“I love Belarus, but I refuse to travel to Minsk until the last political prisoner is released,” said Ronald Pofalla, Chief of Staff of the German Federal Chancellery and Federal Minister for Special Tasks. Pofalla met with European Humanities University (EHU) students and administration in Vilnius and gave a keynote address on campus that brought EHU's International Week to a close.
“I hope you see opportunities to come back to Belarus, because Belarus needs people like you,” Pofalla told EHU students.
He also added that he hoped many students would continue to study at EHU.
“Young people obtain a sense of freedom during their studies in the West, so when they return to Belarus, they will have a different mindset.”
Pofalla also expressed his admiration for the personal and academic qualities of EHU’s Founding Rector Anatoli Mikhailov, without whom, he said, “EHU would not have survived.”
Mikhailov, in turn, said he hopes that EHU students "will become the carriers of the idea of transformation."
Mikhailov noted that EHU has a long tradition of an emphasis on German studies and just recently reopened its German Studies Center, which was lost when the university was closed in Minsk in 2004.
During his address, Pofalla condemned the recent execution of two young men declared guilty of the bombing of the Minsk metro in 2011.
“I do not want to question whether these two people were guilty or not, but the process of trial and examination did not adhere to the principles of the rule of law,” said Mr. Pofalla.
In response to a question from a student about sanctioning Belarus, Pofalla stated that sanctions should be targeted so they would not affect the entire economy of Belarus or of neighboring countries. According to Pofalla, the European Union has decided not to introduce wide-scale sanctions for fear they could hurt ordinary Belarusians.
The European Humanities University is a private, non-profit liberal arts university founded in Minsk in 1992. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the university has been headquartered in Vilnius, Lithuania since authorities expelled it from Belarus in 2004. It serves nearly 2,000 mostly Belarusian students, offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs and promoting research in the humanities and social sciences.