KNOXVILLE — Oleg Manaev, now a visiting professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, continues to fight for democratic freedom in his native Belarus despite government-led propaganda attacks and arrest threats.
Oleg ManaevManaev will discuss his experiences at a luncheon on April 23 at The Foundry at World’s Fair Park. The event is sponsored by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.
Manaev’s stay at UT for the 2007-08 academic year has been funded in part by the Institute of International Education’s (IEE) Scholar Rescue Fund, which helps politically beleaguered academics continue their work in safety. An independent nonprofit founded in 1919, IIE is among the world’s largest and most experienced international education and training organizations.
“U.S. citizens may be surprised that this type of oppression still exists after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it only reminds us how important it is to protect our freedom and democracy,” said Nissa Dahlin-Brown, associate director of the Baker Center.
Manaev is a professor of sociology and founder of the Department of Information and Communication at the Belarus State University in Minsk.
He was the founding director of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic & Political Studies (IISEPS). The first think tank in Belarus, IISEPS was founded in 1992 by a group of journalists, academics and businessmen. It was closed by the Belarusian Supreme Court in April 2005.
He also served as chairman of the Belarusian Association of Think Tanks (BTT), which was founded in 1997 and united 18 independent research and analytical centers in the country. It was closed by the Belarusian Supreme Court in August 2006.
Under the leadership of Manaev, IISEPS has established itself as a voice for freedom, carving out a unique role for civil society in Belarus. The institute has held almost 100 conferences and seminars around the country promoting democratic reforms, and it has published more than 3,500 articles in national and foreign mass media. Manaev himself has published almost 170 scholarly articles and written or edited a dozen books on problems of media, democracy and civil society.
IISEPS assisted The Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys in conducting exit polls during a constitutional referendum in October 2004 and found a huge gap between official and real results. After that project, Manaev and his team faced massive pressure from the Belarusian authorities including official warnings from the Ministry of Justice, personal talks with Minister of Justice and the General Prosecutor Officer, visits by local police, a midnight search of the institute’s office by the KGB and trials at the Supreme Court.
After IISEPS was shut down by the Supreme Court, the General Prosecutor Office in Belarus warned Manaev that he was breaking the law for “discrediting of the Republic of Belarus” and could be subject to two years imprisonment.
Despite all of this, IISEPS was subsequently re-registered in Vilnius, Lithuania, and continues its mission in Belarus as a group of private scholars.
Manaev has said the struggles have inspired him to work even harder for independent research and democratic reform.
“I continue my work not because of my political or ideological stance,” he said, “but because providing unbiased and objective information and analysis to the public is part of my professional and public obligation. Despite all of the obstacles, I can see concrete results of our activities, and that spurs us forward.”
Cost of the luncheon is $15. RSVP by April 18 to Rachel Berghorst at firstname.lastname@example.org or (865) 974-0931.
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, email@example.com