From 24 to 26 April, an international conference 'Engagement with the past, activism in the present' took place at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, with the aim of exchanging knowledge and experience between scholars from the YUFE and Ukrainian universities.
The conference is one of the activities implemented as part of a grant the Nicolaus Copernicus University received from the National Agency for Academic Exchange in the 'Solidarity with Ukraine' programme. It was addressed to Polish universities belonging to alliances of European universities, which received a total of PLN 16 million to develop cooperation with Ukrainian universities, and at a supranational level. The support for the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, a member of the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) alliance, amounted to nearly PLN 700 000, and the project prepared by the Nicolaus Copernicus University is entitled 'Copernican Integration Network' (COIN).
The past from different perspectives
The conference 'Engagement with the past, activism in the present' was attended by representatives of Ukrainian universities: the Bohdan Khmelnytskyi National University of Cherkassy, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv; as well as YUFE member universities: Essex University, Maastricht University, University of Rijeka, University of Eastern Finland and University of Cyprus. The event was also attended by representatives of the NGOs from Poland and abroad.
- 'We are proud to host a meeting between our Ukrainian colleagues and other organisations that are involved in documenting our historical memory and guests from the YUFE who are working on similar issues,' Prof. dr habil. Przemysław Nehring, NCU Vice-Rector for Education and Executive Director of the YUFE at the Nicolaus Copernicus University, said at the opening session. – Russia's aggression against Ukraine and the war that has been going on for the past 14 months force us to reflect upon documenting traumatic events for European nations. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to our Ukrainian guests for their kindness and acceptance of the invitation to participate in this event, for their willingness to share their experiences and thoughts on a traumatic time from the perspective of those professionally involved in preserving and transmitting memory to the next generation. Many thanks to our guests from the YUFE Universities, this is another opportunity to strengthen our cooperation and to extend it to Ukrainian universities, which are also European universities.
The conference focused on issues related to engaged history, including:
- archival/documentary initiatives,
- narratives about the war (Ukrainian-Russian war, but also about other wars),
- community involvement in history education and history promotion events,
- ways of using narratives about the past (e.g., politically, commercially, related to social justice),
- oppositional narratives about the past and their role.
Dr Magdalena Wiśniewska-Drewniak from the NCU Department of Archival Studies and Documentation Management emphasised the important role historical narratives also play during the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war. - Lying, false versions of history about the past of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are meant to be a weapon and a way to justify aggression, the researcher notes. - Of course, this is not a new strategy, we have already seen it many times in Europe, but this makes it all the more impossible for the academic world to remain indifferent to it. At the same time, academics want to build bridges, and thus, include Ukrainian universities in European projects and structures. Therefore, in addition to the scientific purpose of the conference, an additional goal is to integrate Ukrainian universities into the structures of European universities, in our case the YUFE.
The integration aspect of the event was also highlighted by dr Nadine Rossol from the University of Essex, who co-sponsored the conference with Prof Lucy Noakes: - 'In joining the YUFE, we did not want to limit ourselves to contacts with partners within the alliance,' she said. - By expanding to include NGOs and Ukrainian partners, our European cooperation has become complete. And Toruń is a great place to combine eastern and western influences.
On the occasion of the event, UMK Rector Prof. Andrzej Sokala and Dean of the Faculty of Historical Sciences Prof. Stanislaw Roszak met with a delegation from Cherkasy National University named after Bohdan Khmelnytsky: Rector Prof. Oleksandr Cherevko, Prof. Yevhen Sinkevych and Prof. Olga Morozova.
The authorities of the two universities plan to cooperate in the field of student exchange, including the creation of opportunities for parallel study at both universities and obtaining a second degree in selected fields. The universities will conduct joint research within the framework of scientific programs and grants, organize conferences and seminars together, and publish articles and scientific and methodological monographs.
Integration and cooperation
The COIN 'Copernican Integration Network' project, prepared by the Nicolaus Copernicus University, aims to strengthen the image of Ukrainian universities as reliable academic partners with high academic potential, representing an important link in the European higher education system, and to establish multidimensional academic cooperation between Ukrainian universities and the YUFE member universities based on a bottom-up exchange of good practices.
The project is implemented in three programme lines resulting from the needs of the Ukrainian partners and the experience of the YUFE alliance. The first line is 'Institutional Development and Educational Quality Enhancement. Networking of Faculties of Economics and Management'. It includes a series of online workshops, as well as a series of job shadowing visits for administrative and research staff of partner Ukrainian universities to the NCU administrative units.
The second programme line is 'European Integration. Networking of Law Faculties'. This area envisages, among other things, the participation of academics or doctoral students from partner Ukrainian universities in the scientific seminar The Compatibility of EU Law with the Rule of Law and Democratic Principles organised within the framework of the RED-SPINEL (Responding to Emerging Dissensus: Supranational Instruments & Norms of European Liberal Democracy) project. Another initiative is the creation of a guide to good practice in institutional cooperation between law faculties in the YUFE alliance. Also planned are Toruń Law Days: Law - Society - Democracy with the participation of the YUFE partners and Ukrainian universities.
The conference 'Engagement with the past, activism in the present' is organised under the third line - AFECT: Archives, Forgetting, Emotions, Conflict, and Trauma. Networking of Faculties of Historical Sciences.