The Flying University is an initiative aimed at creating in Belarus the space and environment where free thinking is alive and cherished; it is a movement towards a modern University in and for Belarus.
Autumn of 2009 marked the beginnings of weekly seminars to debate the present-day development vectors of the Idea of a University, as well as its opportunities and foundation forms in Belarus. The next step took the shape in spring of 2009 of an Organizing activity games entitled: Developing a Programme and Foundation Strategy for a University in Today’s Belarus. It became a ground to reflect and focus upon the major problematic aspects related to setting up a university in Belarus, which included the University autonomy idea, a possible organisation of a common thinking process and the University’s role to be played in the Belarusian nation formation.
Autumn of 2011 witnessed the Flying University’s declaration and start of its first annual curriculum. It included 15 educational courses, workshops, seminars and schools, a public lecture cycle entitled: Urbi et orbi, public discussions, a conference and a summer school. Today the Flying University has in its archive dozens of courses and schools led by the outstanding Belarusian thinkers, its uniquely formatted annual summer schools, workshops, seminars, conferences, books, researches, as well as approximately a hundred public events having been held in Minsk, Mahiliou, Vitsebsk, Horadnia and Brest.
What Is Our Idea of the University We Try to Achieve?
University as a Community and a Space
We do not seek a formal institution foundation or obtaining an official status. The Flying University is an on-going creative process and a community, which is free of inveterate forms. It is a play or a game as a form of a joint absorption of the world, i.e. its past, present and future, which serves as a medium to procreate a new reality. The Flying University space is made up of various varieties of joint thinking and intellectual efforts: public lectures, debates and discussions; educational courses and seminars; conferences; project sessions; summer schools; research projects; schools and workshops; scientific journeys and many more.
The space is in principle an open one: it is here that every participant is able of drafting her or his own trajectory; this is no place for diplomas or certificates, neither are there any ‘educational programmes’ which are dictated from the outside; and there are no restrictions imposed on the participants’ age, education or social status. The only criterion to be present in and navigate the space is self-determination as to the way to thinking and readiness to think.
The Flying University’s Educational Space
The educational process arrangements and space structuring are based at the Flying University on its own in-house know-how with regard to the modern education contents and the ‘universe of knowledge.’
The Flying University is not guided by the idea of offering its educational services and does not seek to live up to the consumers’ expectations. For us the educational process is about looking for new forms and contents, which would help today’s person to become commensurable with the challenges of the national, European and global dimensions. What way leads to the ability of self-determination in the cultural, socio-political and historical space or to mastering the methods of thinking and organising our own and common activities in any future situations? The ‘modern universe of knowledge,’ which is proposed by the Flying University, is contained in three spaces:
The motion inside these spaces and combinations thereof could provide grounds for a contemporary human being how to exist in a conscious supraliminal way.
Our space is open for everyone to plot their personal trajectories and includes various forms of intellectual work or practical thinking sessions, as well as courses or seminars. It is exactly in the situations of togetherness and collaboration with thinkers and carriers of intellectual, cultural or political positions, with the Masters, that reflection, self-determination, formation of personalised approaches, and criticism or corroboration of knowledge and theories take place.
The way to submersion into the Flying University space leads through three metaphorical ‘University space portals.’
The public grounds and special introductions serve to meet persons or to be introduced to the problems, ideas and ethos of the community and to the University space idea. The most accessible and simplistic opportunity to get acquainted with the Flying University is provided in the form of its public lectures and problem-related discussions. The Flying University also has to offer a specialist lecture/discussion course (Introduction into the Flying University’s Idea and Space) and the Universitas Ludens series books, which assist in grasping the Idea providing the basis of the Flying University.
The portal of knowledge and ways of thinking serves to introduce to an advanced learning and search for own Teachers. Every year the Flying University offers a curriculum, which includes courses and schools. The basic courses form skills related to thinking and activity organisation (philosophy, systemic approach, mathematics and methods of working with the past and with the future). The topical and subject-oriented introductions cover the directions of the contemporary Belarusian thinking witnessed today in Belarus. The schools provide opportunities to their attendants to get involved in the humanitarian and intellectual practices in cooperation with their Master, to become her or his disciples, and to contribute personally to the development of such practical exercises.
Further on, the way leads to the intellectual collaboration and creative work. At the very heart of the Flying University lie an intensive cogitative and creative communication and the work, which gives rise to new ideas and practical responses to the intellectual challenges of the contemporary world. Special seminars are used to thrash in a profound way over ideas, to criticise and problematise, and to exploit and develop knowledge and thinking methods. Research groups are organised in line with the challenges faced and with the practical issues of Belarus’s development. The conferences are there to formulate and discuss the Belarusian and European issues, and to criticise and work through ideas aimed at addressing the issues.
