Ukrainian human rights activist and Gulag survivor to lecture at 2021 Nanovic Forum

Myroslav Marynovych, a prominent Ukrainian social and political activist and the vice-rector for university mission at Ukrainian Catholic University, will deliver the Nanovic Forum Lecture at 5 p.m. on Sept. 16 in the Carey Auditorium on the first floor of Hesburgh Library. Hosted by the Keough School’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies, this event is free and open to the public.

In a lecture titled “Faith in Communist and Post-Communist Europe,” Marynovych will talk about his personal experiences both before and after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, reflecting particularly upon the role of his own deep Christian convictions.

“We are delighted to welcome Mr. Marynovych to Notre Dame,” said Clemens Sedmak, director of the Nanovic Institute and professor of social ethics in the Keough School of Global Affairs. “This is an exceptional opportunity to hear and discuss the perspective of a person who confronted and was subjected to Soviet repression, and then harnessed that experience to advocate activism, dissent, dialogue and reconciliation. He is truly a VIP: a very inspiring person, who can teach us a lot about resilience and faith.”

Through activism that has spanned four decades, Marynovych has championed political dissent, human rights, dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation. In 1976, he became a founding member of the human rights organization Ukrainian Helsinki Group. The following year, he was arrested for anti-Soviet agitation and spent a decade as a prisoner of conscience, first in a Siberian prison camp and then in exile in Kazakhstan. After his release in 1987, Marynovych helped found a Ukrainian unit of Amnesty International, the organization that worked to protect him during his imprisonment. Later, he became president of the Ukrainian Center of PEN International, the association of writers devoted to intellectual cooperation and freedom of expression.

Since the 1990s, Marynovych has been a leader at the Ukrainian Catholic University, including his present roles as vice-rector of university mission and president of the Institute of Religion and Society. Rooted in his faith, this more recent work focuses on inter-ethnic and interreligious reconciliation and cooperation, and includes membership of the “First December” Initiative and the Nestor Group of Ukrainian intellectuals. Marynovych has written several books in Ukrainian and two in English, including “The Universe Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident,” which was published earlier this year.

During a celebration of his book release in June, Marynovych reflected on the ways in which his experience has shaped his conception of freedom. He said, “freedom meant for me—and still means for me—to follow the orders or advice of my conscience.”

Marynovych emphasized the importance of maintaining one’s principles even in the face of danger. “For me,” Marynovych explained, “freedom means not giving up when there is some danger [forcing] you to reject [your] values . . . human dignity, goodness, solidarity in a positive sense and so on. This is freedom to me—to follow my conscience.”

The Nanovic Forum deepens Notre Dame’s rich tradition of connections to Europe by bringing European leaders from a variety of academic, cultural and professional fields to campus to discuss issues of major importance in Europe today. Established in 2011, the forum is sponsored by Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic.  

“The Nanovic Forum presents a wonderful opportunity to connect all branches of the Notre Dame community to Europe through deep discussion and reflection on complex and important issues such as dissent, freedom of thought and reconciliation,” said Sedmak. “The forum itself is also the epicenter for ripples across campus. During his visit, Mr. Marynovych will be able to engage with students and faculty in smaller, more direct settings—in classrooms or over lunch, for example—sparking conversations across our community. We are extremely grateful to Bob and Liz Nanovic for the continued generosity that makes this possible.”

Past speakers in the Nanovic Forum have included David O’Sullivan, former ambassador of the EU to the US; Janne Haaland Matláry, former state secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Horst Koehler, former president of Germany; Rolf-Dieter Heuer, former director-general of CERN, the European organization for nuclear research; and other prominent leaders in education, law, government, and the arts.

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame is an interdisciplinary home for students and faculty to explore the evolving ideas, cultures, beliefs, histories and institutions that shape Europe today. As part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, the institute is helping to advance integral human development through research, policy and practice.

A complete list of the Nanovic Forum series and a video archive of the past lectures are available on the Nanovic Institute website.

Originally published at on September 8, 2021.

Top Photo: Myroslav Marynovych, Ukrainian Catholic University

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