Analytical Paper: Optimising EHU’s Impact on Belarus
The European Humanities University (EHU) was forced into exile in 2004 when the Belarusian authorities withdrew its licence. This followed the EHU’s refusal to acquiesce to government pressure to change its leadership. The exiled University found its new home...
The European Humanities University (EHU) was forced into exile in 2004 when the Belarusian authorities withdrew its licence. This followed the EHU’s refusal to acquiesce to government pressure to change its leadership. The exiled University found its new home in Vilnius, which is less three-hours by train from Minsk.
The current rector of the EHU should step down soon in line with the requirements of Lithuanian law, having served two terms. The Centre for Transition Studies publishes a paper authored by Yaraslau Kryvoi and Alastair Rabagliati which aims to launch a constructive public discussion on the direction of the EHU under the new leadership, to deal with the challenges facing both the EHU and Belarusian society.
The authors interviewed by e-mail and by telephone over 20 individuals related to the EHU, including its alumni, lecturers, administration, donors and well as representatives of Belarusian civil society who worked with the University in the past. Many agreed that an open discussion would benefit the university.
The EHU is an important and valuable institution for the future of Belarus. However, public information and debate about the direction of the university has been limited. Most media coverage has focused on the story of the university going into exile rather than its effectiveness. This paper intends to fill this gap.
The EHU is at a Crossroads
With no change in Belarus on the horizon, the university needs to prepare itself for continued exile. Ten years after the EHU established itself in Vilnius, many donors continue to support the EHU as they have taken natural sympathy for their struggle. However, they are now paying increasing attention to the impact of the funding, and considering in more detail whether the University could increase its self-funding.
Most media coverage has focused on the story of the university going into exile rather than its effectiveness. Read more
As this paper demonstrates, the university has recently shifted its focus from Belarus-related courses, publications, staff and the Belarusian language towards an institution aiming to cater a broader group of students from the countries of the former Soviet Union. The Belarusian component was more prominent during its early years in exile. Now the vision of the University mentions Belarus primarily as a source of students, among other students from the region rather than as the main target of its activities.
The internationalisation of the University, which features prominently in the description of the University’s vision for the future, is likely to lead to a decrease in Belarus-focused studies, staff and students. The EHU risks losing its distinction from other regional private universities, which raises the question about why it should continue to be eligible for donor’s support.
For example, Polish universities (especially private ones, like Lazarski University) have neither specific donor support, nor a special focus on Belarus. However, their prices are affordable and Belarusians are ready to pay for the benefits of an EU education. Perhaps ironically it is Lazarski University that has organised a series of conferences on historical and political perspectives on Belarus that observers argue should be the EHU’s trademark.
Another concern is that joint programmes with other universities are liable in reality only to amount to subsidising Belarusian students to study at regular regional universities rather than creating a specific Belarus focused environment.
Therefore to fulfil its role as a university in exile and centre of academic development for a new generation of Belarusians, the University should retain its Belarusian character and focus on areas of “added value” for Belarus. Rather than becoming an ordinary “internationalised” university, the EHU should learn from other successful émigré universities, notably the Ukrainian Free University in Munich, which educated generations of Ukrainians.
Towards Greater Sustainability through Focusing on Belarus
With its location away from the restrictive political climate of Belarus, areas where the EHU is well positioned to provide “added value” include political science, Belarusian history, human rights, Belarusian language and literature as well as journalism.
The EHU with its new concept of internationalisation risks losing its distinction from other regional private universities, which raises the question about why it should continue to be eligible for donor’s support.
The EHU has the potential to become the main scientific hub for Belarus, both for research and academic studies. In this way it would be ideally placed to obtain further funding (such as through EU university research programmes) or donor support (linked to democratisation in Belarus).
The EHU could work on meeting the need for high quality research on Belarus, especially linked to developing concrete plans for reforms in Belarus. Currently there is a lack of organisations that are able to perform this role.
To increase interest among young Belarusians in programmes such as political science, history or Belarusian studies the university should not only offer scholarships but also recruit and retain high calibre academics working in these areas providing them with job security guarantees typical for EU universities.
The paper suggests establishing a robust disclosure mechanism of research, teaching and policy impact based on measurable indicators. This mechanism could take the form of expanding existing oversight bodies to ensure that relevant donors, implementers, Belarusian civil society, Belarusian diaspora and the Lithuanian government all have a chance to review reports and be consulted on the most important decisions.
While the aim of a sustainable EHU, less dependent on donors’ funding, is supported, this paper argues that donors should continue to firmly back the EHU as a valuable institution, which could play a unique role in the future of Belarus. External support, however, should be targeted at the “added value” areas while other EHU programmes could be paving the way for self-funding.
Viciebsk Region – the Land of Artists and Terrorists
Viciebsk city hosted one of the most famous avant-garde art schools of the 20 century counting amongst those who walked through its doors such famous names as Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich.