And, finally, having been included in various collaboration forms, one may get to the community of those, for whom the University is a way of life and an object of care. The Flying University develops through a constant search of new forms and formats, through reflection and insight into the mutable context, and through intensive relations or a special way of life. The Flying University has a number of forms related to reflection, discussion and new idea formulisation, which serve to programme its further development and create an environment and a community: university seminar, summer schools, project sessions and organisational exercise games.
Masters and Teachers
The Flying University offers its education by way of meeting a Master, who is a carrier of her of his method and approach, practical experience, ethos and position, as well as knowledge. We invite to the Flying University Collegium some outstanding intellectuals, researchers and cultural or public activists, rather than lecturers on specific subjects. We provide them with freedom in determining contents and forms of their work and only care that a possible meeting between a Master and a Disciple were enabled and that the meeting should give in impetus to various intellectual, cultural and social practices. Today, the Flying University Collegium is composed of more than 30 persons, including philosophers and mathematicians, social scientists and historians, designers, literary artists, linguists and theologians, as well as civil society activists and cultural heroes.
Flying university projects
Scientific Journeys represent a special form of lecture and discussion-based Belarusian studies and a form of getting acquainted with this country’s problems, history and contemporaneity. The Scientific Voyages commenced in 2012 and after some time were renamed The Third Belarusian Truth, as they usually focused on finding Belarus and oneself among other interpretations and “other nations’ histories.” Led by outstanding thinkers, all those interested go on their journeys dedicated to this or that topic: Looking for Yiddish, Places of Painful Memories, A Small Hajj Westwards, etc. The travel leaders outline on a journey their understanding of a problem or theme and offer an added value of seeing and touching the reality, which is related to the topic. Iryna Dubianetskaya, Siarhey Khareuski, Mikhal Anempadystau, Hanna Sidarovich, Tsimokh Akudovich, Siarhey Verameichyk and Ales Zhamoitsin have served as the voyager’s leaders through all these years.
Research Project De-Sovietisation within the Context of Belarusian Society Transformation (2012) became a continuation and development of the programme Cultural Politics, which had been implemented for more than 20 years by the Belarusian methodological community. The research dealt with the analysis into the reasons lying at the basis of the democratic transformation and de-sovietisation process crisis in our region. “The soviet is no longer an ideal to press for, neither is it the absolute evil to get rid of. The soviet exists as a here and now substantive; however, it slips away the moment we get down to working with it,” this is how the problem of the current situation and the need for its studies was described by the project manager U. Matskevich. The researchers have deliberated the issues of dissidence and the berufsverbot / employment ban phenomenon, specific traits of the official holiday and festivity culture, Soviet-era heritage in the Belarusian science and education, as well as the characteristics of the new ways to reconstruct the historical and cultural heritage in the shape of our cities and towns and the rural entrepreneurship forms. The research outcome has been compiled in a book entitled De-Sovietisation within the Belarusian Society Transformation published in 2012.
Research Project Harvest Season End Festivity in the Transformation of the Belarusian Cities and Towns’ Cultural Landscape (2012) was based on a series of expeditions to the cities and towns, which had been proclaimed the festival capitals within the recent dozens of years. The research was focused on looking into the festival’s impact on several aspects of the Belarusian urban life, which can be in a generalised way referred to as the ‘cultural landscape’: urban space organisation, cultural identity and history-related memory, heritage, quality and way of life, residents’ ideas about themselves and their town, stereotypes and the media-driven effects of cultural space formation. The practices of the festival celebration as seen through these optical devices enabled formulation of conclusions on various aspects on cultural politics implementation in Belarus. The research group was led by Stsiapan Stureika.
Street University (2014). Within the framework of the Minsk Street Theatre Forum, the Flying University presented its open lecture, discussion and master-class programme. It focused on the correlations between the city and the art of theatre, looked into the live art performance and addressing the public in the tourbillon of prosiness. The Belarusian street theatre forms were revoked from distant days in history, and links between the ancient theatre and the thought rise process were reflected upon. The programme involved philosophers, fine art experts and theatre specialists and historians: Aliaksandr Sarna, Dzmitry Mastsianitsa, Flaryiana Haber, Ihar Dukhan, Hanna Vyhonnaya, Uladzimir Matskevich and Siarhey Khareuski.
Visual Images of Historical Memory (2014). The Flying University in collaboration with the Belarusian Philosophical Space and the ECONOMPRESS Publishing House arranged in August 2014 an exhibition The Grand Duchy Lithuanian on Ancient Geographical Maps. The ancient maps represent unique artefacts and emanate a magic power. They are visualised time machines enabling journeys across various epochs and spaces, histories, languages and cultures, thus looking for, understanding, correlating and designing oneself across new contexts and borders. When holding the exhibition, we invited the public to take a glance of the ancient geographical maps depicting the Grand Duchy Lithuanian, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Europe and the world and try to see ourselves from a different historical angle and at a different scale, get submerged into the world of images and discussions, which have a potential of pushing us towards reengineering our notion of the Belarusian ‘borders.’ Two debates were associated with the exhibition: Where in the Universe Does Belarus Navigate? and The Belarusian Cartography as a Discipline and a Self-Determination Foundation.
