Yale University Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (YaleGALE) members who are visiting the European Humanities University (EHU) and will be leading a workshop on alumni networking discussed Europe's Eastern neighborhood with a panel that included former Prime Minister and current parliamentary opposition leader Andrius Kubilius and Anna Gerasimova, director of the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile.
Kubilius provided an overview of the political and economic situation in the region and explained why Lithuania believes a more democratic neighborhood would make the EU's Eastern borders more secure. He also expressed the hope that one day the borders separating countries with strong historical ties like Belarus and Lithuania would become more open.
Gerasimova discussed the human rights situation in Belarus and the difficulties that opposition and NGO leaders face there. She explained how Belarus is developing regulations that can be interpreted and applied in a way that allows the government to legally restrict the opposition and civil society groups. She also noted that this example is being replicated in Russia.
“First something happens in Belarus and then it is reproduced in Russia and taken further. The space has been created in Belarus where human rights violations have become legalized,” said Gerasimova.
Also participating were EHU's Founding Rector Prof. Anatoli Mikhailov and Vice-Rector for Development and Communication Dr. Darius Udrys.
Mikhailov emphasized that a new mode of education that emphasizes freedom, responsibility, and creativity is key if the region is to overcome the legacy of authoritarian rule, especially when it comes to people's mindset.
"We became accustomed to always having someone else take care of us," said Mikhailov. "We must cultivate people who are able to act in freedom."
Kubilius and Udrys both stressed the importance of free institutions like the Belarusian Human Rights House and EHU, both of which operate in exile in Vilnius.
"Unlike universities in Belarus, where students and faculty are subject to ideological restrictions and can be dismissed for crossing those lines, EHU operates in freedom and offers students something different," said the Vice-Rector.