Uladzimir Matskevich: We can create a National University, but only if all our elites start a dialogue

Piotr Kuchta, EuroBelarus Information Service

And it’s only possible to create a National University in one’s mother country; immigration doesn’t contribute to nation-building.

European Humanities University is still in the state of perturbation, and not for the first year; however, in recent months there is more news about inner conflicts than about the recovery of the project with the pretty tarnished reputation. On May 30 EHU Senate offered its cofounders, the Governing Council, key university donors, and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry to immediately withdraw EHU leaders and introduce the crisis management.

Does the once prestige university in exile have a chance to survive? According to the philosopher and methodologist, the founder of the Flying University in Belarus Uladzimir Matskevich, we cannot yet talk about the complete failure of EHU project, even though its image has seriously suffered.

— Public opinion isn’t everything. And despite the fact that EHU’s image in different social groups of the Belarusan society is greatly undermined and its reputation is stained, it doesn’t mean that all society groups share this opinion. I think that there will still be people, who want to study at EHU, all the more so that the education there, especially in some areas, is not the worst. Yes, of course, this is not the best educational institution with the status of an advanced modernized European university. But some demand for it will remain. And for some EHU teachers it will also remain an attractive place to work.

— Hopes of establishing a National University were connected with EHU; should we forget about it now?

— I have been Anatoly Mikhailov’s opponent since the launch of EHU (Anatoly Mihailau is the Founding Rector of European Humanities University. — EuroBelarus.Info). I know that Mihailau has never aimed at creating the Belarusan National University. He was always pretty anti-Belarusan, as he used to think — and, probably, still thinks — that the Belarusan culture, Belarusan education, and Belarusan thinking aren’t capable of reaching the European level. Another thing is that the declaration of European values ​​has never prevented anyone from making all sorts of mistakes, sins or even crimes. In Europe, just as all over the world, there is corruption, greed, and nepotism. And the European Humanities University, that is focused on providing Belarusans with a European education has, unfortunately, borrowed all the worst traits that are typical for Europe, too. But in Europe, they don’t dominate; whereas in EHU they have started to do so. In this sense, EHU has become a corporation of not very moral people. So now EHU reputation is undermined not only in the Belarusan media, but also among donors, because this type of corruption and corporate selfishness that the EHU leadership demonstrates isn’t welcomed anywhere and by anyone.

— If the problem of the National University is still relevant, who can aspire to get such status?

— EHU used to occupy a very important place in the sphere of higher education in Belarus, and in some cases showed the best features of the academic community, for example, during its expulsion from the country. But the thing is that emigration never contributes to the development, growth and preservation of the educational institution’s potential. When moving to Europe EHU stuck in a very difficult situation. And the academic community couldn’t reach the level of the demands and challenges that EHU faced. Thus, the place that used to be occupied by EHU got empty.

But a vacant place doesn’t always imply that it will be filled with something better. Today, when Belarus has realized the need to establish a University for further country’s development, people often fall for some attractive, but not well-thought ideas.

The idea of a National University is completely unsustainable. A University should be cosmopolitan and universal, which is not happening with national universities. But a University rooted in the national environment is a powerful factor in nation building, without which no nation has appeared in the world. The University is a required component of nation building. Therefore, Belarus really needs a University.

What does Belarus have now? It has some higher education that provides vocational training. But we need an autonomous university; a place where ideas and thoughts aimed at the development of our own nation, aimed at working for the good of the nation evolve — that is what we need the most now.

It is not about creating a higher education institution where all disciplines are taught in Belarusan. Of course, we need to expand the use of the Belarusan language to all university disciplines; but it should be done in all universities. What I mean when I talk about a University is the realization of the university principle, which we have neither in the Belarusan State University, nor in EHU, nor in any other Belarusan educational institution.

We really need a University, but not in some populist form. University is the place where world thoughts evolve, but on the national scale. So all these talks now, which are conducted around the National University, such as the establishment of an alternative to EHU in Warsaw are a road to nowhere. These are rather some regressive attempts to hire the unemployed Belarusan professors, which is also necessary. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t substitute the real challenge that the Belarusan nation is facing with attempts to solve local problems.

— How should we create such a University?

— First of all, it must be discussed with the members of the academic community. First, an understanding between professors, scientists, intellectuals, thinkers, and political figures, must be reached.

Today we lack interested, attentive, responsible dialogue between the intellectual, academic, political, and business elites. And without this, the creation of a University is impossible. Once universities were created in the dialogue between the royals and the academic community; sometimes the dialogue was joined by Catholic Church or business elites, like it used to be in the US. Today we need such enlarged dialogue. Everyone should not only realize this need but also agree on the interests, opinions, and ideas with each other. It is only with our joint efforts that a University can be created. The appeal to power today is clearly insufficient.

In the Flying University, we not only teach. From the very start — since 2009 — we are trying to have a dialogue. At the most serious level, at the level of global trends we are trying to discuss the University problems and are trying to implement it.

The core of the Flying University extremely needs attentive, interested attitude of the business elites, the academic community, the intellectual elite, and the state, too. We are not imposing our ideas on anyone, but we know that the Flying University has by far the most deeply worked out idea of a ​​University in Belarus. We are ready for an open dialogue.

I agree that today the idea of ​​a National University is in the air. But idea exists only in development; people inspired by ideas without their development, are likely to become fundamentalists. Now we have this situation. A lot of people realize that we need the National University. But not many of them can share their ideas and change them under the influence of representations of other interested parties.

EuroBelarus Information Service