VILNIUS - The Lithuanian government took a bold step in boosting the future democratization of Belarus last week when it approved the reopening of the private European Humanities University that was closed down two years ago in Minsk by dictator President Alexander Lukashenko. And if all goes according to plan, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas will soon declare open the 22nd university in Lithuania.
In its decision to re-establish EHU, the Lithuanian government hopes to voice its support for Belarus and challenge the totalitarian regime of the Lukashenko-led government, said MP Audrius Azubalis. Lithuania believes the university will serve as an example of freedom and democracy for Belarus, he added.
"We all agreed that this will be a big step forward toward freedom and democracy. I am optimistic for the expansion of freedom through education," Azubalis told The Baltic Times. "Belarusian students will have a chance to build a national identity. I am happy that this university will spread European ideas among young people, who I am sure in the future will take responsibility for their homeland."
For now, EHU's computer and library facilities will be located at the Mykolas Romeris University of Law in Vilnius.
Belarusian and Lithuanian experts chose five adapted subjects for the curriculum: the "Theory and Practice of Modern Art," "Media and Visual Design," "Cultural Heritage and Tourism," and "International Law" for bachelor's level and "International and European Law" for master's studies.
"It's a pity that social and politics studies, as well as courses on non-governmental organizations were not included in the study program," said Dr. Eugenijus Stumbrys, director of the Centre for Quality Assessment in Higher Education.
However, the overall attitude about the university is optimistic. Most of EHU's lecturers will be Belarusian, but there will be a number of Lithuanians as well. It has been agreed that Belarusian students will be funded by the Lithuanian state, while other nationalities will pay registration and admission fees.
Altogether, 13 major and three minor study programs were chosen by the EHU's commission: philosophy, theology, political science, psychology, international law, world economy, economics, history and theory of art, international cultural tourism and computer science (Web design and computer graphics). The university offered a master's degree in various subjects: gender studies, international relations, public administration, religious studies and philosophy and PhDs in philosophy, law, psychology, cultural studies and economics. The success of these study programs led to the creation of nine research centers.
The European Humanities University was established in Minsk in 1992. It quickly gained international recognition by developing Belarus' cultural identity through its three studied subjects: philosophy, theology and art.
In 2004, Lukashenko closed it down due to "a lack of academic premises," though many believe the real reason was EHU's growing international reputation and open-minded "Western-style" of academic studies. Since then, the university has been functioning in exile as a virtual public institution 's "EHU International" 's in Vilnius.
Finally, on Feb. 15 the Homeland Union (Conservatives), a right-wing opposition party, urged the government to reopen the Belarusian university. Before the end of the month the prime minister is expected to sign a license to officially reopen EHU.
"We fight for the spirit of freedom and democracy," said Rasa Jukneviciene, deputy chairwoman of the Homeland Union. "We are here to support our neighbor Belarus and to foster its expansion toward open-mindedness."
After the university opens in Vilnius, the European Commission and Nordic Council, as well as some American and European donors, will help fund the project for the next few years.