Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the European Humanities University Donors' Conference
May 9, 2006 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa

Thank you, Dan.  Rector Mikhailov, honored members of the diplomatic core, welcome.  It is an honor to follow Rector Mikhailov at this podium.  His courage and determination have nourished hope in Belarus during a dark period and reawakened the commitment to academic freedom around the world.

The United States government and European governments are critical partners in support of this institution.

EHU is a university in exile. But it is more than a symbol of resistance to authoritarian rule. It is an institution of higher learning where scholars pursue their research and students acquire knowledge, analytical abilities, the capacity to make ethical judgments, and practical skills to enter the world of work. 

The MacArthur Foundation has been a supporter of the European Humanities University since 1997.  At the outset, we recognized the high quality of this special institution and its potential to play a long-term transformative role in the development of Belarusian society.  When, in 2004, the government of Belarus shut down EHU, MacArthur and other donors responding quickly to help reestablish the university in exile here in Lithuania. 

Forcing EHU to close its doors is part of a broader campaign to stifle intellectual and academic freedom in Belarus – a campaign undertaken in the mistaken belief that national greatness can come about by shutting out the world. But great nations do not fear knowledge, they embrace it. Strong societies do not stifle criticism, they encourage it. Good leaders do not smother intellectual inquiry, they promote it.

With those thoughts in mind, in October 2004, I wrote the following in an open letter to President Lukashenko of Belarus: “The MacArthur Foundation remains committed to fostering the important mission of EHU in whatever form may be necessary or appropriate. We will work together with other friends and supporters of the University - in Europe and the United States - to try and find the means to promote that mission so the students will have an opportunity to learn.”

Since then, EHU has overcome enormous obstacles and has passed a number of critical milestones.  January 2005 saw the beginning of distance learning courses that ensured continued contact between EHU faculty and students.  Last June, along with President Adamkus and many of you in this room, I shared the honor of addressing EHU on the occasion of its formal grand opening.  And today, we meet again following a most crucial development – the granting of formal university status to the European Humanities University under Lithuanian law.  I know I speak for all of EHU’s donors in expressing our deep appreciation to the Government of Lithuania for providing the necessary conditions for EHU to thrive in its adopted home. 

The MacArthur Foundation remains steadfast in its commitment to the new EHU.  Since October 2004, we have provided $1.25 million dollars in support of the university.  This includes a special grant of $250 thousand dollars provided in September to strengthen the university’s administrative capacity and help obtain legal recognition in Lithuania.  And today, I pledge a three-year, $1 million renewal of MacArthur's support for EHU after the current grant expires at the end of 2006.

It is also my privilege to announce the formation of an International Support Committee for EHU.  This is a group of 20 leading educators and advocates of academic freedom from Europe and North America.  It includes current and former heads of leading universities – including Harvard, Columbia, MIT, the University of Luxembourg, and the European University Viadrina. I have the honor of co-chairing the committee with Lloyd Axworthy, former Foreign Minister of Canada and President of the University of Winnipeg.  A full list of members is available as part of the press release prepared for this announcement.

The formation of the EHU International Support Committee fulfills a commitment I made to Anatoli Mikhailov last June.  The Committee’s members will serve as goodwill ambassadors for European Humanities University: together, they stand behind the university to help amplify the message of academic freedom and hope for a better future that EHU exemplifies.  

These committee members are uniformly dedicated to the fundamental principles at stake here.  I want to cite just one of the stirring responses to my invitation to join the International Support Committee.  It is from Bronislaw Geremek, Chair of European Civilization at the College of Europe in Warsaw, who is himself no stranger to the struggle for freedom. I first met him in Warsaw in 1984. Professor Geremek accepted our invitation without hesitation, writing that he has “been watching the situation of the EHU with particular attention.” And he continued: “every individual and institution that has helped this university deserves recognition and gratitude.”

I look forward to continued partnership with EHU, our fellow donors, and the EHU board, as well as with Dan Davidson and his excellent team at American Councils for International Education. The new International Support Committee joins these distinguished allies committed to the ideals of free inquiry and the open exchange of knowledge. 

Over the years and across the continents, the spirit of academic freedom has proved resilient in the face of authoritarian regimes. Let us bear witness today that while the light of learning may burn in exile from Belarus, its spirit lives in EHU. It moves among us here in Vilnius, and it motivates the students and faculty in Minsk taking great personal risks to continue their studies. We salute their courage and pledge our allegiance to their cause.

Thank you.

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