Thinking back to February 24, 2022 when the war on Ukraine began, do you recall where you and the team have been that day and the reactions you had when the news broke?
By Danica Purg
IEDC-Bled School of Management, Slovenia
I remember exactly, I was attending a Rectors’ Conference here in Slovenia when I heard the news. That same evening, we sat down with my colleagues at CEEMAN and wrote to all the leaders of our Ukrainian member schools and their close associates, wishing them strength in these difficult times. They received my letter the very next day.
The first reaction on 24 February 2022 has been bewilderment. We never believed in spite of the movement of troops on the Russian side that an attack on Ukraine could happen. Never before have we heard one of Russian schools or professors talking about the “denazification” of Ukraine. The bewilderment increased when a great number of Russian universities and management schools, also members of CEEMAN, signed to support the invasion by Putin.
The initial reaction and the first letter were followed by another open letter after the meeting and the decision of the CEEMAN Board regarding the scope of cooperation with the Russian institutions.
The war is ongoing for nearly nine months now. How has CEEMAN been able to support its members in Ukraine over these past months?
Moral support is the most important. However, we offered our support in some other ways as well. In 2022, CEEMAN as an institution has offered free participation and covered the cost of stay for members of Ukrainian schools who were willing and able to come to our Program Management Seminar, IMTA – The International Management Teachers Academy and the Annual Conference. Needless to say, we were also very much affected by this horrible situation, but at the same time, we did all we could to show practical support. The entire CEEMAN and IEDC staff (we share the building in Bled, Slovenia) have also individually and in groups donated money, collected clothes and toys and other goods for the Ukrainian families that came to Slovenia. Based on our own quite recent experience with the war in the Balkan region 30 years ago, we sympathize deeply with all who are affected by the war.
What are you hearing from your members in Ukraine? How are they holding on being in crisis mode for so long? Help us picture the situation of universities in Ukraine. Is there still academic life taking place in the midst of the war? Are the member universities still intact?
At the 30th CEEMAN Annual Conference in September 2022, we decided to dedicate a panel to our Ukrainian as well as Polish members whose help to Ukrainian people is highly appreciated, to share their experience during these challenging times. Panel members from different institutions in Ukraine and Poland have reported on their experiences and activities. They expressed their gratefulness to CEEMAN and its members who have invited Ukrainian faculty members and other employees to their programs free of charge. Ukrainian and Polish universities and institutions have been in the first months after the invasion focused on humanitarian aid. Already in April/May, schools resumed their activities partly online, after also using the bomb shelters. Also new programs relevant to the actual situation have been developed, such as KROK Business School and its “The Business Check-Up Marathon”, which provided Ukrainian businesses, sometimes relocated to various places outside the country, mostly in Europe, with relevant business information. Or the “MIM Economic Front”, inviting twice a week businesses to discuss the current economic problems.
It is astonishing to see how creative and innovative institutions have been after the first shock caused by the invasion. And what also happened has been expressed in one of the sentences in the panel: “We raised the level of humanity in our country”.
Many universities have shown solidarity with Ukraine and have set up activities to support Ukraine. From what you hear from your members, is there anything more that can and needs to be done?
We have to help now and be ready to start preparing the projects for the post-war renewal of Ukraine. We can do a lot together with the Ukrainian schools to support this process.
Similarly to AACSB, EFMD, and AMBA, CEEMAN in early March made the decision to suspend all activities in Russia and with Russian universities. Knowing that the CEEMAN network is like one big family, how difficult was it to make that decision?
You are right about the specific history of CEEMAN and its role in the region. It is understandable that CEEMAN Board signed with deep feelings of sadness a declaration against the invasion, realizing that because of the reaction of the Russian association and member institutions, a part of CEEMAN Board would be cut off. History will show that there was no other solution possible.
Have you kept in touch with your Russian members these past few months? What’s been their reaction to the suspension on your activities with Russia?
No, there is absolute silence from both sides. I know that some professors keep personal relations through social media in such a way that the communication is not endangering anybody.
As you mention, CEEMAN was established in a politically conflicting period 30 years ago, and if I may add, in a politically challenging region. Is this heritage something that binds CEEMAN members even closer together?
It is almost a traumatic experience for CEEMAN and its members to lose overnight contact with people that have been friends, sometimes almost a family. We realize that we share this feeling with a lot of families in Ukraine. At the Annual Conference, it became indeed clear that it brings the members of CEEMAN even closer to each other, and even more inspired to promote the mission of CEEMAN.
As well all hope for this war to end, let’s try to close on a positive outlook. How do you envision to bring back together all CEEMAN members in a post-war time?
The wounds, made by this war, are so deep that it is hardly possible to imagine even in the most positive scenario that relations with Russian institutions will be restored in a foreseeable future. I hope that some personal relations can be recovered. CEEMAN, however, has been already for some time growing also outside the CEE, particularly in the so called countries in rising economies, where many schools are in a situation we know in our region already since the early 90’s. There, the mission of CEEMAN is as actual as ever.