OPINION | JEWISH STUDIES AS COVER | YIDDISH AFFAIRS
VILNIUS—Beware of any academic conference hosted by a nation’s parliament. This isn’t about Lithuania, the Baltics, or Eastern Europe. It’s about the intellectual independence and academic integrity of bona fide academic conclaves anywhere. There are elementary questions. Was there a public call for papers? Was there an academic committee established to select those papers by the most competent specialists on the actual topic of the conference? An academic committee that would guard against the petty jealousies, politics of revenge and personal exclusions, as well as larger political correctnesses or state-sponsored-agency attempts to predetermine the proceedings or (ab)use them for governmental PR? Is the conference a free tribune for the exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of collegiality and mutual respect? One where scholars of opposing views can thrash it out, robustly and publicly — without the loss of interpersonal respect — to yield positive results for the area of human enquiry to which the conference was dedicated in the first place. One of the ironies is that Vilnius is nowadays host to some of the world’s best (and most academically free) conferences in an array of fields, both in the humanities and the sciences. That Soviet-style rigging should survive in the case of Judaic studies, of all things, will itself be studied one day.