From 24 September to 1 October 2023, Natolin students of the Madeleine Albright Promotion departed for their first semester study trips under the theme "Borderlands: Peripheries have much to teach the center". Students set off to three destinations and explored the following topics:
- "Galicia – a laboratory of myths"
- "The many Silesias – identities, memories, transitions"
- "Podlasie-Suwalszczyzna, the Belarusian-Lithuanian-Polish borderlands – coexistence in a multicultural mosaic"
The study trips are an integral part of the academic programme of the Department of European Interdisciplinary Studies. To learn more about the different destinations and topics of the previous study trips organized for Natolin students, click here.
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 us to understand many important processes of cooperation between people and groups in the context of globalization and Europeanization. Moreover, this exploration assisted us 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, we have the extraordinary opportunity to investigate different manifestations of this phenomenon and will do so 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, will allow us to work against oversimplification, dualism and essentialism across frontiers of time and space. The study trips will use the east-central European space as a proving ground for testing our 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.
"Podlasie-Suwalszczyzna, the Belarusian-Lithuanian-Polish borderlands – coexistence in a multicultural mosaic"
During the Study Trip to the borderlands Podlasie and Suwalszczyzna, the Natolin students explored the history and contemporary heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the past one of the most ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse regions on the continent, the exploration of these borderlands allowed for a fundamental critical reflexion on the commonly used notions of borders, nations, territories and ethnicities.
Embarking on a formidable journey throughout Eastern Poland and Lithuania, students observed the idyllic nature and picturesque towns in which mosques, synagogues, and Orthodox and Catholic churches have defined the landscape for centuries. From the historic centre of Vilnius to the primeval forest of Białowieża, students discovered the singular cultural, ethnic, and religious peculiarities of Podlasie and Suwalszczyzna while also being guided by an inquiry on more contemporary issues such as the Vilnius NATO Summit and the protection of the European Union’s external borders.
"The many Silesias – identities, memories, transitions"
Body made of baroque and modernist architecture, heart made of coal and iron, and soul filled with ethnical, linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. This study trip unraveled the depths of Silesia, along with its multiple identities, economic transitions, and non-obvious historical and contemporary trajectories, which make it a model example of a Borderland.
Embarking on this trip meant plunging into the historical and contemporary intricacies of Wrocław, Opole, and Upper Silesia. Wrocław, throughout its history, experienced overwhelming migratory movements leading to the establishment of its religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity within the city. Opole, a home to the majority of activities and institutions developed by the German minority, and the only region in Poland in which the German minority is also politically active. Last but not least, Upper Silesia, a model example of a historical and modern borderland, whose turbulent history made it develop its specific and separate identity, culture, and language in the present.
"Galicia – a laboratory of myths"
Galicia, once a region with its particular identity and culture, and a unique character, that thrived inside the Habsburg monarchy, it was also one of the poorest regions of the kingdom. Covering the contemporary south-east Poland and south-west Ukraine, Galicia is a paradigmatic case of lost borders, history condemned to oblivion and an invaluable example of the coexistence between Poles, Ukrainians, Austrians and the Jewish and Roma communities.
During the journey to Galicia, students explored the most important cities of the region. They were introduced to the importance of the Galician myth for Austrians, Poles, Ukrainians, as well as its meaning in Jewish and Roma culture. The study trip also covered the economic significance of the region which the students discovered in Bóbrka, visiting the Museum of Oil and Gas Industry. Going to Łańcut and Przemyśl exposed the importance of coexistence of minorities in historical Galicia and allowed the discovery of how this peaceful era ended with the two World Wars. Finally, being at the proximity of Polish-Ukrainian border, the students were introduced to the contemporary image of the region with its paramount humanitarian importance.