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“I continue my work not because of my political or ideological stance, but because providing unbiased and objective information to the public is part of my professional and public obligation.” Professor Oleg Manaev’s words have driven his long career as a public opinion researcher in Belarus, making him a target of President Alexander Lukashenko’s repressive regime. He is co-founder of the Department of Social Communication at Belarus State University where he is also a professor, and in 1992 he established the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) to examine democratic movements, media, market economies, rule of law and civil society. Lukashenko’s systematic restriction of the activities of NGOs, independent media and academic institutions resulted in the raiding and searching of IISEPS offices and Professor Manaev has stood trial on numerous occasions to defend the work of the Institute. In April 2005, a ruling by the Supreme Court forced the closure of IISEPS. Professor Manaev re-registered the institute in Lithuania while he and a group of academics and journalists continued to contribute privately to its activities in Belarus. In June 2006, a prosecutor’s charge warned him of imprisonment for up to two years for the crime of “discrediting the Republic of Belarus,” and a year later, Professor Manaev was subpoenaed by the General Prosecutor’s office for his role in organizing a conference on “Belarus and Wider Europe.” In June 2012 the Belarus State University leadership did not extend his tenure contract and he lost his job after over 40 years of service.
As the threats against Professor Manaev increased and his movements were further monitored and restricted, he sought assistance from the Scholar Rescue Fund in 2007. SRF liaised with his colleague at the University of Tennessee (UT) at Knoxville to secure a visiting scholar position for Professor Manaev in the university’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media. At UT, he taught several media courses and continued his independent research, publishing in U.S. and international journals. While on fellowship, he served as a corresponding editor of Political Communication, an international quarterly journal, and maintained close ties with his colleagues in Belarus.
Eager to resume his work in Belarus, Professor Manaev returned to his home country in 2009 despite indications that conditions were no more promising for change. This year, he has dedicated the twentieth anniversary of IISEPS to the “Future of Belarus” and brought together renowned scholars, researchers, and civic activists from Belarus and abroad to discuss this theme in Vilnius, Lithuania from May 25-26. George Krol, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Belarus, acknowledged Professor Manaev’s role in fostering space for independent research in Belarus through the establishment of IISEPS, noting that “for two decades, [he] and his talented team of researchers have been making an immense contribution to expansion of knowledge of all those who seek to understand the development and prospects of Belarus”.
A recipient of numerous international fellowship awards, Professor Manaev has held visiting professorships at universities in the US, Brazil, Canada and Europe. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the School of Philosophy & Social Sciences at Belarusian State University and has published almost 200 scholarly articles on mass media, communication, and democracy, as well as on civil society and political processes in the USSR, Belarus and abroad. His books include: Belarus and Wider Europe: Quest for Geo-Political Self Identification (2007), Emerging Civil Society in Independent Belarus: A Sociological Experience 2006-2010, and his most recent edited volume Youth and Civil Society in Belarus: New Generation (2011).
SRF remains inspired by Professor Manaev’s loyal dedication to his work and his devotion to increasing global knowledge about and within Belarus.