Exploring Europe's Past to Understand its Future: An Interview with Professor Richard BUTTERWICK-PAWLIKOWSKI

Professor Richard BUTTERWICK-PAWLIKOWSKI, a well-respected historian of the Enlightenment period, resumed his responsibilities as a Chairholder of the European Civilization Chair at the College of Europe in Natolin on 1 September 2023.

He returns to his role, as he held the Chair between 2014 and 2020. We met with him for a short interview to speak about his plans and future projects.

Question: What are the three things you are most looking forward to in your work as the Chairholder of the European Civilization Chair?

Professor Richard BUTTERWICK-PAWLIKOWSKI: I'm looking forward to walking around the campus often, particularly if it's going to be a “golden Polish autumn”. This is an exceptionally beautiful, peaceful, and historic place. I'm also looking forward to working again with my colleagues, some of whom I've known for a very long time, ever since I first started at Natolin in 2014. I’m meeting others for the first time. But most important of all, I'm looking forward to a new promotion of students.

Question: What are your plans for the European Civilization Chair?

Professor Richard BUTTERWICK-PAWLIKOWSKI: My plans are to continue and take forward the mission of the Chair, which is to encourage people to think about Europe in a longer and a broader sense. To take a longer view,  going back far beyond the creation of current European institutions to the very beginnings of Europe as an idea and a civilization. To take a broader view, looking well beyond the current borders of the European Union. I hope they’ll be expanding further, taking in neighbours to the east and south-east.

That’s particularly important because in the middle of the twentieth century Europe was violently divided by war and totalitarian regimes. The work of reunification is far from complete. A promise was made at the start of the process that led successively to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and the European Union, that this European community would be open to any European country or nation that was free to choose. Does that promise still hold good? I would hope so.

Question: What would you like to change? What is your vision?

Professor Richard BUTTERWICK-PAWLIKOWSKI: One of the things I've learned at Natolin is that although the campus changes very little while the seasons come and go, and the great oaks get just a little greater, many things here change very rapidly. Nothing ever stands completely still. Here at Natolin, there are always new challenges, just as there are new challenges all over Europe and in the world. But I certainly don't plan any revolutions in the European Civilization Chair. 

Professor Georges MINK has led the Chair magnificently over the last three years and I look forward to continuing to work together closely, just as we did when I held the Chair previously, and just as we did his tenure of the Chair. We both concentrate our attention on Central and Eastern Europe, but of course we have different interests. Professor MINK is an illustrious sociologist and scholar of memory studies, and I would also call him a distinguished political scientist and contemporary historian. I’m a historian of politics, religion, culture, and ideas in the age of Enlightenment, that is, the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This was the period that shaped the Natolin palace and park. So naturally we approach our research and teaching rather differently, but we work amicably together.

The vision remains the mission – encouraging a longer and broader view of Europe, in the conviction that understanding Europe’s past can help Natolin’s students to shape Europe’s future.

Question: What are some of the projects you will be working on?

Professor Richard BUTTERWICK-PAWLIKOWSKI: We shall continue the things that we’ve begun, at least in the short term. For a long time the Chair has taken a close interest in Ukraine through its three Ukrainian Revolutions (3R) project, of which Professor MINK is the joint head. In the last couple of years, Professor Marek CICHOCKI has led a project on the legacies of the Cold War, and that will continue to grow. Has the post-Cold War era already evolved into a new Cold War? Between whom?

I'm delighted to say that Professor CICHOCKI will be working with our students on these questions. In the next few months, there’ll be several fascinating special events organized by the Chair. We also make a major contribution to the academic programme of the College of Europe in Natolin. There’ll be simulation games of three peace conferences, those that actually took place in Vienna in 1814-15 and Paris in 1919-20, and one that didn’t happen – at the end of the Cold War. I encourage students to get involved.