Natolin 'Borderlands' First Semester Study Trips Successfully Concluded

The Natolin First Semester Study Trips 2022 have successfully concluded.

From 25 September to 2 October 2022, Natolin students of the David Sassoli Promotion embarked upon their first semester study trips under the overarching theme "Borderlands: Peripheries have much to teach the center".

This year, students set off to three destinations and explored the following topics:

  • "The many Silesias – identities, memories, transitions" (Katowice – Sosnowiec – Zabrze – Cieszyn – Opole – Wrocław – Łódź)
  • "Podlasie-Suwalszczyzna, the Belarusian-Lithuanian-Polish borderlands – coexistence in a multicultural mosaic" (Białystok – Supraśl – Tykocin – Sokółka – Bohoniki – Kruszyniany – Krynki – Białowieża – Sejny – Krasnogruda)
  • "Galicia – a laboratory of myths" (Kraków – Tarnów – Bóbrka – Rzeszów – Łańcut – Przemyśl – Bełżec)

Natolin First Semester Study Trips 2022

Overarching theme: "Borderlands: Peripheries have much to teach the center"

This year’s three Study Trip destinations were all united by a "borderland" theme. Observing and analysing the particularities of "borderlands" helped the students to understand many important processes of cooperation between people and groups in the context of globalization and Europeanization. Moreover, this exploration assisted them in perceiving two key threads: the weight of the past that remains in local communities, and the free choices of the past that have been guided by positive values essential for peaceful coexistence and innovation. The first is a tendency toward self-destruction, wherein borderland communities can be manipulated to tear apart their collective tissue. The second is a creative inspiration, displaying the ways in which the distinct characteristics of borderlands lead to the formation of communities. The phenomenon of borderlands is universal and they can be found across the globe, in places such as former Yugoslavia, Uruguay, North/South Tyrol, Sudan, Alsace-Lorraine, the Kurdistan region and Transnistria. The past, present and future of these areas has taken on international significance, and hard-fought battles – both diplomatic and military – will continue to be waged over them precisely because of their "borderland" nature. Right here in the middle of Europe, students had the extraordinary opportunity to investigate different manifestations of this phenomenon as part of the study trips.

Borders inherently create divisions, regardless of whether they are lines on a map or imagined partitions between social groups. But only rarely are borders representative of a clear break from one category to the next. This fluid melding between sectors offers the opportunity to puncture premises that undergird worldviews formed at the centre. When nationalism, for example, is seen from the centre, it appears to be a foregone conclusion, an obvious expression of the majority culture. At the margins, however, a completely different set of conditions make nationalism appear contingent, contested and less essential. Thus, borderlands represent more than the meeting or overlapping of various boundaries, either political, ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious; they are valuable as models for our multi-layered world. Borderland populations have been shaped not only by their inherent diversity, but also by their role as a subject and object of various social and political forces. The people of the borderlands have always needed to find ways to live together, and this has been misunderstood from centres of political power. At base, borderlands epitomize the liminal characteristics of the human social experience. Revisiting borderlands, both physical and ideological, allowed the students to work against oversimplification, dualism and essentialism across frontiers of time and space. The study trips used the east-central European space as a proving ground for testing students’ assumptions in ways that resonate beyond this part of the world. Each of the destinations invited lively debate over the meaning of basic concepts such as territory, ethnicity, language, climate, environment, trade and sovereignty.


"The many Silesias – identities, memories, transitions"

The aim of this study trip was to familiarise the students with multiple identities and historical trajectories of the region of Silesia, as well as its transitions: from one realm/state to another, from totalitarianism to democracy, from an economy based on fossil fuels and industry to a climate-and-environment-neutral one. Silesia is a model example of a "borderland". It is divided into Lower Silesia, with its capital city of Wrocław, where students learned about the complex and often t consequences of the shifting borders Upper Silesia, whose urban layer is constituted mainly by the bustling and modern Katowice metropolitan area, and the cities of Opole and Cieszyn.

The Silesian identity as well as its cultural, linguistic, and economic distinctiveness is determined by its tremendously complex and intricate history, during which Silesia has been strongly influenced by Polish, German, Bohemian, and Austrian cultures and political systems. Silesia is not merely a piece of land, but the scene of shared complex fate and, arguably, home to a separate, independent identity. 

The Natolin students had the chance to explore these complex identities during their visit to the Silesian Museum in Katowice, an Orthodox church in Sosnowiec, a Protestant church in Cieszyn, as well as through a series of lectures and meetings with the representatives of various communities: those identifying themselves as Silesians (exclusively, or in parallel with defining themselves as Polish), the German Minority in Opole, Czechs in Cieszyn or Jews in Wrocław.

The region is also at the heart of the current discussions on contemporary economic and energy transition. Coal mining and industrialisation were a crucial part of the "founding myth" of Silesia. Their role in local culture and society remains pivotal. The trip sought to examine the economic and social challenges and costs of the green transition, and how these can be addressed, i.e. through an innovative economy, which was discussed 320 meters below the ground level, during the lecture in Guido Coal Mine Museum in Zabrze. It also touched upon revitalisation of post-industrial areas demonstrated on the example of the Nikiszowiec district in Katowice.