Year of Belarusian Thinking (2015). Our concern is about the Belarusian thinking, which does not arise on an empty place, but is transferred from person to person. Therefore, we have addressed the topic of reviving the Belarusian intellectual tradition. So far the names of the domestic thinkers and their ideas or concepts have been very poorly absorbed and adopted into the Belarusians culture and identity. That being said, they represent a foundation and a source of auto-comprehension by the culture, an attempt to look back at its past and forward at its future, a component of independent European thinking and a pre-condition for self-realisation and development. The Quote Yours! campaign started since spring 2015 has had as its objective as updating the best examples of the Belarusian thought, an invitation to an attentive reading and perception of anything, which is spoken or sung. The campaign was held jointly with a wide range of partners: civic-cultural campaign “Budzma belarusami!” (Let’s be Belarusians!) EuroBelarus, Belarusian Collegium, Belarusian Designers’ Union and Public courses of the Belarusian language Mova Nanova.
Within the framework of this ambitious project we are drafting in collaboration with the Belarusian Collegium the Anthology of the Contemporary Belarusian Thinking, its Volume I having been published back in 2004; it covered the first ten-year period of the country’s independence. Volume II will reflect the living Belarusian thought from the early 21st century.
2009-2011. University Idea: from a Game to Practice
The Flying University once started with a reverie. The way from a reverie to practice leads through the ‘space of the ideal,’ i.e. concepts, insights and images, which were re-thought and expanded in the search for a modern Belarusian response to the challenges of the University Idea. Representatives of a broad spectrum of the society interested in founding a Belarusian university, scientific, cultural and civic activists, academicians and education managers got together in May 2010 near Goettingen. During a collective Game, a collaborate thinking session organised on purpose, the ideas and images were filled up with practical sense, and thus the motion towards the Idea implementation started. The game served to determine a team of persons, for whom their daydream took the shape of an idea and began transforming into a method of acting and into a way of life. Autumn 2010 marked the beginnings of the first pilot courses, quest for forms of activity and search for partners and close associates.
2011-2012. Urbi et Orbi
In autumn 2011 we felt ready to declare to the City and to the World the first annual curriculum of the Flying University. The curriculum did not just serve to cement the fact of the University’s existence, but offered to public at large our understanding as to what a university in Belarus is and ought to be. We did not try that much to transfer knowledge, but rather jointly with our attendants and the public made attempts to look for contents and forms of modern education, to define ourselves as to the place the teachers and students should occupy, to feel for ways and trajectories of our common development, to respond to the ‘epiclesis’ and think jointly about Belarus, ourselves and the University in it. Right from the very start, the University became a Flying one, not just metaphorically, but also in practical terms, because venues for various events, schools, seminars, discussions and public lectures kept on changing, thus eloquently providing evidence that the University is a phenomenon of at least a city-scale dimension, but, primarily, a way of life and a method of thinking.
The initial sceptical attitude to the ambitious idea of creating an informal, but still a university, gave way to interest among thinkers, lecturers and specialists. The curriculum was extended: new masters and teachers came, research started, the numbers of attendants went up and the attendants got to setting up their communities. The new people and practices made us look back at the initial idea, reflection and yet another stage of common space modelling. Since those times we have put in place special forms for developing the University idea and community: ‘project sessions,’ which were a continuation of the game practices, summer schools and University seminars.
2013-2014. ‘Expansion’: Mahiliou, Vitsebsk, Horadnia …
Once we have called ourselves a ‘flying’ university, we could not help being restricted to the Minsk borders. We began holding courses and public lectures in various Belarusian cities and towns, while looking for the ‘air fields’ to land on: persons inspired by the university creation idea; places, where thinking is alive; and the public, which look for the ‘uncommon and unthinkable.’ The outreach attempts have enriched us, beside new associates and colleagues, with great many materials for understanding and reflection over the condition of the Belarusian society and its maturity to accept innovations and to promote the University ideas.
2014-2015. ‘Our Time’
“Every nation and every person has its time, its time substance and its image of time. In order to have our time, we should not measure ourselves with other peoples’ times,” said Mikhail Bayaryn at the Flying University’s winter conference. It was in this way that ‘our time’ has become a motto and a reference point for the University community to realise its place and role in modern times, which are branded as an epoch of radical doubt. It is insufficient to declare oneself a modern university, what remains to do is to grasp the notion of our time and our place in it. The understanding of ‘our time’ has inspired us for a new substantive work aimed at improving the Flying University’s space and activities and its relations with the Belarusian public and public life.
The Flying University on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/Flying.University/
Program coordinator of the Flying University: Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya, firstname.lastname@example.org, +375296754625