Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Belarus university re-opens in exile
Is it possible at the dawn of the 21st century that an entire university could be driven into exile in Europe?
Seventy-two years after scholars fled Hitler's Germany to establish the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research in New York, it has happened. Last year, the European Humanities University in Belarus was forced to close by the country's authoritarian regime. This month, European Humanities University-International dedicated its new campus in Vilnius, where it now resides in exile.
European Humanities University was established in Minsk in 1992. Known for its exceptional graduate programs in philosophy, law, politics, languages and European studies, it enrolled almost 1,000 students. In a closed society, EHU was an island of free inquiry, opening students to diverse ideas and vigorous debate, allowing them to see their country's history with a clear eye in the context of the democratic tide sweeping away authoritarian regimes across the world.
After unsuccessfully trying to remove the university's rector, Lukashenko forced EHU to shut down in July 2004. The action was part of a broader campaign to stifle intellectual and academic freedom in Belarus, undertaken in the mistaken belief that national greatness can come about by shutting out the world. But great nations do not fear knowledge, they embrace it. Strong societies do not stifle criticism, they encourage it. Good leaders do not smother intellectual inquiry, they promote it.
In the end, Lukashenko's attempts to stifle academic freedom will be no more successful than his efforts to deny his people democracy and a free-market economy.
EHU's web site is here, and Mr Fanton's speech at the reopening ceremony is available here.