From 20 until 26 October 2013, the European Interdisciplinary Study Programme of the Natolin campus of the College of Europe organized a study trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. All 113 students of the Natolin campus visited the cities of Kaunas, Vilnius and Trakai in Lithuania, Riga in Latvia and Tartu and Tallinn in Estonia. The students were accompanied by the Vice-Rector Mrs Ewa OŚNIECKA-TAMECKA, Director of Studies Mrs Nanette NEUWAHL and Part-time Professor Mr Georges MINK.
The Academic Assistants of the European Interdisciplinary Studies Department, Research Assistant Mr Quincy CLOET and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Mr Pascal BONNARD of the EP-Geremek European Civilization Chair and Student Affairs Officer Ms Urszula RAPACKA assisted the students during the study trip.
While the city of Kaunas never achieved a similar status as the capital city of Vilnius, it is one of the major economic and culture hubs of Lithuania and strongly associated with the glorious past of the Grand Duchy and the reign of Vytautas the Great. Being the first stop of our study trip, Kaunas and its beautiful old city centre gave the students a substantial impression of Lithuanian culture and history. The guided visit through the old streets was followed by a lecture at the Vytautas Magnus University by Mr Rūstis KAMUNTAVIČIUS, one of the foremost experts of Lithuanian history and culture. His thought-provoking views of the Lithuanian past and the construction of its identity immediately captivated the minds of the students.
The capital city of Vilnius was the next location of the study trip, for the part of the programme oriented towards the remnants of multicultural heritage in Lithuania. Aside from an absorbing discovery of the various confessional practices present in the city, students were introduced to past and present issues in Lithuanian affairs. After an engaging meeting with the Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister of Lithuania, Mr Andrius KRIVAS, and an interesting debate about the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the students benefited from a conference divided into two panels - respectively about energy and multicultural history - organized at Vilnius University.
The panel about energy started with the Minister of Energy of Lithuania, Mr Jaroslav NEVEROVIČ, who delivered a speech titled "Challenges for the EU Energy Policy in the Baltic Region", before he gave the students the opportunity to raise their questions. The programme continued with a panel on energy concerns and perspectives in the Baltic region. The panel consisted of Mr Nerijus UDRĖNAS, the Chief Economic Adviser to the President of Lithuania, Mr Romas ŠVEDAS, an independent expert and lecturer on energy policy, Ms Greta TUČKUTĖ, Director of the Centre for Geopolitical Studies in Vilnius and Mr Arunas MOLIS, the Head of the Strategic Analysis and Research Division from the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence. The panel ended with a debate.
The history panel consisted of various researchers from the Faculty of History of Vilnius University, all of them demonstrating how multiple cultures (Jewish, Karaim, Lithuanian) impacted the cohabitation of various communities in Vilnius. Finally, a special lecture was organised to prepare students for their next day’s visit to the historical lake resort of Trakai, noteworthy for its beautiful castle and small Karaim community.
The programme in Latvia started with a guided visit of Riga, a city which will become a European Capital of Culture in 2014. After a morning tour of the city center, the students took part in thematic round tables with Latvian experts. In an informal setting, they had the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas on key topics related to Latvian’s foreign policy, economics, culture and socio-political issues. The meetings took place in a traditional Latvian restaurant, where they could also taste specialties of Latvian cuisine. In the afternoon, at the Riga Stradiņš University, a panel dedicated to the topic of post-soviet political space was chaired by Mr Andris SPRUDS, Director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. The panel was followed by a lively discussion, marking the end of the academic programme in Latvia.
Tartu, often referred to as the Estonian Oxford for its role as the major academic city of the country, welcomed us on the sixth day of our study trip. After an instructive tour of the town and the historic university buildings, the students had the privilege to engage with Ms Piret EHIN, Director of the Centre for EU-Russia Studies, on the role of the Baltic States in the EU-Russia relations, and with Ms Kristina KALLAS, Development Director of the Institute of Baltic Studies, on the integration of ethnic minorities in Estonia. A lively debate ensued, after which we continued our on-the-road experience to Tallinn.
The study trip ended with one night in Tallinn, a guided visit of its city center and a visit to an Estonian restaurant.