Belarusians and Lithuanians joined EHU and Belarusian NGOs for a celebration of the 95th anniversary of Belarusian independence in historic Vilnius Town Hall—part of "Belarus Week" events in Vilnius.
Speakers recalled the establishment of the Belarusian National Republic in 1918, emphasizing the importance of historic ties between Belarus and Lithuania and the significance of ongoing cooperation in promoting European values, including support for EHU.
The celebration was opened by Vilnius Mayor Artūras Zuokas, who addressed himself to participating Belarusians.
“I want you to feel at home in Vilnius,” said the Mayor, noting that Vilnius will always be open to them.
Zuokas quoted a Lithuanian freedom fighter who said: “It is not enough to gain independence; one must also create a free life.” That, said the Mayor, is what he wished for Belarus.
Opposition leader and former chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich echoed the words of the Mayor.
“Belarus has independence, but the country is not free," he said with regret, adding that he was glad to be in a country where people understand the importance of freedom.
The Vice-Speaker of Lithuania’s Parliament Gediminas Kirkilas highlighted historic ties and similarities between Belarus and Lithuania and expressed his hope that the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative will become an important instrument that promotes European values in Belarus. He also expressed his appreciation for EHU’s contribution to academic and cultural life in Lithuania.
“I am pleased that the European Humanities University, which moved from Minsk to Vilnius...has become an embedded part of Lithuanian intellectual and cultural life....The political and academic discussions at the University attract talented and thinking students....I think that current students of the University will return to their homeland to create the future Belarus,” said Kirkilas.
Khvedar Niunka, who is a member of the Presidium of the Council of the Belarusian National Republic (Belarusian government-in-exile) and head of the Belarusian Culture Society in Vilnius, congratulated the audience on behalf of the Council and quoted the words of Ivonka Survilla, current president of the Belarusian National Republic:
“That memorable year  we stopped being the northwestern part of the Russian Empire and declared to the world that we, and we alone, have the right to be the masters of our state.”
Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee of Lithuania’s Parliament Emanuelis Zingeris condemned Belarus for not releasing political prisoners while EHU's Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Aliaksandr Kalbaska emphasized that Belarus's Declaration of Independence is "an historical breakthrough from which we must learn."
The celebration featured a performance by an ethnic vocal duet and a reception.
Belarusian Week events continue in Vilnius through March 30. Events are organized by EHU, the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius, the House of United Belarus, the Youth Association StudAlliance, and the civic campaign "European Belarus."
The organizers acknowledge and thank the following partners for their support: the City of Vilnius, PACT and the Eastern Europe Studies Center, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Lithuania, Freedom House, Forum Syd, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute.