The Year of Belarusan thinking in the Flying University

Tatiana Vadalazhskaya, Flying University

We publish the speech of Tatiana Vadalazhskaya, a coordinator of the Flying University, during the first session of the university seminar in the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Today’s meeting is not only the first seminar this year, but also the responsible opportunity to offer the community of the Flying University a direction for this year’s movement.

Each new academic year is a next step; and we are well aware that these steps are not made out of thin air. Now we already have a five-year working experience. Someone joined us later, someone — earlier, thus putting efforts for making the Flying University a phenomenon of Belarus’ civic and cultural life. But it is already five years that we have been moving towards the goals and ideals that started the Flying University together. Five years ago we were searching for forms and content in order to establish favorable conditions for prosperity of Belarusan thinking, searching for conditions for its influence on the future of the country and training of those, who define this future. Today each of not only has personal experience in reading courses, giving public lectures, and participation in conferences, games, summer schools, and so on; we have common experience and practice in moving towards our common goal. And that experience gives us the basis for understanding the situation, understanding ourselves, and planning further steps towards realization of the idea of the University in Belarus and for Belarus.

The experience and practice that we have makes it perfectly clear that our conditions enable us to open systematic training of new generations that will be oriented at thinking. To do this, we don’t have neither organizational nor political, social, anthropological or, in a sense, notional reasons (meaning the work on the content of education that has just started). We do not have conditions and possibilities for systematic training and education, but we do not reject our common goals. There is no reason to reject them; on the contrary, the situation in the country and in the world requires thinking and people, who are capable of it, more and more.

What can we do and what is our path in expanding areas of thinking in Belarus? It consists of engaging in thinking “here and now”, accession or even pushing both others and us in it. Our experience and knowledge that have been proved and tested over these years, as well as critical attitude to our capacities and conditions in which we find ourselves make this particular way an adequate response to the challenge of an Idea of the University. If the University is a space and a society that protects thinking, then its constant exercise that is open to others is a way of preserving and caring. But to go on this way, we need the presence of what we can join. Moreover, we need such presence not as a process hidden from the viewer, the process that takes place "in the heads"; but as an event of thinking that is open to join. That this is our concern, our challenge, and nature of the Flying University.

It seems that such aim is no fresh news and no discovery. But that doesn’t diminish its importance for our actions this year. Moreover, it is a critical attitude to five-year work that makes this aim more than relevant.

That’s why the next year of the Flying University should become The Year of Belarusan thinking.

This name carries two intentions at once: an inside one — as a means of joint activities and life in the Flying University, attention and focus on the existence of thinking "here and now" as the essence of the University in actual conditions. The second intention — external — is what the Flying University brings to Belarus. It is an assertion of the existence of thinking as a phenomenon of contemporary Belarusian life and culture, as well as a vector for other actors and persons of the intellectual and cultural field.

The Year of Belarusan thinking is a task to make thinking a fact and event from the life of the Flying University, Belarusan society, and culture; transmit it from “conventional” to real, visible, and attractive state.

What will be the content of the year of Belarusan thinking for the Flying University? What should you direct your attention and energy to?

First of all, it is the creation of events of thinking that would be possible to join to during all events of the Flying University. Open lectures that have already started, common courses, four schools-workshops, different public addresses and discussions — all that shouldn’t be aimed at transmission of knowledge or education, since we are all aware of the fact that we don’t have possibilities and conditions for that. But upon looking inside ourselves, it’s worth mentioning that we usually take the easiest and the most familiar path; we do what we used to do earlier: read lectures, educate, and tell. But do we really keep in mind and realize in action our aim at thinking? Thus, if we will be attentive and critical to what we do within the frames of all situations that are created in the Flying University, then the criteria of “successful” lectures, courses, and discussions should become the establishment of situations of thinking, pushing it out of yourselves and out of the audience, and leaping to the unknown. We need to focus on this aim not only as on the value guideline, but as on the method through which we can exist as a University, not as a complex of different interesting courses and schools.

However, events and momentary flashes of thinking “here and now” are not enough for the Belarusan thought to become a phenomenon of civic and cultural life, a factor of Belarus’ development. We should “pull together” our past fulfillments and our future intentions to the actual work.

That’s why another important component of the year of Belarusan thinking for the Flying University will be the establishment and demonstration of the connection that our actual thinking has with what has been thought there, at this land, in this culture. The Year of Belarusan thinking also means active understanding and creating our own basis, establishment of relations and connections, as well as demonstrating the phenomenon of Belarusan thinking to the broader Belarusan society.

This component is developing through several practical things today that do not exhaust the tasks, but mark the possibilities for joining in and provoke into broadening one’s fantasy horizons. First, it is a joint campaign “Quote your own!” with the release of short smart thoughts-quotes for the broader public in simple form. Secondly, it is collaboration with the “Belarusian collegium” for publishing a second volume of “Anthology of Belarusan thinking”. Through this work we are trying to show and record the life of the Belarusian thought of the last decades. The anthology looks like a form of modern encyclopedia of living thinking in historical context; and that encyclopedia creates or recalls cultural and historical context for us.

