UKRAINE: Rector warns of intimidation

The rector of the only Catholic University in the former Soviet Union expressed alarm following a visit by a Ukrainian secret service agent. The agent told him to warn students that if they took part in political protests they could be subject to prosecution.

In an open memo to his community, Father Borys Gudziak, Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, says he is concerned the visit was an attempt to put pressure on universities.

Gudziak fears his own university may have been selected because it is one of only two universities in Ukraine to have spoken out against recent political and educational developments in the country.

He warns that "fear and accommodation are returning to higher education at a rapid pace".

This is not the first time Gudziak has expressed concerns about intellectual freedom since Viktor Yanukovytch was elected President in February.

In March, at the annual meeting of the Board of Consultors of the International Federation of Catholic Universities in Japan, he spoke about issues such as the imposition of Soviet historical views, the rehabilitation of Stalin and Stalinism [a monument to Stalin was unveiled in Ukraine in early May] and what he calls "the new censorship of the press and television that are incompatible with normal university life".

Regarding the visit by an agent of the Security Service of Ukraine or SBU on 18 May, he says he was informed that students should be warned about being involved in 'illegal activities', including picketing the workplaces of government officials or taking part in any protests not sanctioned by the authorities. He was also asked to read and sign a letter regarding this.

Under the communist regime, Gudziak says it was common practice for the KGB (the secret service precursors to the SBU) to get people to sign such letters and for the KGB to keep the letter as "a primary method of recruiting secret collaborators".

He says the letter could be have been used to undermine the university's reputation, suggest it was not looking after student welfare, put pressure on the university or bring a legal case against it.

"Measures of this nature create apprehension and unease," Gudziak says in the memo. "They are meant to intimidate university administrations and students. They are part of a whole pattern of practice that is well known to the Ukrainian population. The revival of such practices is a conscious attempt to revive the methods of the Soviet totalitarian past and to re-instil fear in a society that was only beginning to feel its freedom."

The rector says he told the agent he would only agree to read the letter if he received assurances he could retain the letter or a copy of it. But the agent said this would not be possible because his superiors feared the rector might "publish it on the internet".

The agent was interested in attending the General Assembly of the Federation of European Catholic Universities, to be hosted by the UCU at the end of May. The working sessions of university rectors are closed to the public.

Gudziak says he also spoke to the agent about alleged corruption on the part of security agents, citing the case of his cousin, a mayor of Vynnyky, who was arrested in February after the election of Yanukovych and accused of bribery.

Gudziak says the case was fabricated by a corrupt officer. He also claims his phone is tapped and that speaking out about events this month is the best way to peacefully counter any moves to censor his university.

"Speaking and writing openly about these issues is the most peaceful and effective manner of counteracting efforts to secretly control and intimidate students and citizens," he says.

This type of information must be shared with world community if freedom is to prevail.