EHU: How Belarusian is the Belarusian University in Exile?
The European Humanities University, also known as Belarus's university in exile, is struggling to find its identity. It is torn apart between being the Belarusian university in exile and a "normal" European university based in Lithuania. Some say, it has lost its Belarusian character and gave up on its original mission. Others say that moving away from the Belarusian language and Belarus-focused curriculum is a sign of a truly international university, which the EHU should be.
If the EHU is to remain loyal to its original mission as a Belarusian university, it should seriously think about offering what is not available in Belarus or at Western universities. In addition to greater academic freedom (which some say exists in Belarus too), it should keep Belarus-focused courses and language at the forefront of its activities.
A Lost Belarusian Component?
The European Humanities University had a promising start. Professor Anatoli Mikhailov established the university in Minsk 1992. The university had very good connections with Western academics and foundations and enjoyed a reputation as a more liberal university compared to state-run institutions. In 2004, Belarusian authorities put pressure on the EHU management and demanded that its rector Professor Mikhailov steps down. He refused and the Belarusian authorities closed down the university.
The university began a new chapter in Vilnius, 180 km from Minsk. One EHU political science graduate has identified two periods in the history of the EHU in Vilnius: Belarusian and Lithuanian. The Belarusian period of the EHU lasted until the group of Belarusian political scientists, which included Andrei Kazakievich and Dzianis Melyantsou left the university accusing its management of authoritarianism. The Lithuanian period began when the EHU started to replace dismissed Belarusians with Lithuanian academics, who often had little knowledge of Belarus and "did not know the tradition of the programme".
The same EHU graduate told Belarus Digest that the political science department was very important and symbolic to them – Belarusian students could freely discuss the political mechanisms of Belarus with their lecturers. To him, other student activities, which the EHU is so proud of, were an added value to the whole political science and history programme. But without quality Belarusian academics in "sensitive" areas, the task of the EHU to retain its identity has become more difficult to accomplish.
without quality Belarusian academics in "sensitive" areas the task of the EHU to retain its identity becomes more difficult to accomplish Read more
The Belarusian or International University in Exile?
Today the EHU seems to be looking for its own place. Darius Udrys, the Vice-Rector for Development and Communications, explained to Belarus Digest that "the EHU exists for the sake of Belarusian students". He adds that they would like to maintain the main focus on Belarusian identity, but not to isolate EHU. The question is whether making the university truly international conflicts with its mission, which according to Udrys is, "to provide Belarusian students with that which they cannot obtain in Belarus''.
Vadzim Smok, another EHU graduate in political science and a Belarus Digest author says that in his experience the university stimulated the critical thinking of the students and remained open and supportive to students’ initiatives. In the words of another EHU graduate, "the EHU remains an alternative for many young Belarusians". The Soviet educational system persists in Belarus and does little to encourage the critical and creative thinking of students.
Many young Belarusians choose to study in Vilnius because of its proximity to Minsk. The newly introduced frequent express trains between Minsk-Vilnius and affordable ticket prices, makes commuting to Vilnius even more attractive. The students also like the idea of getting EU-recognised diplomas at a cost lower than at the Western universities.
Darius Udrys underlines that ‘'we are always trying to balance national identity against what is necessary for us to be an international university'’. However, the university appears to be switching its focus from Belarus-oriented programmes to a more universal curriculum. Although around 95 per cent of the student body are Belarusian nationals, it appears that they cannot learn much about Belarus at EHU. Only one specialisation appears to have the word "Belarus" in its title – "Belarusian Studies" within the Cultural Heritage programme. In the past, Belarusian Studies was a separate programme.
This may not fit well with the university's original mission of offering what is not accessible in Belarus. This year the EHU closed its Social Science and Political Philosophy programme altogether. The new program will be called World Politics and Economy Studies and will be conducted jointly with Vytautas Magnus University, a Lithuanian university. Young Belarusians can study visual design, international law and many other EHU courses free of propaganda also at Belarusian universities, closer to home and at a lower cost.
The university's attitude towards the Belarusian language has recently received press coverage in Belarus. Today only a handful of courses are taught in the Belarusian language and a number of Belarusian-speaking lecturers left the university over the last couple of years. Former EHU faculty member Aleś Smalianchuk in his interview for Radio Liberty, argued that the EHU demonstrated contempt for the Belarusian language and history with its current policies.
Others, like both the EHU graduates whom Belarus Digest interviewed, argued that the Belarusian language did not suffer discrimination at the university. Another question is whether the university is taking seriously the task of supporting the language which faces serious discrimination back home.
The EHU Future: More Belarusian and More Democratic?
Transparency and democratic governance within the EHU itself is another area where the EHU could improve. According to Vadzim Smok, there is plenty of room for improvement here. When asked what he would like to change at the EHU, he says "the management system – to make the EHU more democratic, in a way, to have more social consensus there between the administration and the academics".
Others are concerned that its founder and rector, Professor Anatoli Mikhailov, has been ruling the university for over twenty years. This seems like a long time. Perhaps the EHU management could follow examples of other European universities which require rotation of management to improve efficiency.
