By Elvira Tamus, Research Assistant 

Between 1-6 July 2024, the Baltic Geopolitics Programme of the Centre for Geopolitics held its third summer school, this time in Kaunas and Vilnius, Lithuania. The organising committee included Rt Hon Charles Clarke (Joint Programme Leader and former Home Secretary), Dr Donatas Kupciunas (Baltic Research Fellow), Sarah Squire (HM Ambassador to Estonia, 2000-2003), and Elvira Tamus (Research Assistant and PhD Candidate in History). The Centre was also represented by Trevelyan Wing (Baltic Research Fellow) and Juliette Bretan (Research Assistant and PhD Candidate in English). Our colleagues at Vilnius University’s Faculty of History, Dr Kestutis Kilinskas and Dr Inga Zakšauskienė (also Chief Archivist of Lithuania), compiled a fascinating and interactive programme for our participants. 

We hosted 17 undergraduate, Masters, and PhD students in Politics and International Studies (POLIS); History; Human, Social, and Political Science; Modern and Medieval Languages; English; Law; Management Studies; as well as Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This diverse and exciting group of students proved to be a highly pro-active and cooperative team. We are continuing our good practice of advertising the summer school and calling for applications across most of the humanities and social sciences faculties and departments of the University of Cambridge along with various colleges and student societies. This innovative approach allows us to bring together creative minds from numerous fields and think about the Baltic Sea region together in a set up that Cambridge people are not usually exposed to in the day-to-day university framework.  

The principal purpose of this summer school was to widen the pool of Cambridge students and academics with knowledge and experience of Baltic geopolitical issues as well as provide them with the opportunity to reach a threshold level of ‘regional literacy’ connected to the Baltic Sea region. The programme aimed to awaken interest in the subject and increase the possibility of students at all levels deciding to focus on Baltic geopolitical subjects as they move forward in their academic career. The event intended to add experience to academic study by providing the opportunity both to look at questions of intellectual interest in a slightly deeper and more informal context and to develop interests which might otherwise have not been explored. The attendees had the opportunity to delve into Lithuanian history and great power relations in the Baltic area through lectures and Q&As, meetings and discussions, visits to museums and historical sights. Moreover, our summer school hoped to build an academic and professional network between Cambridge and Kaunas / Vilnius people.   

We kicked off with a dinner in Kaunas during which we tasted Lithuanian cuisine, got to know each other, talked about the work of the Baltic Geopolitics Programme with its representatives, and had a discussion on the modern history of Lithuania and Kaunas with Dr Kilinskas.   

On our first full day, we started with two lectures, dedicated to the exploration of Kaunas as the capital city of the modern state of Lithuania from 1918 to the Cold War, in the Kaunas campus of Vilnius University. First, Dr Kilinskas presented on the interests of Germany, Russia, and the Allies, as well as the problem of Lithuanian independence in 1919-1920. Second, Dr Zakšauskienė introduced us to ‘music getting through the Iron Curtain’, namely the BBC’s music programme to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After our lunch with a view of the Town Hall of Kaunas, we received two guided tours – one at the Historical Presidential Palace (where Lithuanian presidents lived and worked in the interwar period) and one at the Museum of War (an important institution visited by all generations of Lithuanians). We concluded the first day with a hike to the impressive Christ’s Resurrection Church – its roof provided us with a breathtaking view over Kaunas. 

We continued the summer school with a day in Vilnius looking at Lithuania in the context of the emerging Cold War 2.0, that is to say the current complex geopolitical situation of the country. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we had a conversation with Deputy Minister Simonas Satunas on Lithuania’s most significant geopolitical concerns and diplomatic pursuits. After our meeting, we had the chance to see the panorama of the capital city from the roof of the Ministry. We spent an interactive workshop in the Lithuanian Special Archives by learning about its history and collection of documents from Dr Zakšauskienė and Vilma Ektytė (Head of the KGB documents department). We could touch, read, and ask questions about a selection of documents prepared for us. This session was followed by a talk given by Major Arthur Purbrick (Officer Commanding EAGLE TROOP of NATO Forward Land Forces Great Britain) on how the security apparatus of NATO affects the geopolitics of the Baltic states. The attendance of Major Purbrick and Captain Thomas Warburton (Liaison Officer and Training Safety Officer) from the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards contributed a novel military perspective to our summer school. Our busy second day was ended by a reception at the British Embassy in Vilnius hosted by HM Ambassador Brian Olley.  

The third day was spent in Kaunas in the context of how the Second World War reshaped the landscape and the society of interwar Lithuania. We started with the lecture of Dr Steven Ward (Associate Professor at POLIS, Cambridge) on the theory, history, and evidence of tripwire deterrence. Then we heard Dr Antanas Terleckas (Faculty of History, Vilnius University) on the society of Lithuania after the Second World War. We spent the afternoon with a guided tour in the Nine Fortress Museum near Kaunas, a stronghold used as a prison and way-station for people transported to labour camps during the Soviet occupation. The harrowing fort was also used as a place of execution of Jews, captured Soviets, and other prisoners during the occupation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany.  

Our fourth day took us back to Vilnius where we first had a conversation with Doc. Dr Loreta Skurvydaitė, Dean of the Faculty of History, Vilnius University. We talked about the lives, courses, and other study opportunities of students at the Faculty as well as higher education and the discipline of history in Lithuania. Dr Skurvydaitė then gave us a tour in the beautiful Vilnius University Library. After that we walked to the Church Heritage Museum and took part in a guided tour at the exhibition ‘The Voice of Lithuania During the Years of the Cold War’. Later summer school participants further explored Vilnius and Trakai Castle and its surroundings, enjoying the wonderful art, architecture, nature, and cuisine of Lithuania.  

On our date of departure, we visited some more sightseeing spots in our main base, Kaunas, such as Napoleon’s Hill and Kaunas Castle.  

The organisers were very pleased to welcome such curious students at their third summer school who asked a range of intriguing questions throughout the programme and expressed their interests in the Baltic Sea region. We are thankful for the contribution and help of everyone who took part in this successful event. We look forward to continuing in 2025 the tradition of the Baltic Geopolitics Summer Schools, established by the events held in 2022 in Vilnius, in 2023 in Gdansk, Poland, and in 2024 in Kaunas and Vilnius. We hope that more and more Cambridge students will be interested in attending this unique programme, nourish research interests in Baltic studies, and follow the work of the Centre for Geopolitics. 

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