Maksimas, you have a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Heritage Studies. How did you decide to continue your studies in the field political science, in Eastern European and Russian Studies programme?
My original academic background lies in the field of Heritage studies. Throughout undergraduate studies at the European Humanities University, I’ve ended up with my academic interests addressing the issue of history of ideas and what is the relationship of the intangible cultural heritage with the former. Hence, while focusing Bachelor’s thesis on the issue of capitalness in the Baltic states (i.e. qualities of being a capital city), somewhat naturally I’ve found myself in an interdisciplinary milieu heavily interrelated with identity studies, political theory etc.
At the same time, while being an undergraduate student I was rather active in the field of student politics. I served as Vice President of the Lithuanian National Union of Students, responsible for international representation, thus the geographical outreach to the Eastern Europe’s agenda was accompanying me. Being admitted to 3 Universities for my Master’s studies (VU, Uppsala University and Vytautas Magnus University), I’ve decided that EERS is something that fits me best.
As we know, you have Belarusian roots but you have been living in Lithuania for a while now. How did you decide to move to Lithuania? What is your story?
Not really. I come from Vilnius, some of the few families who have been living in Vilnius for generations. After I was born, my parents moved to Minsk, where I’ve graduated from the Architecture and Arts High School №75. Different from other Lithuanian diasporas across the world, you are quite lucky when living in Minsk, because it’s only 180 km away from Vilnius. Hence, all of my school vacations passed in Lithuania, mostly in the summer house in Balsiai neighborhood of Vilnius or in Nida. Practically speaking, my story is resembling many stories of those Lithuanian diaspora children, who have returned back home to Lithuania after living abroad.
You are the Head of Communications and Development Unit in European Humanities University, why did you decide to continue your work in an academic institution? What does your daily routine look like?
European Humanities University is both an academic institution, but also serving the purpose of civil society development in Belarus. Given that after EHU was shut down in Minsk in 2004, it operates in Vilnius as de-facto University-in-Exile, privileged to enjoy Lithuanian hospitality and international donors support from the both sides of the Atlantic. EHU has a strong mission and it makes me proud to be a part of it.
My portfolio covers a broad variety of issues, including internal and external communications (taking place in 4 languages: English, Russian, Belarusian and Lithuanian), marketing and student admissions, mobility and academic exchanges, Alumni affairs, development and working with donors, stakeholders.
In practical terms my job demands being aware of the developments taking place simultaneously across at least 4 capitals: Vilnius, Minsk, Brussels and Washington, D.C. Thus, daily routine is quite unpredictable, so I am proud of the staff I have, all of them are EHU graduates – young and committed Belarusians in their respective fields of work.
You also work as a lecturer. How does it feel to stand in front of the class? What kind of subjects are you teaching?
EHU is a liberal arts University, hence a background in both heritage studies and political science is an advantage when you proceed with teaching. I’ve started teaching in October 2017 as an Assistant Lecturer, this is an additional workload to the University management capacity that I’m primarily occupied with. In the academic year 2018/19, I am teaching two liberal arts courses: Introduction to Heritage Studies and First Year Seminar: Introduction to Humanities. Both are English-instructed and taught to the 1st year high residence undergraduate students. Luckily there are close to none lectures, only seminars, workshops, and symposiums involved. Syllabi are based on authors like Hesse, Kafka, Camus, Nietzsche, Brodsky, Nabokov, Tolstoy, and Miłosz, so I really enjoy working with my students. Given that majority of students come from Belarus, most of these authors are hardly known to my students. When they start, it is a privilege to be a part of completely new world of meanings and ideas that students discover and get engaged in. Lastly, civic engagement plays a crucial role at EHU, thus eventually students come up with vibrant projects as their coursework.
We noticed that sport is also important in your life. Can you tell us more about your experience in Fudokan & Koryu Karate?
Something I strongly oppose to, is labeling martial arts, and especially karate-do, as a sport. Dō in Japanese means a way, somewhat a never-ending learning experience that you shall undertake from your Sensei (i.e. Master). In this respect, karate-do is a very delicate endeavor to get involved in, because, different from sports, you can’t rely on verifiable and measurable achievement indicators of progress (e.g. length, depth, goals, kilograms). Karate-do isn’t about muscles. It is a relationship of respect and personal improvement.
I’ve joined a Fudokan karate-do club in Minsk in 1999. Fudokan is one of the youngest karate-do schools, established by Prof. Dr. Ilija Jorga in 1980. It rapidly spread in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, due to a novelty in harmonizing biodynamics and origins of the traditional karate-do. For a while I had to break with practicing karate-do because of one severe leg injury (in fact, I had to learn how to walk again). Eventually, I’ve returned back to Fudokan karate-do already in Vilnius. Sensei Rytis Bublevičius, one of Lithuania’s most renowned masters, was kind to accept me to the “Karate akademija” club. In 2016, I passed a black belt exam (1 Dan), which was presented to me by Prof. Dr. Ilija Jorga himself in Nida. I was privileged to be a part of Lithuanian National Fudokan Karate-do team during the 22nd European Championship in Cracow.
Koryu Karate Jutsu Jissen Ryu is another conceptualization of Karate-do, which approximates Karate back to its Okinawan roots, one of Koryu Karate masters from Belgium Sensei Hubert Laenen is a frequent visitor to Lithuania and neighboring countries – after his master-classes your perception of Karate never stays “inside-of-the-box”, that’s what I appreciate a lot.
Lastly, from time to time I ran 42,195 km marathons, something very helpful for training your stamina – especially for a job like mine. So far I’ve ran 4 full marathons in Vilnius, Riga and Warsaw. 2019 is a good year to expend my geography of marathons, I believe.
You were one of the first graduates of Eastern European and Russian Studies programme, what is your best memory from study years?
It is always a pleasure to be a part of something completely new. 2013 admissions to EERS program were the first admissions, hence while undertaking the courses my course mates and I felt that the program is still in the making, which is great for advancing your studies for what you really need. In June-July 2014, as part of my studies, I was at the University of Iceland, taking part in the Small States Studies summer school. This was an eye-opening opportunity that I most enjoy from my Master’s experience, because it has given me a chance to figure out the topic of my Master’s thesis and to study together with Master’s and PhD students from the best Universities in Europe. IIRPS Director Prof. Vilpišauskas was among faculty of the summer school, so going out with him and my course mate for a beer after the seminars in Reykjavik was fun too.
IIRPS makes you a part of the top-tier league of political sciences and international relations in Lithuania and region-wide. EERS makes you even more engaged in something so highly demanded given the rapidly evolving agenda of the region. So there’s simply no better combination than EERS at IIRPS if you pretend to make a footprint in this part of the world.