Instead of shifting focus from Belarus towards becoming an ordinary Lithuanian university, it should try to find a balance between being Belarusian and internationally competitive Read more
With all its problems and struggles, it is important to preserve and support EHU. It has infrastructure and a potential to offer a unique environment to Belarusian students. Perhaps the biggest challenge the EHU faces today is how to remain faithful to its original mission. Instead of shifting focus from Belarus towards becoming an ordinary Lithuanian university, it should try to find a balance between being Belarusian and internationally competitive.
Preservation and introduction of courses related to Belarus or at least taught in Belarusian language should be a priority for the university.
Making the university more democratic and Belarusian may also make it more attractive to Belarusian students and those who want to support the university.
Dead Organisations in the Belarusian Third Sector – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Over the last few weeks a number of analytical publications came out. BISS prepared two regular reports on the trends within the Belarusian society and priorities in Belarus's foreign policy. For the first time the UN issued a report on the trends in the field of human rights in Belarus.
Mediakritika.by monitored how the state and independent media find out the sources of their news. The Liberal Club discussed the possible consequences of the new health system reform implementation.
Belarusian Third Sector is Overloaded with Dead Organisations – Uladzimir Matskevich, the leader of the National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum considers problems and threats to the civil society. He pays attention to poor legislation and poor conditions for Belarusian NGOs which waste time on formation, existence and survival: “Only those who can get away from all those formal obligations and allocate time for thinking, criticism, reflection, evaluation, and mere human discussion are capable of something. But there are very few of them in Belarus."
Where do the news come from? Mediakritika.by portal has monitored the two state-owned TV-channels in Belarus and non-governmental Belsat to find out sources of their news. Liaison offices of government bodies, public relations departments, ideology deputies – are the ones shaping the key information occasions featured by the Belarusian TV-channels on a daily basis. News occasions created by government’s spokespeople are the basis of the news broadcasts aired by all three TV-channels during the monitoring week. Meanwhile, there were almost no exclusive news materials created by the channels’ journalists.
BISS-Timeline #4 (April 2013) – Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) presents its brief monthly review of the major social, economical, political and cultural events in Belarus. According to publication, environmental issues were high on the agenda for Belarusians recently. Majority of public initiatives in April related to the Chernobyl disaster and the construction of a new power plant in Astraviec. The experts describe also the landmark foreign policy events in April, note that overstocks remain a significant problem, predict no important innovations in the social sector in the coming months, and reveal further confrontation between official and unofficial culture.
Another publication of BISS, Belarus' Foreign Policy Index #13 (March-April 2013), presents the 13th issue of its regular report, which focuses on five foreign policy priorities of Belarus. In particular, the experts note that official Minsk has once again underlined its limited negotiability with Russia and the willingness to take the necessary decisions in exchange for significant economic concessions. Belarus' relations with the EU continued to develop rapidly and demonstrated an unprecedented number of diplomatic and political contacts on the high state level for the last years. Some results of the current Index were also discussed at the “Amplituda” TUT.BY program.
What kind of Health Reform does Belarus need? After a panel discussion on the possible upcoming health reform in Belarus, Liberal club has shared the key findings and experts’ advice on the issue. According to surveys and experts’ opinions, the key problems of medical industry are lack of effective financial models for hospitals and poor human resources management. The experts also discussed the opportunities and consequences of insurance-financed medicine.
The European Dialogue on Modernization: the Current Status and Development Problems – Centre for European Transformation prepared policy paper providing a rationale for the reorganisation of the EU initiative European Dialogue on Modernization. The author substantiates the necessity of the convention and coordination of the position of various subjects, which is to actually set the stage for modernization reforms in Belarus – so called conventional modernization is contra posed to authoritarian modernization as a possible way of reforming Belarus’ economy while the current political regime is preserved.
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2013 – Human Rights Centre Viasna presents its regular monitoring on the human rights situation in Belarus. In April, the experts notice consistently poor situation with a clear tendency to deteriorate. Namely, 11 political prisoners were still kept in jail. A dangerous trend in April was that KGB and the prosecutors' offices issued warnings to activists about the possible criminal punishment for activities on behalf of unregistered organizations.
The Way Belarusians Understand Civil Society is Puzzling – Ulad Vialichka, the chairman of the International Consortium "EuroBelarus", considers whether the notion of civil society is used correctly in Belarus and which countries’ experience can be most useful for Belarusian civil society. Vialichka assumes that Belarusian society still has an underdeveloped understanding of civil society that is connected with the fact that the processes of civil society formation that were going on in the early 90s were exposed to serious attacks afterwards.
International Reports on Belarus
First report of UN special rapporteur on Belarus. Miklos Haraszti, the UN Human Rights Council`s special rapporteur on Belarus, published his first report on the situation in Belarus. The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights describes the main trends in the field of human rights in Belarus in the period 5 July 2012 – 31 March 2013 and emphasises the systematic violations of human rights in Belarus.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s second thematic report. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, published his second thematic report which draws particular attention to the ability of civil society to seek, protect and use financial resources from international and internal sources. The report also provides practical guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the freedom of peaceful assembly.
European Parliament adopted draft recommendation on EU policy towards Belarus. Justas Paleckis acted as the rapporteur of the document. The European Parliament addresses its recommendations to a number of the EU institutions which should “reiterate the need for the unconditional and immediate release and rehabilitation of the political and civic rights of all remaining political prisoners to be a prerequisite for a gradual lifting of EU restrictive measures and for a substantial upgrade in EU-Belarus relations”.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.