Building The New Elite Of Belarus - In Lithuania

Much more freedom is allowed in Lithuania than across the border in Belarus, where strongman Alexander Lukashenko shut down top universities.

Graduation day at the European Humanities University in Vilnius
Graduation day at the European Humanities University in Vilnius
Gerhard Gnauck

VILNIUS — If I close my eyes for a moment, I’m transported back to a German university town somewhere along the Neckar river — Tübingen, perhaps, or Heidelberg. Hölderlin, Heidegger, Kant, Hannah Arendt are among the names that surface in my conversation with Belarusian philosopher Anatoli Mikhailov.

We aren't anywhere near the banks of the Rhine, however, but on the shores of the Neris, a tributary of the Memel River, in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. This is the stomping ground of Mikhailov, 74, a recipient of the German Goethe medal, and founder and rector of the European Humanities University (EHU).

Mikhailov had been the rector of the university in his hometown of Minsk established after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But something eventually happened that Mikhailov describes as “herostratic”: The university was closed.

This erudite ancient reference is to Herostratus, a Greek shepherd who, in order to become famous, set the Temple at Ephesus — one of the Seven Wonders of the World — on fire.

Two thousand, three hundred fifty years later, we have Alexander Lukashenko instead. Originally the boss of a Soviet agribusiness, Lukashenko became president of the new state of Belarus in 1994. The university in Minsk, opened in 1992, was at first allowed to carry on. But as Lukashenko cemented his power he zeroed in on scientific and academic freedoms — and in 2004 ordered the university closed.

That could have spelled the end. But some surprises lay in store. "Lithuania invited us," says the philosopher. "And I don’t think the Lithuanians were really clear at the time about the repercussions that invitation would have."

Mikhailov left his home town of Minsk in 2004 and has never returned — and it looks as if he’ll complete his academic career in exile.

So the European Humanities University was re-founded in Vilnius. Administration is housed in a well-restored old building downtown, while the small campus that it shares with another university lies on the outskirts of the city. The annual budget is 5 million euros, according to Mikhailov’s figures: one million from the EU; the northern countries interested in the Baltic area are "very helpful;" and various EU countries and the United States also give funding.

The money is used both for teaching and research. The EHU has some 1,800 students, 95% of them Belarusian. A third of them live in Vilnius, typically in shared housing, while the others commute. Like a number of the teaching staff they travel to and fro across the border — Belarus and the capital of this new EU country are 160 kilometers (99.5 miles) apart. This is all possible because the Belarus dictatorship allows its citizens to travel abroad.

But Mikhailov is concerned about the future. "Up to now we’ve budgeted from one year to the next, a bit hand-to-mouth. But now we’re trying to commit to teachers for two or more years and get them to live here for longer periods."

Brain drain effects

Aliaksandr Bystryk, a history student, has traveled quite a bit in Europe, and has come away with the impression that life is the West is often over-hyped. "If things change in Belarus, I’d gladly go back. If things stay the same, but I got a job, I’d go back too."

Belarus cannot be compared to the former Iron Curtain, with much more leeway to move and speak out.

What course of study to opt for if one wants to get a job in Belarus after graduation? Mikhailov says that his field — philosophy — is not exactly en vogue at the moment. Many texts by Kant and Plato, for example, have not been translated into Belarusian, a language that is still a minority language in Belarus. Hence a number of courses take place in Russian.

Some courses are in English, and until Minsk closed, there was a political science course, supported by Paris, in French. "We’d like to strengthen German," adds the rector.

The most popular courses of study at the EHU are law, visual design, and media studies. Most degrees are bachelor's or master's degrees. Mikhailov says his university is recognized as such by the EU, and whoever gets a degree from here can continue studies elsewhere in Europe.

This begs the inevitable brain-drain question: Isn't the EHU just educating Belarus' future émigrés? But a survey conducted by the EHU of its alumni showed encouraging results: 60% of graduates live in Belarus.

Of those, more than 90% are employed, half of them in non-governmental sectors — business, media, NGOs. Nineteen percent are self-employed, and 11% work for the state. Seventy percent say that thanks to the EHU they are active citizens and feel strengthened in their Belarusian identity.

What does that mean for their country? Anatoli Mikhailov is skeptical as to whether "Western patterns can be carried over to a post-totalitarian society. It’s a little like transplants — the body often rejects them."

But in the case of Belarus, it may help that the changes today are taking place outside the body of the state – in Vilnius and in Warsaw. From Poland, for example, an independent Belarusian TV station broadcasts to Belarus via Belsat TV.

"I don’t believe in quick change in our country," says Mikhailov. "But it is a fact that our new elite is growing. It's just that it's happening in Lithuania and Poland."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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