European Humanities University Elects Its Senate and Debates its Future
On 19 November the European Humanities University (EHU), also knows as Belarusian university in exile, held elections for its Senate. Although the Senate is just one of several bodies which govern EHU, the result may affect the direction of EHU's reforms.
Unlike previous elections, which often went unnoticed by the Belarusian press, this time a group of EHU academics united under a platform called 'For a New EHU' which conducted a vibrant electoral campaign. The vast majority of the newly elected Senate members supported the platform. The election campaign provoked discussions in Belarusian media about the direction EHU is taking under its current administration.
The main topics raised during the Senate election campaign included the role of academics in the governance of the university in exile and whether the Belarusian university in exile could do more for Belarusian society.
The Rector of the University responded to criticism by explaining that the university needs changes to improve the quality of its scholarship and teaching and also to remain competitive.
Academics Want More Involvement
A public debate started after a group of lecturers adopted a manifesto criticising the management style of the EHU administration as being not democratic enough.
The group 'For a new EHU' consisted of the Chairman of the EHU Senate Pavel Cierashkovich and a number of lecturers including Volha Shparaha, Andrej Laurukhin and Maxim Zhbankou.
According to the manifesto, the university often made important decisions without meaningful consultations with EHU academics. The academics argued that the management excluded representatives of the Senate and labour unions from the decision making process related to the future of the university.
The lecturers also claimed that most Belarusian academics have to work for the university without employment contracts. They called for strengthening the role of the Senate and EHU academics and the introduction of regular rotations for key administrators, including the rector.
In their view, the university is losing its humanities identity, as well as its ties to Belarusian society. Therefore, the EHU should also develop Belarus-oriented programmes for students and encourage teaching in the Belarusian language and learning the language.
According to the manifesto, co-operation not only with Belarusian NGOs and think tanks, but also prominent Belarusian political and cultural figures, might help to bring the university closer to civil society in Belarus. It also states that the teaching programmes should keep Belarus as a point of focus and involve successful Belarusian academics from around the world.
The EHU administration promises reforms
On 14 November Professor Anatoli Mikhailov, who has been leading the university since its establishment in 1992 responded and shared his vision of the future of the university.
Professor Mikhailov explained that the university planed to hire a core faculty consisting of permanent lecturers after holding an open competition. The budget for salaries will be doubled. The permanent staff is supposed to reside in Vilnius and could claim all social benefits and will have proper employment contracts, in compliance with Lithuanian law.
This change would signify a shift from the previous practise of EHU lecturers regularly commuting from Belarus to teach.
Commenting on whether Belarusian academics will be replaced by other nationals, Mikhailov emphasised that Belarus was and would continue to be at the centre of EHU's focus. He emphasised that the university has always been on the look out for qualified candidates from Belarus.
The rector also explained that to strengthen its focus on Belarus, the EHU is developing a programme of transformation studies. The EHU also wants to revive its Belarusian studies programme which was closed not that long ago. According to Professor Mikhailov, thanks to generous and consistent donor support, the EHU's financial situation has never been better.
The rector commented also on the accusations that the administration had excluded the Senate and representatives of the University's faculty from the decision making process. In his view, the governing structure of the EHU is a hybrid one and consists of international educational experts, foreign donors, the Senate, which is understood to consist of representatives of the EHU administration, staff and students.
He described this model as being one of “stakeholder involvement, separation of powers, and accountable democratic leadership”. In his view, it allows for the efficient, but also democratic management of the university.
Competing or complementary visions of the EHU?
Will the newly selected Senate with majority of supporters of reforms, find a compromise with the university management? In fact, much will depend on the position of the administration of the university. Although the Senate is an important body, its powers, when it comes to real strategic decisions and appointments, is rather limited.
Both the majority of the EHU Senate and the university management think that EHU needs change. On most issues, the positions of the Platform 'For a New EHU' and Rector Mikhailov are not mutually exclusive.
All agree that the University needs to maintain its focus on Belarus, hire Belarusian academics and act as an important platform for debate, research and teaching relevant to Belarus. They also agree that the voice of academics at the EHU should be heard and respected.
Rector Mikhailov already announced that he would discuss with the Senate and try to get its approval of his reforms. One hopes that EHU's management and the Senate will be able to agree on a viable reform plan.
The debate on the future reform of the university, widely covered in Belarusian press, shows diverse opinions among those who work for EHU. The university could benefit from the healthy debates if it makes sure that they lead not to divisions but to improvements and progress.
This will help EHU to balance its Belarusian identity with the challenges of making the university more internationally competitive and strengthening its relevance to Belarus at the same time.
Rapprochement between Minsk and Kyiv – Belarus Security Digest
Belarusian authorities sided openly with Kyiv in its conflict with Moscow by be willing to help Ukraine in bypassing a possible economic blockade by Russia.
The establishment of joint Belarusian – Ukrainian manufacturing companies in Belarus will neutralise to a large extent the threat of any blocked access to Ukrainian engineering products, including military and dual-use products, to the Customs Union's market.
Russia's economic problems are being projected on the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), while Belarus cannot even count on Russia's support in re-equipping its national army in the coming years. One can still expect supplies of small quantities of new weapons and transfers of used weapons from Russia's stockpiles. Naturally, there is no question of them supplying any new combat-ready aircraft, something that has been repeatedly announced by Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
Moreover, Moscow's behaviour assumes that Russia, taking advantage of Minsk's financial difficulties, could try and bring the Belarusian military under its own control. This reinforces the regime's opinion all the more that Russia is not a reliable partner.
Cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine in the military industrial sector intensifies
The month of October saw the founding of an alliance between Belarus and Ukraine in the military-technological sector. In many aspects, the rapprochement between Minsk and Kyiv has been determined by Moscow's behaviour which has taken its time to meet the expectations of the Belarusian authorities in terms of supplies of weapons and tries to exert pressure on Ukraine in the military industrial sector as well.
On 7 October 2013, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defence Arturo Babenko conducted negotiations with the Chairman of the State Military and Industrial Committee of Belarus, Siarhei Huruliou, on the development of bilateral cooperation in designing weapons and military equipment.
In October, the plans of the JSC Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant, which forms part of the Ukrainian corporation Motor-Sich, to launch batch manufacturing of MSB-2 helicopters (a heavy upgrade of Mi-2 helicopter) in 2015 became public. The plant already has a relevant working programme, the key element of which is the replacement of engines in the Mi-2 helicopters with the AI-450M Motor-Sich engines and some other design solutions including those which involve the body of the helicopter.
The promising directions for military and technical cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine include the creation of new anti-tank weapons' models, short range air defence systems, radar detection and helicopter engineering. Belarus is also interested in an Ukrainian programme for the development of a tactical missile complex which, if successfully completed, can become an alternative to the Russian Iskander-E.
In addition, Ukrainian industrial potential would allow for the implementation of a missile programme practically without using any foreign-made components. Belarus can contribute to the missile project with its guidance systems and chassis. If the programme receives inter-state status, it will allow for the bypassing of restrictions from the missile technology control regime and provide for the acquisition of missiles by Belarus that have a range of 500 km instead of 300 km.
Re-equipment of the CSTO forces is postponed indefinitely
Issues of outfitting the detachments of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (hereinafter the CRRF) were discussed on 22 October 2013 in Moscow. No specific decisions were made. The reason for this is the financial limitations of the participating countries and the inability of Russia to provide them with material support to the extent necessary.
Generally, the alliance's management reaffirmed its commitment to re-equip the CRRF; however, taking into account the immensity of this task, the term for the finalisation of this program remains uncertain. Moreover, the Russian budget does not provide for significant support for international military and technical assistance (there are plans to spend about USD 180,000,000 annually during the next three years for these purposes). And no provision is made for expenses for peacekeeping activities or the maintenance of collective security.
The collective defence in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) exists mostly on paper. The plans for the re-equipment of the CRRF were drawn up already in 2009. However, Belarus has not seen any real financial support for them, aside from insignificant quantities of small arms and communication equipment. Even the military uniform manufactured for the CSTO peacekeepers, funded by Russia's budget, is kept in warehouses and distributed to servicemen for joint military exercises only.
Russia is not interested in building up of Minsk's military capacity
In October, Angola and Russia signed a contract for weapons and military equipment. The package includes 18 fighters Su-30K which were earlier used by the Indian Air Force and kept on the airfield of JSC 558th Aircraft Repair Plant in Baranavichy. The Belarusian Air Force had long expected to receive these planes. However, Russia asked them to pay for them, and Minsk was willing to acquire them only on a gratis basis, citing financial difficulties and the allied spirit of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
The sale of former Indian fighters Su-30K to Angola means that prospects of getting new or relatively new combat planes with Russia's support are postponed for an indefinite term. Taking into account the constant appreciation of Russian aircraft, the attractiveness of Chinese fighters will steadily increase in the future. Especially when taking into account that the People's Republic of China has mastered the manufacturing process of creating what are essentially improved clones of the fighters Su-27 (J-11B), aircraft that is well known by the Belarusian Air Force.
Minsk is getting ready to take advantage of the continued aggravation of differences between Ukraine and Russia, derived from Ukraine's future association with the European Union Read more
On 29 October 2013, a joint meeting of the boards of the defence ministries of Belarus and Russia took place, after which Russia's Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu made a number of statements. Thus, he said that the parties are finalising a draft agreement on the deployment of a Russian air force base in Belarus. In the nearest future, it was noted, Moscow would transfer four antiaircraft missile systems S-300 to Belarus. Also, Russia would continue to support the maintenance and development of Belarus' military infrastructure.
A Russian representative once more raised the issue of establishment of the Russian air base. The Belarusian authorities are painstakingly careful to avoid this issue. Drafting of the agreement on establishment of the Russian air force base may take quite a while.
Then, there will be the issue of getting it approved and agreeing on the start date of its implementation. This is evidenced by the situation with the establishment of a unified regional air defence system of the two countries (three years have passed between the signing of the agreement and its ratification by the Belarusian side). In any case, Minsk is getting ready for some fierce bargaining and to take advantage of the continued aggravation of differences between Ukraine and Russia, derived from Ukraine's future association with the European Union.
Speaking about the prospects of supplying the anti-aircraft missile S-300 system, the question of the modification of the weaponry remains open. Earlier, it was announced that it would be done in accordance with the PMU-1 modification.
Russia's assistance in maintaining the military infrastructure will likely be limited only to those sites which are of interest to the Russian military: airfields, arsenals and warehouses and, possibly, air defence, communication and command sites. Russia is more interested in exploiting the Belarusian military's potential than in building up Minsk's military capacity.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.