The EU and defending academic freedom
Sir, – I would like to echo and to supplement what Prof Ronald J Hill says, in his letter of October 13th, about the European Humanities University (EHU) in exile from Belarus, now with a fine campus in Vilnius. The government of Lithuania is to be congratulated on offering such practical and substantive support to EHU, at the expense of straining bilateral relations with its eastern neighbour.
As Ambassador of Ireland to Lithuania and Belarus during the period 2005-2010, resident in Vilnius, I was privileged to work with the rector of EHU, Dr Anatoli Mikhailof, and his academic team to help them in their efforts to reestablish the university in 2005 in Vilnius, a challenging task, as one might imagine.
In fact, Ireland played an important support role, including through a grant under our Development Aid Programme of some €300,000 from 2007 to 2010, to initiate, among other things, an executive MBA programme for students and members of the business community in Belarus. It was run in collaboration with lecturers from the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.
Those enrolled were obliged to travel from Belarus to Vilnius every six weeks or so for an intensive course presentation, many at great personal effort and risk.
EHU students and staff were subject to regular interrogation and delay in crossing the border into Lithuania and showed great patience and determination in not being intimidated; their families had to be discreet when asked the whereabouts of their children.
Thousands of students made that journey in EHU term time in order to receive a liberal and comprehensive education, free of any cant or propaganda. They are among those who have now taken to the streets of Minsk and of other cities across Belarus and who, without doubt, will prevail and will assure in the end a democratic and prosperous future for all the citizens of that fine country. Ireland played its part in helping to educate those who will take over from Alexander Lukashenko. – Yours, etc