Academic links survive bombing

June 4, 1999

Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia has undermined confidence in western notions of democracy but not affected academic links between the former Soviet Union and Britain, according to participants at an international conference in Kiev, Ukraine.

Academic exchanges and projects designed to help develop degree courses in jurisprudence, international relations and democratic reform are strong despite the perceived damage caused by the aerial bombing campaign of Kosovo without the sanction of the United Nations.

Responses to the attacks on Serbia and Kosovo differ across Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states. Anger at the war waged against a fellow Slav nation has ignited widespread protest, but Russia's aggressive political reaction in the early days of the bombing campaign in late March has become more moderate.

In Ukraine, a country which had expressed interest in joining Nato, political condemnation has been more muted and there have been few of the outbursts of public outrage witnessed in Russia.

The response of academics in the region with British partnerships has been pragmatic, delegates at a Know How Fund regional academic partnerships (REAP) conference in Kiev last month reported.

The conference, on the role of higher education in the development of democracy and an open society, brought together course leaders and university heads from Britain, Ukraine, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan to clarify the extent to which REAP programmes are supporting democratic transition in the region.

Links ranging from the teaching of journalism and inter-university co operation in promoting open societies, to the development of training initiatives in crime prevention and support of human rights, were put under the spotlight at the two-day conference.

As Nato bombing continued into its second month, participants agreed that relations between British and local universities were strong and largely unaffected by the war in Yugoslavia.

Natalia Dryomina, an associate professor at Odessa State Law Academy and a specialist on human rights standards in the criminal justice and prisons system, condemned what she saw as the "insincerity of diplomats in relation to the different attitude to the human rights of Albanians in Kosovo and Serbs".

She condemned the actions and policy of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosovic, but noted that Nato's disregard for the precepts of the United Nations in unilaterally bombing Yugoslavia left many in the former Soviet Union distressed. Paraphrasing Russian writer and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky, she said: "No harm-ony can ever be built on a single tear of a child."

The bombing did not "undermine the willingness to co-operate and work with western countries," she said, stressing that, if anything, it underlined the need for stronger academic and intellectual links in spite of the actions of the politicians and diplomats.

"We have to get together to seek answers together, trying to avoid any kind of confrontation."

Gerd Nonneman, senior lecturer in international relations at Lancaster University, which is working with the Kiev Institute of Humanities to set up a masters course, said criticism of Nato's actions by Ukrainian students and staff was in the context of lively

debate.

"The first question from students is whether there will be any lectures about Kosovo. There is a forthright attitude here; students are not afraid to question and

comment."

Irina Ionova, vice-rector of the institute, said that although she personally felt "very negatively" towards the Nato campaign, co-operation with Lancaster would not be affected. "It is essential for Ukraine to develop international links. We do not think there will be any consequences from the bombing for Ukraine's international relations."

Adrian Beck, of Leicester University's Scarman Centre for the Study of Public Order, which is working with Russian and Ukrainian internal ministry police training colleges, said he had feared that the missile attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade would jeopardise a scheduled visit to England by a group of lecturers from the Gong-Ang police training academy in Beijing.

"The Chinese group sees the bombing as a political issue. What we are doing is about practical police work which should not affect our relationship."

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