Apart from these already initiated actions we should consider deepening into meaningful work with intellectual heritage. In this respect we have an idea to devote a series of public lectures to understanding Ignat Abdiralovich heritage, which is considered to be a the foundation of modern Belarusian tradition of thinking, a direct realization of the thesis "Thinking Belarus." This heritage not only should be reverenced and treated with symbolic determination, but primarily refer to is as to a base for dialogue, development of thinking, interpretation, criticism or continuation of thought.

In addition to immersion in the past (both the far past and more closer one), current thinking requires caring about the future of new generations. We have experience and we can critically evaluate our preliminary attempts to specify relationship between a Teacher and a Student, in which thinking isn’t limited by individual events, but becomes a way of life, a path, a school and a tradition thrown into the future. This year we will be launching four special schools-workshops aimed at creating a small circle that is firmly involved in elongated intellectual work.

These schools-workshops represent a special format of The Year of Belarusan thinking, since they aim at practical development of thinking as educational content. From this point of view, one should refer both to their organization as well as to evaluation of their success afterwards. Thus, the third component of the content of the Year of Belarusan thinking will be the focus on caring about the continuation, transition of the way of thinking and living in it, not knowledge. However, we only plan to have four schools, and this concern will basically become the work of a small circle of people that are involved in the work of schools-workshops, not the whole community. But what about the rest? How will the work of the schools be combined and based on what will be happening at common courses or open lectures?

The authenticity and effectiveness of the prospected schools-workshops can be measured by how they will be built and how they will engage the entire community (ideas, people, problems, etc.) in their activities, as well as how their activities will give input to both the joint work of the community (conferences, debates, summer camps, etc.), as well as individual work. For us to realize not separate parallel lines within the Flying University, but develop in realization of common objectives, we should pay special attention to this relationship and blending of individual and personal actions in a common framework.

The last component I want to point out relates to a method and content of thinking. Let's see what we have in our current use as a common approach. 20th century "gave" us the figure of a critical intellectual and critical thinking as the main mode of existence and the main function of thinking in a society. Criticality directs us to the analysis, to unveiling the grounds that are not in plain sight, to reflection and deconstruction of what is offered as a reality and ideals. Is the tool "here and now" enough for us? Criticism is a necessary part of thinking; however, its meaning arises only if there is a second part — the creative.

The last decade we can hear a groan on the uselessness of thinking everywhere. We get actively involved in apology for values of ​​intellectuals, humanitarians, and thinkers before the public. But maybe we should direct this critical thinking to ourselves? Is the thinking that we have worth these justifications? Let's imagine that tomorrow the whole world, or at least some part of the Belarusians will come to us and say: "We are ready to listen to you!" We need your thoughts not to increase milk production, but to understand the modern world and get answers to questions that cause existential dread or just throw us into a state of confusion of meanings and course of actions. And what we can offer in return? For example, do we have something to offer in response to the following questions:

What should a person do if the Third World War starts? What does the experience of the previous two give us? What should be done alone — as a person, and together — as a nation and a country or as a democratically oriented community?

How should we build our own personal path in situation of absolute stagnation of political and social development if the guidelines are losing their appeal? If the modernization according to the European model does not require the effort of thought and will but is becoming more and more similar to the familiar childhood patterns of Soviet life instead?

How can we find an adequate way of action in the conflicting collision between two equally valuable ideals: tolerance and security, the revival of our culture and human rights and rights of other cultures?

And this is only a small part of the questions that we can hear if we only want to. They are not decorated in beautiful and precise formulations. But they are seen in fatigue and disbelief, in hysterics and absurd, in trips to Ukraine to feel the sense of life. They are not addressed to intellectuals; they are addressed to the world. But the world cannot answer. The answers are given by those, who are washed up on the wave of popularity of the time: politicians, journalists, and visiting lecturers ... "Our" answers are offered by the Russian media.

And what can we answer to these questions? Does the criticism and deconstruction gives us possibilities for such responses? Criticism is exactly a half of thinking. It only makes sense if there is constructive work — when suggesting ideas, ideals, and new meanings. Critical thinking loses its meaningfulness in environment where no one "on the other side" creates something that can be criticized. Someone has to take the responsibility of creating new walls and horizons that will stand up to criticism.

At the last conference, Ihar Babkou said that we cannot escape from this time becoming Our time for us to fill it with our meanings. And, indeed, we cannot escape from it, except to a cozy non-uselessness and non-thinking. Therefore, “answers to the questions” and development of new perspectives of living together, new ideals and utopias should become a part of the Year of Belarusan thinking. It is worth events, which usually set the rhythm of our lives: the conference, the camp might play. But these points of tension won’t be filled with any content unless we have the actual core of maintaining common theme and common movement. And by this I mean a university seminar, which is the core of the integrity of the Year of Belarusian thinking in the Flying University.

Thus, I invite everyone to the Year of Belarusan thinking!”