This year the Eastern Europe Studies Centre organized the 4th United Students of Belarus (USB) Rally which has been organized annually since 2007. This year the event, that has already become a tradition in gathering Belarusian students scattered around the world, took place in Druskininkai on September 29th – October 3rd. The main goal of the Rally is to create and expand an informal students’ network; the Rally serves as a platform for students to communicate and exchange contacts with each other. It is expected that the event will facilitate and enchance civil engagement among the Belarusian youth and eventually will give birth to the committed civil society. The number of participants has been growing while geographic borders of the informal community have been extending with every year. This fall there were 45 Belarusian students from 11 countries participating in the Rally (Belarus, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine and the USA).
Starting the morning of the 29th of September, participants began gathering at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre. Later in the afternoon they were taken to the Rally venue, Hotel “Regina” in Druskininkai, which hosted students for next couple of days. Exhausted from traveling, the participants were offered to watch movie “East is East” directed by Damien O’Donnell. A comic plot of the movie telling the story of the interracial family living in modern Great Britain (the husband comes from Pakistan and the wife is British), encouraged participants to ponder about the consequences of globalization and questions of identity. It was an introduction to the further program where such questions like human rights and civic activism were discussed in subsequent days.
Next day after some energizing games the participants were welcomed by the EESC director Kristina Vaiciunaite. The introductory word was followed by another film screening; this time the students watched “Sergio”. The movie narrates about the life and work of Sergio de Mello, the Brazilian human rights activist working at the United Nations. The movie was a harbinger to the discussion about democracy promotion and human rights defence, their pros and cons. Dr. Egdunas Racius representing the VU IIRPS led the discussion. The discussion guests were analytics from the EESC – V. Jurkonis and Z. Dambrauskaite, and guests from abroad – E. Homolkova (People in Need, Czech Republic), M. Sprouse (European Humanities University), T. Chachava (New Generation – New Initiative, Georgia).
During the afternoon session the participants enjoyed another film screening – they watched “Burma VJ” movie. The movie tells about clandestine activities of the Burmese reporters aimed at raising international communities’ awareness on human rights violations in Burma. By smuggling video recordings, the activists kept transfering information about the current situation in the “closed” country to the exterior world. Although Burma is far away from Belarus, the movie instigated the students to consider alternative forms of civic engagement and activism.
On the third day, the Rally participants turned from thinking globally to discussing specific cases of Belarus. The participants were invited to join the discussion on modern civil engagement and new mass media. Prominent people from Belarus shared their thoughts on a given topic and answered questions coming from the audience.
After the lunch the participants attended A. Liankevich’s photography seminar “Photography as an Instrument of Civil Engagement: Specifics of Working in Mass Media in Belarus”. The further program took the students to Grutas Park and engaged them in traditional contest “Brain Fight” on the topic of human rights and civic actions.
On the last day of the Rally, on Saturday, the participants attended A. Buta’s (ISM, School of Management and Economics) master class “Skills of Self-Presentation”. The lecturer taught how to properly use body language, gestures, written and verbal phrases in order to effectively present oneself at a job interview or in any written form. It is expected that advice given at the seminar will help students writing resumes and motivation letters, applying for jobs, and attending interviews in the future. After the lecture the participants went visited the monastery of Lishkiava where they descended to the monastery’s basement and explored architectural ensemble. The finale of the day and the entire event was the farewell party.
In the morning of the 3rd of October the USB Rally 2010 participants went back to Vilnius. After wishing each other best of luck and agreeing on meeting in the future, the students headed back for their countries they are studying in. Out of 45 Rally participants 23 students took part in the event for the first time. It means that the USB community is growing both numerically and geographically. The 5th anniversary of the Rally is planned to take place next year. The organizers hope that the Rally will become a sturdy foundation for youth initiatives and students’ network expansion which gradually will foster the formation of more stable civil society in Belarus.