Friends and benefactors of the European Humanities University (EHU) joined a delegation of EHU students, faculty, staff, and alumni led by EHU's Founding Rector Anatoli Mikhailov to celebrate the University's 20th anniversary in Washington, DC and New York City this May.
More than 170 guests attended four events in both cities designed to highlight the contributions EHU is making to ensure a better future for Belarus and the region. Guests included the Ambassadors of Sweden and Lithuania Jonas Hafstrom and Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuanian Consul General Valdemaras Sarapinas, President of the Eurasia Foundation and outgoing President of Friends of EHU Horton Beebe-Center, incoming President of Friends of EHU, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Robert Nurick, representatives of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Open Society Foundations, Scholars at Risk, the Atlantic Council, the National Executive Service Corps, the United Nations, the US Department of State, members of the US Congress, the University of Columbia, Georgetown University, the New School, the Embassy of Estonia, the Consulate of Poland, and many other institutions.
Guests affirmed that hearing from EHU's students was the highlight of the commemorative events. Listening to their stories, including their reasons for choosing EHU and their thoughts about the future of Belarus, helped audiences understand how EHU helps students surmount barriers and develop creative solutions to the challenges facing their country.
“EHU is unique. It is a vital breath of fresh air Belarus needs so much. Despite all the hardship, it is absolutely worth it,” said Ihar Kiryienka, an undergraduate mass media and communications student.
“EHU opens your eyes to the world and to Belarus. People who do not travel abroad cannot compare Belarus to other countries, so they think what is happening in Belarus is normal," said Katsiaryna Maksimava, a visual design student who is enrolled through EHU’s distance learning (“low residence”) program and lives in Belarus. “EHU makes you think how things in Belarus could be better.”
“Education is not just about classroom studies. It is also about exposure to a different reality,” noted EHU Rector Mikhailov at a reception held at the Kosciuszko Foundation in New York. “The competencies that our students acquire will be essential to bringing about the changes that Belarus needs.”
Guests at the 20th anniversary reception held in New York were treated to a special performance by soloist Irina Mozyleva, who sang Belarusian songs for the audience. She was accompanied by pianist Zhenja Lev, who entertained guests during the reception with additional Belarusian music. A meeting that brought together high-level representatives of academia and the philanthropic sector to discuss EHU's future was also held at Carnegie Corporation of New York.
During a 20th anniversary luncheon held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, students said they have concrete ideas about how they can personally contribute to a better future for Belarus.
“I believe in the power of art. I am a musician and I study media so I have the tools to send a social message. I am planning to write sophisticated and eye-opening lyrics in the Belarusian language to help people understand the situation in Belarus. After I complete my education I want to be a person who brings the light,” explained Kiryienka.
“Every person is a small part of something bigger," said Karyna Bobryk, a fourth-year law student who was injured during the protests that followed the 2010 presidential election in Belarus. "I am planning to support a friend in the upcoming election. Even if the election is a fraud, I want to promote the idea that things can be different—make people think about it.”
Communications student Marya Stsiazhko, who, like Maksimava, attends EHU via its distance learning program, said she is not at all surprised that the Belarusian government often questions EHU students and is keen to find out what is happening at EHU:
“EHU influences events in Belarus. It makes me feel that I can create my life; that no one can tell me what to do.”
The Rector and members of EHU's Board of Governors extended warm words of thanks to all whose support enabled EHU to survive the crisis of its 2004 forced closure in Minsk and find a new home in Vilnius, Lithuania. These include the Government of Lithuania and more than a dozen European governments as well as the Government of the United States, the European Commission, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Open Society Foundations, and many other benefactors, both individual and institutional.
Guests attending EHU's 20th anniversary events were all invited to join Friends of EHU—EHU's US-based support group—to help the University preserve academic freedom and provide a quality liberal arts eduction to young people from Belarus and the region. Speaking on behalf of Friends of EHU at the Wilson Center, outgoing President Horton Beebe-Center declared he is prouder than ever to be involved:
“They did not pick a fight. They were attacked, but survived. And they succeeded. EHU is a progressive institution that challenges the status quo. I have no doubt that EHU will be thriving years from now when the current administration of Belarus is history.”
The students’ travel to the United States was sponsored by the American Councils for International Education and accommodations were sponsored by Irene Melup. 20th anniversary events in Washington, DC were sponsored by the Embassies of Lithuania and Sweden, the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award (of which EHU Rector Mikhailov is a past recipient), and the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The 20th anniversary reception in New York was sponsored by the Lithuanian Consulate General and hosted by the Kosciuszko Foundation.