Brussels, 03 Aug 2004
The Dutch Presidency of the EU has released a statement testifying to its 'disapproval' and 'regret' over moves to close down the European Humanities University in Minsk, Belarus, by the national government.
The Belarusian Education Ministry issued a directive on 26 July stripping the university of its licence to operate as a legal entity. The announcement came just five days after the lease on the building housing most of the university's facilities was terminated. The Education Ministry cited a lack of academic space as one of the reasons for the withdrawal of the licence.
The ministry added that the university 'did not meet the requirements set for university-type higher education institutions', that the curricula did not correspond to national standards, and that 'there was no proper control of the university on the part of the rector, who stayed outside Belarus for a long time.'
The closure of the university is regarded as a great loss by many, both within Belarus and abroad. Demonstrations took place in Minsk following the government announcement, and declarations criticising the move have already come from the US, the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and now the EU.
'The European Union attaches great importance to the maintenance of the academic structure and mission of the European Humanities University in Minsk as a remarkable example of academic freedom and of pursuance of true European values in teaching and research programmes,' starts the Dutch Presidency declaration.
The statement notes that the EU as a whole and several Member States individually (Germany, France, Sweden, Poland and Lithuania) contribute considerably to the activities of the university.
'The EU expresses its deep worry for what it perceives as a severe blow on a well structured academic institution which has developed significant cultural cooperation activities with EU countries and incarnates the principles of academic freedom and teaching autonomy in Belarus,' the declaration continues.
The principle objective of the university had been to develop 'a system of education with standards comparable to the best European and American traditions, which at the same time develops the best native traditions in the humanities and social sciences, theology, art, economics, and law,' according to the institution's mission statement. 'The university seeks to produce mediators, capable of relating basic values of contemporary Western culture and civilization to the current situation in the former USSR, connecting two realities -- post-Soviet and contemporary Western,' the mission statement adds.
The Dutch Presidency notes that the closure of the university will not only have 'dire consequences' for the country's students and teachers, but also for bilateral and multilateral scientific, educational and cultural cooperation between Belarus and the EU's Member States.
The EU statement ends by cautioning Belarus about the consequences of this policy for its relations with the EU and 'strongly calls on the Belarusian authorities to reconsider its position.'