We are deeply concerned about recent developments affecting the European Humanities University (EHU) in Minsk. Over the last decade, the EHU has emerged as the single most prominent non-state university in Belarus. To see it jeopardized represents a significant threat to the progress of Belarusian higher education. The EHU is known for excellence in teaching, which is much enhanced by the university’s formal and informal links with a wide range of premier universities in Russia, East-Central and Western Europe, and North America. In its short history, the EHU has already contributed significantly to Belarus’ emerging civil society. Most importantly, it provides the most advanced education for the country’s future journalists, scholars, civil servants and business people. This first-rate training benefits from the EHU leadership’s familiarity with leading educational organizations around the world.
But events and trends over the last couple of months indicate that problems are accumulating. State authorities are permanently harassing the EHU. The internationally higly renowned founding rector of the EHU, Academician Anatolii Mikhailov, is under heavy pressure ‘from above’ to resign from his post. He is receiving signals through intermediaries that his and his family’s physical well-being can no longer be guaranteed.
Over the very last days, the existence of the EHU became even more precarious. The officials of the Presidential Administration demanded the EHU vacating the main building before August 5, 2004. Under the current circumstances the EHU has no chances to find a new classroom space for the teaching process. This means that the educational license may be – and most probably will be – withdrawn.
All these facts seem to clearly demonstrate the resolve by Minister Radkov to put an end to university autonomy and academic freedoms, which so far have remained at EHU in Belarus.
In general, academic freedom at all of Belarus’ higher learning institutions appears to be narrowing. There are decrees instructing the higher schools and universities in Belarus to re-introduce Soviet-style curricula, including a so-called patriotic education. These and similar measures will increase the distance between Belarus and the positive trends in European integration, including the Bologna process. In the longer run, the erosion of higher educational standards in Belarus risks creating a still higher barrier to the country’s rightful place in an increasingly integrated Europe.
This is of equal concern to all of us. To jeopardize modern standards of freedom for teaching and research is to impair a high level of professional training of future specialists and elites without which Belarus will not advance within Europe and the larger world beyond.
The EHU is in the middle of a fight for survival. In this situation we, the signatories of this open letter, express our wholehearted support for our friend and colleague, Anatolii Mikhailov, and for the faculty of the EHU. They are both part of us, the transnational academic community, and critical to the future of their country. Through them and their students Belarus preserves its place in Europe.
We call on the government of Belarus to cease the bureacratic harassment, the manipulation of unconstructive regulations, and the threats to the EHU’s leadership that imperil the university’s very existence.
We urge our respective governments to use all appropriate means to persuade Belarusian leaders and officials to allow the EHU faculty and its rector, Academician Mikhailov, to carry on their work in a dignified and unfettered fashion.
Berlin, July 2004