New approaches to democratization are needed because much of what has been tried so far has failed, European Humanities University (EHU) Rector Anatoli Mikhailov told a delegation of United States Congressional staff during their visit to EHU's Vilnius campus. Nevertheless, Mikhailov urged the delegation not to give up on promoting change in Belarus.
“It is dangerous for the region to let the democratization of Belarus fail. If we fail in Belarus, there will be no chance of transformation in Ukraine or Russia. People need to be brought up in a different spirit to be able to transform Belarus or Iran or any other authoritarian country,” noted Mikhailov.
The US delegation as well as representatives of Lithuania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Embassy in Lithuania met with EHU students and leaders to discuss the situation in Belarus and how EHU students could bring change to their country.
Vice-Rector for Development and Communications Darius Udrys thanked the delegation for the support of the United States thus far. He reminded guests that EHU provides critical opportunities that students are denied in Belarus and that the University's European partners see support for EHU as an important symbol of Transatlantic cooperation. US government funding for EHU, previously provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is being eliminated as part of dramatic overall cuts in foreign assistance.
Udrys also pointed out how much Belarusians themselves invest into EHU.
“The fact that 30% of our university's budget is funded by tuition payments is a remarkable indication that Belarusians themselves understand the importance and value of what EHU provides,” said the Vice-Rector.
Students agreed that their education at EHU and living in democratic Lithuania helps them develop the understanding and skills they will need to transform their homeland.
“We can do much more being abroad,” said Mariya Stepanova, a media and communications student. “Belarus doesn’t need European-minded people now, but we would come back if things change.”
Other students agreed, explaining their plans to study and gain experience abroad so as to better prepare for their future.
Andrei Mayeuski, a political science and European studies student, said he chose EHU because it is so close to Belarus (less than 25 miles from the border). This allows him to stay close to home while taking advantage of a program that takes European issues far more seriously than what he has seen in Belarus.
When asked about options for finding work in Belarus with an EHU diploma, EHU Alumni Relations Coordinator Andrei Khrapavitski, himself an EHU alum (BA Political Science and European Studies, 2010), responded that alums tend to work in private sector businesses or non-governmental organizations in Belarus.
“Many students work in businesses or NGOs, or join new or traditional independent media organizations,” said Khrapavitski.
Surveys show that most EHU alumni return to Belarus after completing either bachelor or master's programs at EHU. About two-thirds of EHU's approximately 1,800 students take advantage of online program offerings, pursuing their degrees while residing in Belarus. The rest attend courses on EHU's campus in Vilnius.
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.