“Academy at Risk: Challenges of the 21st Century”
European Humanities University
January 26, 2018
It is an honor to be back here at EHU, a university I first came to know in 1995 when I visited Minsk in my capacity as President of the New School for Social Research and as Chair of the European division of Human Rights Watch. It was my privilege to support EHU as President of the MacArthur Foundation with substantial grants over the years. Most recently, as Chair of Scholars at Risk, I have continued my support for EHU and scholars facing repression around the world.
I also feel a deep bond to Vilnius. It is a particular pleasure to be here in Vilnius this special year – when Lithuania commemorates a centenary anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Vilnius plays a special role in the history of many nations; being a capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it has also become a cultural center for generations of Jews, Poles, and—certainly—Belarusians.
As Chair of Helsinki Watch I first visited Vilnius in late January 1991. I saw then the courage and determination of the Lithuanian people. I will never forget coming through the sandbags and volunteer guards that ringed the Parliament to meet with President Landsbergis. The spirit of freedom was alive in the entrance gallery full of young people singing songs of tradition and liberation. The President told me, “If we are not crushed completely in a short time, this process of independence will succeed.” How right he was.
I am proud that MacArthur provided support for the critical relocation of EHU from Minsk to Vilnius. And I was honored to join President Adamkus and Rector Mikhailov at the opening ceremony of the European Humanities University International in June 2005. In my remarks I said:
At today’s occasion, I cannot help but recall that the Graduate Faculty of the New School was founded 72 years ago this month as the University in Exile. The New School rescued scholars from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, giving them safe haven from Nazi terror. The faculty adopted as their guiding principle “To the Living Spirit,” words etched on the main building of the University of Heidelberg and defaced by the Nazis.
In the 1980s, when dissident academics in East and Central Europe were subject to persecution, the New School supported their underground seminars, brought forbidden books and journals in, and brought censored manuscripts out for publication in the West. So through the New School tradition, I feel a special kinship to scholars in peril.
MacArthur was drawn to supporting EHU for intellectual and pedagogical reasons: We saw in EHU, the European University of St. Petersburg, the Central European University, and the New Economic School a force for strengthening the Humanities and Social Sciences. We saw a generation of scholars yearning to meet international standards through open inquiry and exchange. And a desire to connect research with policy at a time when we hoped that democracy and wider freedom would take root in the post-Soviet space.
EHU has been a leader in creating research centers, libraries, and institutes. I think of the Center for Gender Studies, the Laboratory of Critical Urbanism, and the Center for Constitutionalism and Human Rights as shining examples, producing research that informs and improves policy.