Meetings with local leaders and representatives of civils society, learning about cross-border cooperation between Czechia and Poland, as well as seeing how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has influenced the region and why the historical links of Lower Silesia with Western Ukraine after 1945 clearly demonstrated how the past and memory can leave their – positive and negative – mark on the present.


"Podlasie-Suwalszczyzna, the Belarusian-Lithuanian-Polish borderlands – coexistence in a multicultural mosaic"

The alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania into the Union of Lublin in 1569 has given birth to one of Europe’s most ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse states on the continent. The signature of this document transformed Central Europe for more than four hundred years and its effects can still be observed to this day. In this regard, Podlasie and Suwalszczyzna certainly constitute a fantastic embodiment of the notion of "borderlands", where communities espoused multifaceted national, ethnic, and confessional identities.

For centuries, the Suwałki/Suvalkai region has been inhabited by Jews, Lithuanians, Poles, Russian Old Believers, Germans. The Podlasie territories have been home to Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, and a community of Tatars who settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after the collapse of the Golden Horde. Despite confessional differences of these groups – Orthodoxy, Greek Catholicism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam – tolerance endured. The Natolin students had the chance to learn in depth about each of the communities while they visited the Supraśl Monastery, the Tykocin Synagogue, the Bohoniki Mosque and spoke with academics and activists of the region.

Geopolitical considerations continue to affect both regions today as the Polish and Lithuanian borders are also the external borders of the EU and NATO. Squeezed between Russia and Belarus, the 65-km wide Suwałki Gap is the only land connection linking the Baltic states with Poland and the rest of their NATO allies. The study trip investigated the current political situation in the border between Poland and Belarus. The students received first-hand insights during the meeting with the Polish Border Guards concerning the threats at the external border of the EU.

Lastly, the picturesque landscapes of Podlasie and Suwalszczyzna had a profound influence on numerous culture figures, such as Nobel laureate for literature Czesław Miłosz and painter Leon Tarasewicz, who emphasized their borderland identity and used it to create unique art. Moreover, the protection of the natural environment creates transnational obligations for borderland communities, which the trip will also explored during a long visit to the Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


"Galicia – a laboratory of myths"

The Galicia study trip invited students to explore several cities of the former Galician territory and to reflect on the contemporary dimension of the so-called Galician Myth. The Borderlands as Galicia represents a particular space of memory for Poles, Ukrainians, Austrians, and Jews that are now separated by borders. Students were given an opportunity to learn and compare the divergent perceptions of Galicia – once representing merely a term created to denote the territory on the margins of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1772 and then, disappearing from political maps in 1918, becoming again a fragmented territory.

In this context, this study trip invited students to explore several cities of the former Galician territory - Kraków, Tarnów, Łancut, Rzeszów, and Przemyśl. Students were invited to participate in lectures, guided visits and panel discussions to explore the territory that once had been a home to intricate social and religious communities stratified legally and economically. Galician history is full of contrasts, from the lavish lifestyle of the aristocrats to the booming oil fields of Bóbrka, pioneers in the development of oil industry, passing by the misery of the peasants, the struggles of the Jewish community and the horrors of war.

The study trip to Galicia departed campus at 6am on Sunday, 25 September. The 42 travelling students – accompanied on the trip by 5 staff – departed first for Kraków, where they would spend two evenings. Their first day included a guided tour of the city, including the spellbinding Wawel Castle, and a visit to the Czartoryski collection at the National Museum. The following two days  targeted other cultural sites – including the spectacular Rynek Underground and the historic Kazimierz district, complete with panel discussions and lectures.

Next, #TeamGalicia visited the city of Tarnów, in a visit focusing on the city’s multiethnic past, visiting the Tarnów Jewish cemetery, Mikveh (bathhouse), and the Ethnographic Museum (documenting the culture of the Roma community). Next on the tour was the city of Rzeszów – where the students and staff would spend three consecutive nights in order to explore the varied elements of the city. During their stay, the students were exposed to the activities of the UNHCR and Medevac in assisting Ukrainian refugees, and attended a high-level lecture with Rzeszów mayor Konrad Fijołek at the city hall, wherein the extraordinary efforts made by the city to tend to the Ukrainian migrants was elucidated.  On the third day of their stay in Rzeszów, the students spent almost a full day in Łańcut, where they visited the magical Łańcut synagogue, and the mesmerizing Łańcut Castle, once home to the aristocratic Lubomirski and Potocki families.

The final overnight stop for the students was in Przemyśl. Here, they learnt of the colourful local history (Polish/Ukrainian), and met Business Ombudsman of Ukraine Roman Waschuk in the Ukrainski Dom (Ukrianian Cultural centre in Przemyśl). The Galicia tour departed once more for Warsaw on Sunday, 2nd October, stopping along the way for a harrowing tour of the former Nazi German extermination camp at Bełżec.

The Galicia tour, last to arrive, disembarked on campus late in the evening on Sunday, once the last site on the visit was complete.


Study Trips at the College of Europe in Natolin

The study trips are an integral part of the academic programme of the Department of European Interdisciplinary Studies. The second and final sequence of study trips will take place in the second semester, Spring 2023.

To learn more about the activities in each destination, please visit our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram pages and our Youtube page – look for #natolinontour, #borderlands and #NatolinOnVlog.