Lithuania Supports Belarusian Students

Freedom way solidarity protest in Vilnius J. Stacevičius/LRT

Hundreds of Belarusian university students have been expelled from higher education institutions in Belarus for opposing the country’s regime. Reacting to the mass repressions, major Lithuanian universities invited persecuted students to start or continue their education for free. About 200 Belarusians took the opportunity and are studying at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Vilnius. Staying in Belarus was impossible because upon expulsion from universities, the Belarusian government summons males under 27 to the army – a move the country’s activists say is another tool to suppress dissent.

EHU is often called the Belarusian university in exile. The private higher education institution first opened in Minsk in 1992. However, a non-state liberal arts university was shut by a centralized regime in 2004. The next year, EHU resumed its operation in Vilnius. Currently, about 95% of EHU’s 685 students are Belarusian. Since repressions started in Belarus in 2020, EHU has accepted over 50 students who could not continue education in their native country.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhavovskaya in Vilnius

The scale of current protests, repression, and student expulsions is unprecedented. Belarusians have been demonstrating against Lukashenko’s regime for more than five months. During this time, more than 30,000 people have been detained for taking part in unauthorized mass events. There is no reliable data on the number of students who have suffered from the regime’s repression.

“Honest University” is an initiative founded in September by Belarusian activists to support students and university faculty members in organizing political actions against the regime. It became a contact point for students that needed judicial, financial, or academic help, and connects students with universities abroad willing to offer opportunities to continue their studies. After a verification process, Honest University passes the information on to its major academic partner – Belarusian Student Support Association (BeSSa) – that unites Belarusian students from around the world. BeSSa then mentors every case individually and helps students find the best academic match in terms of course and language proficiency.

Most of the students forced to flee Belarus went to neighbouring countries, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania, according to Honest University’s data. Besides EHU, three other Lithuanian universities – Vilnius University (VU), Vytautas Magnus University (VMU), and Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) – have launched initiatives to help Belarusian students. In September, VU accepted about 60 undergraduate and 40 graduate students from Belarus, and started receiving even more requests at the end of October. Reacting to October events, VMU in Kaunas has also offered places for 50 Belarusians.

Lithuanian universities are preparing for accepting even more Belarusian students at the beginning of 2021, as the expulsions in Belarus is expected to increase.

Representatives of Lithuanian academic community say that not responding to such a deep crisis in the neighbouring country would be unacceptable, especially remembering the similar fight for freedom in Lithuania 30 years ago.

With news from