Open Letter: Belarus and the Need for a New European University for Eastern Europe

Initiated by Ellen Rutten at University of Amsterdam and colleagues from Italy and Germany I contributed to the open letter below, signed by Olga Tokarczuk, Judith Butler, Boris Groys, Saskia Sassen, Eva Illouz, Slavoj Zizek and many others:

With the climate of repression reaching fever pitch in Belarus and Russia, European institutions need to support new opportunities for young people

Hijacking and arrest for journalist Raman Pratasevich. Poisoning and imprisonment for opposition politician Alexey Navalny. Fabricated charges and show trials for historian Yuri Dmitriev, artist Yulia Tsvetkova, and other civic rights activists. Trial and penal colony for the editors of the Russian student journal DOXA. Arrest and torture for hundreds of peaceful protesters. Murder for multiple political activists. Continuing occupation of parts of Ukraine. Threats of detention, molestation, and death for hundreds of thousands who dare to speak up publicly against these measures.

This is the astoundingly dark menu of brute state violence that the Russian and Belarusian authorities are offering today to their subject populations. Political leaders across the world are condemning this violence. Experts are monitoring the violations of human rights, domestic laws and international treaties. But closed airspaces, attempted boycotts and empathic statements of support do not suffice. What we need is a holistic approach that complements traditional politics by engaging citizens rather than governments, creating new opportunities rather than limiting established relations. In a word, we need carrots rather than sticks.

The European Union and its member-states should review its policy toward its Eastern neighbours and reinvigorate its established bodies such as the Council of Europe and Eastern Partnership. Their ambitions should be revised, competencies expanded and resources strengthened.

We need to create opportunities for the youth of Russia, Belarus and other authoritarian countries. We need to create beacons of hope for the next generation

The key to success is dealing directly with the honest people of Belarus, Russia and other Eastern neighbours. The European Convention on Human Rights (signed by Russia, but not Belarus) defines the rights and dignity of these people; the Eastern Partnership (which includes Belarus, but not Russia) lists “engagement with civil society… and investing in people and society” among its primary purposes. Unfortunately, these tasks are not implemented in practice. Now more than ever, it is clear that promoting the education, health and mobility of the citizens of the neighbouring states is a crucial element of European stability.

As the number of those innocently arrested and tortured is growing with ghastly speed, we urge upon our political leaders to move beyond expressions of solidarity. Sanctions can make a difference but they target the ruling regimes and individuals while leaving the citizens indifferent or even making them suffer.

In the current situation, we urge you to re-channel a part of the frozen EU aid to support civil society, education and mobility. We need generous policies and funds for visas, grants and scholarships, for academic, therapeutic and humanitarian visits. We need to be ambitious and creative in establishing new routes for citizen diplomacy, new institutions for joint education and greater opportunities for productive work. Shocked by the atrocities of the Belarusian regime, by the continuing Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine, by signs of de-modernisation in Russia, we need to respond by making our borders more hospitable and our borderlands more prolific. We need to create opportunities for the youth of Russia, Belarus and other authoritarian countries. We need to create beacons of hope for the next generation.

Relying on the successful experience of such transnational institutions of higher learning as the European University Institute, Central European University, the European University Viadrina Frankfurt, the European Humanities University, College of Europe, and CIVICA (an alliance of eight European universities in social sciences), we need to create a new East European University located in one of the member-states of the EU.

We, the undersigned academics, welcome public and private initiatives aimed at funding and hosting such an institution of higher education. It will provide new opportunities for those who were fired, repressed and forced to leave their homes, and also for those who wish to learn and study according to high European standards. We will commit our intellectual resources, experience, and leadership to creating such a university.

Ellen Rutten, Slavic & cultural studies, University of Amsterdam

Alexander Etkind, history, European University Institute, Florence

Jan Claas Behrends, history, Leibniz-Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF), Potsdam & Viadrina University, Frankfurt-on-Oder, Germany

Ernst van Alphen, literary studies, Leiden University

Alexander Astrov, international relations, CEU Vienna

Mieke Bal, cultural analysis, University of Amsterdam

Dorothee Bohle, political science, European University Institute and University of Vienna

Judith Butler, philosophy, University of California, Berkeley

Dmitrii Bykov, writer, Moscow

Wolfgang Eichwede, history, Research Centre for East European Studies, University of Bremen

Sergei Erofeev, sociology, Rutgers University, USA

Nancy Fraser, philosophy, New School for Social Research, New York

Juliane Fürst, history, Leibniz-Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF), Potsdam, Germany

Masha Gessen, Distinguished Writer in Residence, Bard College USA

Simon Goldhill, classical studies, Cambridge University

Leonid Gozman, psychology, Free University, Moscow

Boris Groys, philosophy, New York University

Sergei Guriev, economics, Instituts d’études politiques/Sciences Po, Paris

Gasan Gusejnov, philology, Free University, Moscow

Marianne Hirsch, comparative literature, Columbia University, New York

Eva Illouz, sociology & communication, Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design, Jerusalem

Lola Kantor-Kazovsky, history of art, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Michael Kemper, Eastern European Studies, University of Amsterdam

Ulrike Kistner, philosophy, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Leszek Koczanowicz, philosophy, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Wrocław

Pavel Kolar, history, University of Konstanz

Ivan Krastev, political science, Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna

Geert Lovink, cultural and media studies, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam

Edward Lucas, journalist, Center for European Policy Analysis, London

Ingunn Lunde, linguistics, University of Bergen, Norway

Luciano Mecacci, psychology & history, University of Florence

Mikhail Minakov, philosophy, Kennan Institute, Washington DC & journal Ideology & Politics, Kyiv

Aleksandr Morozov, journalist, co-director of the Boris Nemtsov Academic Centre for the Study of Russia, Moscow & Charles University, Prague

Susan Neiman, philosophy, Einstein Forum, Potsdam, Germany

Elena Nemirovskaya, political science, School of Civic Enlightenment, Riga

Zhanna Nemtsova, journalist, co-director of the Boris Nemtsov Academic Centre for the Study of Russia, Moscow

Joy Neumeyer, history, European University Institute, Florence

Andrzej Nowak, history, Jagiellonian Univiersity, Krakow

Julia Obertreis, Universität Nürnberg-Erlangen, Germany

Luisa Passerini, history, University of Milan

Andrea Petö, Central European University, Vienna

Kevin Platt, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania

Serhii Plokhii, history, Harvard University

Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, Washington DC

Elizabeth Roosevelt Moore, cultural studies, Cambridge University

Lev Rubinstein, writer, Moscow

Manfred Sapper, journal Osteuropa, Berlin

Saskia Sassen, sociology, Columbia University, New York

Jos Schaeken, Slavic studies & linguistics, Leiden University

Yurii Senokosov, political science, School of Civic Enlightenment, Riga

Timothy Snyder, history, Yale University

Olga Tokarczuk, writer & Nobel Prize laureate, Krajanow, Poland

Jay Winter, history, Yale University

Eli Zaretsky, history, New School for Social Research, New York

Boris Zilber, mathematics, Oxford University

Slavoj Žižek, philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia