Ivanets called for creating ‘military and patriotic’ groups in every single school by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.

A screenshot from the STV TV channel report about an opening of a ‘military and patriotic’ group in a Minsk secondary school

State media also cited Minister Ivanets saying that youth should be ‘aware of their duty to love and defend the motherland’. The state apparatus is keen to find out how serious young people feel about this duty. In March 2023, Belarusian independent media reported that authorities in the city of Brest ordered college students to complete a survey titled, ‘Preparedness to defend interests of the Fatherland’. Some of the ten questions were war related. They inquired if teenagers are ready to commit a heroic act ‘for the motherland’ and to ‘stand up for defence of the motherland in case of an attack on it’.

Nikita Rachilovsky, chairman of the state-run youth organisation ‘Youth Parliament’ which seeks to attract people aged 18-30, showed a rhetorical example for other loyalists. Interviewed by one of the key state propagandists in 2023, he said, ‘If needed, I’m ready to die for my president. And other guys are, too.’

‘Patriotic centres’ in kindergartens

Officials’ plans to militarise children in Belarus do not stop there. In April 2023, state media covered the visit of Natalia Kachanava, head of the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament and a close associate of Lukashenka, to a kindergarten’s ‘patriotic centre’ in a small Belarusian town. Kachanova praised the idea, saying, ‘This is an absolutely right decision. Patriotic upbringing should start in preschool age. Although some say that this is too early for 3-4-year-old children, I do not think so’.

As part of so-called ‘patriotic events’, representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office pay occasional visits to kindergartens where they inform children about progress on investigations of “the Genocide of the Belarusian People in the Years of the Great Patriotic War” [1941-1945]. The timing of initiating this investigation, 2020-2021, suggest that it was also intended to deflect attention away from the popular protests. They were used in a propaganda attempt to equate Lukashenka’s political opponents with Nazi criminals.

Military camps for children ‘close to combat conditions’

Over the past years, authorities have established multiple summertime ‘military and patriotic’ camps for youth. Around 150 such camps were functioning by mid-2022. A year later, the Belarus Ministry of Education could boast of 736 military-patriotic camps for close to 27,000 children in the summer of 2023; 2,200 supervisors of ‘military and patriotic upbringing’; 191 multimedia shooting-gallery simulators transferred to schools. Thousands of gas masks, chemical protections suits and other everyday equipment for soldiers are also issued to make this become a regular part of training.

In October 2023, the administration of the Vitebsk region of Belarus announced plans to create ‘military and patriotic camps’ for children in each of the region’s 21 districts. ‘Our goal is to have at least one functioning camp [for children] jointly with security forces in each district. Ideally, to make camps functioning day and night. When children are placed in the conditions close to realistic field and combat conditions, together with officers, this contributes to their upbringing,’ Dzmitry Khoma, chair of the regional education department, said.

The Brest region voiced similar ambitious plans for 2024, leaving little doubt that such militaristic camps for children are likely to be created in each of the 118 Belarusian districts in the near future.

A screenshot from a Belarus 1 TV channel report on one of the ‘military and patriotic’ clubs

Lukashenka: follow me!

To suggest that military training of minors is normal, Lukashenka spoke of his own family. Inspecting a military base In October 2022, he said, ‘Each should be able to fight, each should be able to shoot! My family follows this approach despite the fact that I am president. All my children, even the youngest, are soldiers. They are prepared to defend themselves and others! The country should be defended!’

During the summer 2020 demonstrations, on 23 August, Lukashenka and his then-15-year-old son Mikalai, both armed with submachine guns, inspected the area around the presidential palace in Minsk, pretending they were ready to confront peaceful Belarusian protesters.

Putting paranoia on the school curriculum

The ‘patriotic upbringing’ lately imposed on Belarusian children therefore tends to equate the home country with Lukashenka’s rule and wishes to instruct minors to eagerly defend the latter, both from hypothetical external intrusion and legitimate domestic opponents.


Article and pictures first time published on the EUvsDisinfo web page. Prepared for publication by volunteers from the Res Publica - The Center for Civil Resistance.


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