Worried about being "half-educated". Studentship of Marfa Rabkova

2021 2021-11-19T17:40:44+0300 2021-11-19T17:47:37+0300 en https://spring96.org/files/images/sources/rabkova_2017_sarychau.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On the International Student’s Day, Viasna tells a story of Marfa Rabkova and the efforts she had to take to receive an education.

Belarusian universities

The story of Marfa Rabkova as a student starts in Belarus. In 2012, she was enrolled in the Maksim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University majoring in Biology and Geography. However, she wasn’t able to complete her studies there, as in the autumn of 2015 (the year of the presidential election), Marfa was detained during a minor protest near the University building. This resulted in the University administration forcing Marfa to drop her studies before the beginning of mid-year exams. At that time, she was in her final year.

Marfa Rabkova after her expulsion from Pedagogical University in Minsk, 2016.  Credit: Maksim Sarychau
Marfa Rabkova after her expulsion from Pedagogical University in Minsk, 2016. Credit: Maksim Sarychau

In 2017, Marfa made an attempt to resume her studies and get the same degree at the Arkadz Kuliashou Mahilioŭ State University. However, she didn’t get a chance to do it. Later, Marfa told her story to her colleagues from Viasna:

Marfa passed several University exams, with only one remaining to be taken. While waiting in the corridor, Marfa overheard a conversation behind the door and somebody saying something like, "A former student from Minsk is going to come now, she was expelled for being involved in politics. Under no circumstances should she be enrolled here; she should be made to fail the exam by any means". Feeling irritated, Marfa entered the office and said that she had heard everything. She refused to take her last exam.

At that time, Marfa had no opportunity to get a job, either, and she was repeatedly fired after several phone calls her employers received from security agencies; several times, at a job interview, she was told in plain terms that she wouldn’t be employed because there was a phone call.

Decision to resume studies

Marfa Rabkova shared her unsuccessful academic experience with Nasta Loika, a human rights defender. In 2017, the girls already knew each other and were friends:

"I remember how upset Marfa was when she found out that they were going to fail her at the exam... She couldn’t help feeling unhappy about being "half-educated"", Loika told Viasna.

Step by step, Marfa arrived at a decision to follow Nasta’s advice:

"By that  time, I had already completed a Master’s program at the European Humanities University (EHU) and considered it a rewarding experience because at EHU I was taught to develop my critical thinking skills, to write and analyze. So, I recommended Marfa that she should move in this direction if she wanted to receive a higher education. The only thing, it was different from what she had studied before because it was a Humanities University, after all. But by then, Marfa had taken a certain interest in human rights, and, consequently, it became her choice".

In 2017, Marfa entered the European Humanities University to get a degree in International Law and EU Law.

EHU was the first university in Belarus created following the pattern of Western colleges and universities. The efforts of the Belarusian authorities to undermine the academic freedoms and the autonomy of EHU caused the University to cease its activities in Belarus; in 2004, the Ministry of Education of Belarus revoked EHU’s license for educational activities. In 2006, EHU reopened in Vilnius (Lithuania).

Studying at EHU 

Marfa went to Vilnius four times a year, studying online as part of interactive communication set for the students. It was the specific format of the advanced (distance) courses within the International Law and EU Law learning program.

Inessa Stolper, a lecturer at the Social Sciences Academic Department, was one of those who taught Marfa in her first years. She told us about the courses taken by Rabkova:

In the first year, it was Computer-based Legal Research. The students learned to be at ease in different legal frameworks and get to know where to look for legal information (e.g. regulations and directives of the European Union).

It was also Legal Writing. My mission, at that stage, was to teach the students how to prepare a claim to be filed with an international court, a tribunal or a quasi-judicial authority, including the UN Human Rights Committee".

Aliaksandr Vashkevich, a EHU professor, also taught Marfa a number of subjects. For example, Rabkova did a project based on the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French thinker, while taking a course in the History of Legal Studies; she prepared a presentation on the powers of the European Commission for her European Law course. It was her first and second years (the academic years of 2017/2018 and 2018/2019). Vashkevich speaks highly of Marfa as a student:

"Marfa is modest and responsible, she never missed her deadlines. She got 9 points [in a ten-point system] when taking my courses. So, Marfa is a bright student who did well and was worthy of praise".

At the end of 2019, Marfa Rabkova joined Viasna and led its Volunteer Service.

"Marfa never made a parade of her job. I remember her being very tactful. What do I want to say? For example, there are students who are very argumentative. Marfa was different, she was more thoughtful and considerate", Stolper recalls.

Marfa Rabkova volunteering at the Rock for Life concert held within the Week Against the Death Penalty, 2019
Marfa Rabkova volunteering at the Rock for Life concert held within the Week Against the Death Penalty, 2019


The academic year at EHU starts in October. But on September 17, 2020, Marfa Rabkova was arrested in Minsk by the officers of GUBAZIK (Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption).

Inessa Stolper learned that news from social media:

"The only though I had was “It is horrible...”  And then, what about her studies? She will miss classes; she will have to catch up... This is an ordinary course of events: students work hard [to catch up] if something happens, like illness for example... I have drawn this analogy [with an illness], because until Marfa was detained, we had never faced such a situation affecting the students taking our Law program..."

Inessa says that she immediately decided to develop an individual learning plan for Marfa for her not to lag behind her group. But it turned out that "the individual plan was not going to be used". The pre-trial restrictions imposed upon Marfa were repeatedly extended. 

The EHU lecturers signed bail requests asking to change the measure of restraint for Marfa Rabkova from detention to travel restrictions. In that case Marfa would have been able to continue her studies online.

Today, November 17, the International Students’ Day, it has been 14 months since Marfa was arrested.

"Marfa Rabkova has successfully completed the academic course of the first three years, with an average grade of 9.11 and no unfulfilled program requirements left. [Currently,] she is on the list of the fourth-year students taking advanced courses within the International Law and EU Law continual learning program", according to the information given to Viasna by Jolanta Benkauskaitė, head of the Social Sciences Academic Department at the European Humanities University.

Support political prisoner Marfa Rabkova with a letter of solidarity:

SIZO-1, 220030, Minsk, vulica Valadarskaha 2

Marfa Rabkova (Марыі Аляксандраўне Рабковай)