But recently it has become famous as the terrorist capital of Belarus, as supposed organisers of 2011 explosion in Minsk metro originated from there. In addition, explosions occurred in Viciebsk also in 2005 and 2012.
The west of the Viciebsk region appears more supportive to democratic opposition. It has a sizable Catholic population and uses Belarusian language more widely, while the eastern region maintains a more “Russian” area.
Although quite industrially developed, the region suffers from high labour emigration, as Russia offers salaries significantly larger when compared to domestic companies.
Cities to Any Taste
Apart from Viciebsk city, several major cities with their particular identities are located in the Viciebsk region. Polack is the most famous of them – the oldest city of Belarus, first mentioned in chronicles in 862 AD. Polack served as the centre of the first form of Belarusian statehood, the Polack princedom, which subsequently joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Navapolack (or New Polack), the city that lies right near Polack, is the young industrial city that emerged only in 1958 as an industrial complex. One of the two Belarusian refineries that play a significant role in the Belarusian economy and politics are found here.
Another old city, Orša, first mentioned in the chronicles in 1067, is famous the birthplace of prominent Belarusian writer Uladzimir Karatkievič. Today, however, it has became famous mostly for an unusual concentration of prisons. A famous phrase says “In Orša there are three prisons and not a single university”.
Land of Lakes and Artists
The region has a significant tourist potential thanks to its natural conditions – the abundance of lakes. Braslaŭ's lakes attract many tourists as a popular resort destination in Belarus. This is a complex of large lakes in the northwestern corner of the region on the border of Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia.
People around the world might know Viciebsk for another interesting page of its history. In the beginning of the 20th century, it became one of the centres of European art avant-garde. Such famous artists as Kazimir Malievich and Marc Chagall taught at the art school and created several of their masterpieces there.
Viciebsk city has the oldest tram lines in Belarus, and one of the oldest in Russian empire. They were launched in 1898, a year earlier than in Moscow and a full nine years earlier than in Saint-Petersburg.
The Capital of Terror
Viciebsk, along with the Minsk region, presents a divided region when it comes to political views. The results of presidential elections show strong support of democratic and nationally oriented opposition in the west of Viciebsk, and low support in the east of the region. The same concern linguistic preferences – west of the regions speaks more Belarusian than the east of it.
The west of the region has a significant Catholic population and belonged to Polish republic until 1939, while the eastern part is orthodox and joined Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic earlier.
It appears as the most “Russian” region of Belarus, as the share of Russians here appears the largest of all Belarusian regions – 10.2%. The region has close ties with Russia, because relatives of many families have lived in Russia since soviet times or work there now.
Viciebsk city has retained some elements of civil activity. Civil campaign Naš Dom (Our Home) deals with all kinds of local policy issues and includes such famous figures of Belarus civil society as Valer Ščukin and Volha Karač.
Viciebski Kurjer presents a currently rare example of regional independent newspaper that still exists. Though it is registered and printed in Russia, local activists bring it to Belarus and spread among the citizens. This process sometimes turns into a kind of adventure, as local authorities try any means to prevent the distribution of the newspaper.
Viciebsk region governor, Aliaksandr Kosiniec, has been quite unremarkable during his stay in office since 2008. He has PhD in Medicine and previously held a position of the rector of Viciebsk medical university and then deputy prime-minister.
In recent years, Viciebsk became famous also as a terrorist capital of Belarus. Dzmitry Kanavalaŭ and Uladzislaŭ Kavalioŭ, the supposed organisers of the 2011 terrorist act in Minsk metro both come from Viciebsk city. The explosion killed 15 people and injured 203, and both organisers were sentenced to death. Earlier, two explosions occurred in Viciebsk in 2005, when around 50 people were injured. And most recently, in November 2012 another explosive device went off near a Viciebsk KGB building. Shortly afterwards, a woman was detained and accused of this act of terror.
The Deserted Region
The region has quite poor soil and cold climate, so agriculture is not its strong point. But unlike Western Belarus, the east of the Viciebsk region has a more developed industrial sector, especially its oil and chemical industry.
The Naftan refinery based in Navapolack is one of two Belarusian refineries that live on cheap Russian oil and thus contribute considerably to the Belarusian state budget. The plant was involved in an illegal scheme of export of solvents, which Russia subsequently demanded to stop.
As perhaps each of eastern regions of Belarus, Viciebsk has a serious problem of emigration of workforce. Drivers, builders, and simply men with hands are needed in thriving large cities of Russia, where they can get as much as 10 times the salary that they would get back home. In the villages, where income sources are more limited, one can sometimes hardly find a few young men, as they have all moved to Russia in search of an income.
Such an economy negatively impacts families, which remain separated for long periods of time. Emigration remains a major regional social and economic problem, to which government has no solution for so far. The regions risks to turn to the periphery and source of labour of Russian megalopolises if the business climate does not improve.