'Exile needs links in the UK'

December 15, 2006

British universities are failing to develop academic ties with the "exiled" European Humanities University in Lithuania after its effective expulsion from Belarus, according to its rector.

Agents in the Belarussian KGB have started to interrogate students from Belarus who have been attending courses at the EHU - which was forced into exile in Vilnius after its licence was revoked in Minsk in 2004.

Rector Anatol Mikhaylaw appealed for more international collaboration to help secure the work and future of the threatened institution.

"We need international universities to open academic links with us, to develop co-operation with us, to help us survive these pressures," he said.

"We notice that we have no direct links with any UK universities. With many other universities and with Irish institutions, yes, but nothing with Britain."

John Akker, executive secretary of the Campaign for Assisting Refugee Academics, promised to help co-ordinate support for the EHU in exile and its "very brave" staff and students.

The EHU opened an autonomous institution in Belarus in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet regime.

After 12 years it lost its battle to promote free and open study in 2004 when Belarussian President Alaksandr Lukashenka stated that he would no longer "tolerate nests of opposition". His action triggered widespread international condemnation.

Last February, the EHU gained full accreditation as Lithuania's 22nd university, winning significant funding support from the European Union, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Institute, among others.

Some 350 students and staff from Belarus make the four-hour train journey to study at the EHU in exile, usually for one to two weeks at a time. There are also some 500 Belarussian students on correspondence courses delivered online.

In recent weeks the President lost patience. He ordered teams of tax inspectors to comb through the books of assorted organisations set up to link the students and former Belarussian university to the new Vilnius institution, before the KGB started interrogations.

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