Belarus: Uprooted University Finds New Home In Lithuania

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Mar 12 14:06:41 UTC 2006

>>From Radio Free Europe,
Friday, 10 March 2006

Belarus: Uprooted University Finds New Home In Lithuania

By Valentinas Mite

For more than a decade, young Belarusians looking for a Western-standard
education had been able to turn to the European Humanities University
(EHU). The privately funded university, which opened in Minsk in 1992,
offered graduate and undergraduate studies in philosophy, law, politics,
and languages. It was closed in 2004 after Belarusian President Alyaksandr
Lukashenka voiced displeasure with what he said was the institution's
pro-Western bias. But EHU is once again in session, with a new home in
Vilnius, the capital of neighboring Lithuania.

PRAGUE, March 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Lithuanian government announced in
February it was granting official status to the EHU, giving it the right
to legally operate in Vilnius until conditions provide for its return to
Belarus. Uladzimir Dunayeu is vice chancellor of EHU, and well-acquainted
with the university's struggle with the Belarusian authorities. He says
the university, now situated in Vilnius's picturesque old town, is
enjoying a healthy enrollment of mainly Belarusian students. "Currently we
have some 1,000 students. Of those, 170 are undergraduates who live [and
study] in Vilnius, 100 more are graduate students, and the rest are
studying by correspondence [from Belarus]," Dunayeu says.

In its Belarusian heyday, EHU had a mix of Belarusian professors and
visiting instructors from the West. Now, most of the instructors are
Belarusian and Lithuanian. But it is hoped that western professors will
once again join the ranks in years to come. Dunayeu says EHU, as before,
is offering a wide spectrum of humanities majors: "Currently we teach
philosophy, art, media studies, European law, and political sciences --
namely, European studies. It is very important that we have started to
train historians." Lithuanian authorities are happy with the new
institution, which reopened with support not only from the government in
Vilnius, but also the French Foreign Ministry and U.S. and German

Petras Austrevicius, a member of the Lithuanian parliament's foreign
affairs committee, says his country, as an EU member, seeks to support
democracy in Belarus in accordance with official Brussels policy. "By
giving permission for this university to function in Vilnius, we have
acknowledged that it cannot function freely in Belarus. By this act we
demonstrate the continuity of our position. It is also an investment in
the future of independent and free minds of Belarusians," Austrevicius

Media Projects

The EHU is not the only project in Vilnius aimed at democracy-building in
Belarus. At the end of February, "Baltic Waves," an EU-funded radio
station, began daily broadcasts into Belarus from the Lithuanian capital.
The station broadcasts were specially launched ahead of Belarus's March 19
elections to help give voters a nonstate alternative to turn to for news
and information. In the end of February an EU- funded radio station has
begun broadcasting into Belarus from Vilnius. "Baltic Waves" will
broadcast a daily hour-long bulletin of news, music and information on
Europe. (Valery Ruselik) Austrevicius says Vilnius's offer to act as a
temporary host to the institution was not just an act of political
solidarity between the two neighbors. Lithuania's Education Ministry also
requested that the university adapt its curriculum and teaching programs
in line with EU standards.

It was a move that delayed the reopening of the EHU, he says, but which
ultimately raised the quality of the university's studies. Students also
seem to be happy with their studies in Vilnius. Valerya is from Minsk. She
studies cultural anthropology, history, and the Belarusian language, and
was able to receive a grant that covers the cost of school and housing.
Valerya says she likes her studies, but wishes the Belarusian language --
which often takes a back seat to Russian in her native country -- would be
used more at the university: "The language of instruction for our major is
Belarusian. However, that is only because our major is the Belarusian
language. The language of instruction for the rest of the majors, as far
as I know, is Russian."

Valerya says after graduating she would like to continue her studies
abroad. But ultimately she says she would like to return to Belarus, and
says she has no plans to stay in Lithuania longer than necessary. "It is
not my country, and let's put it this way -- nobody needs me here.  And
[Belarus] is my motherland; my parents live there. It's natural that I
want to be closer to my parents, and to my native land," Valerya says.
Valery Ruselnik studies mass media and communications at EHU. He says he
came to Vilnius when he was expelled from Belarus State University because
of his political activities. In Lithuania, he says, he has found a
different atmosphere.

"Living conditions are normal here. When I compare the hostel here with
the Belarusian ones, I should say that the conditions here are better. As
concerns the university itself, there are also substantial differences. To
begin with, here we have what we lack in Belarus -- respect for students,"
she says. Vilnius is a drive of several hours from Belarus, a reasonable
distance for the students who travel to EHU. But Ruselnik says the
Belarusian authorities keep close watch on EHU students. He says the
general attitude toward the pro-Western institution is hostile, and can
even be felt while crossing the Belarusian border. "Many of people I study
with have been detained numerous times and checked more thoroughly at the
border. It is definitely true that EHU students are given greater scrutiny
at the border-crossing points," Ruselnik says. Even so, Ruselnik, like
Valerya, says he can only imagine his future in Belarus -- a country he
hopes will someday soon see democratic reforms take hold.

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