On May 28, early in the morning, I joined a group of international visitors gathered at Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) in central Warsaw for an historic event: the establishment of the Collegium Intermarium.
Polish lawyer Tymoteusz Zych, vice-president of the board of the think-tank Ordo Iuris, one of the principal co-founders of the Collegium, ascended the steps at the base of the Sigismund Memorial column, at the center of the Square, and welcomed guests, before describing the origins and the overall mission of the Collegium.
Origins and mission
Zych, who will serve as the Collegium’s first rector, explained that the Collegium Intermarium is a university founded by a group of conservative intellectuals who seek nothing less than a return to the proper aim of a university: the pursuit of truth.
Recently accredited by the Polish Ministry of National Education, the Collegium will begin operations this October, emphasizing classical and humane learning, as well as free academic inquiry and freedom of speech. It will also promote broad humanistic research rooted in the classical European tradition.
Several other programs will also be offered: a Master of Laws program, as well as postgraduate research in NGO management and a family policy program, with special modules on home school pedagogy.
The legal order
As Zych concluded his welcome address, I spoke to a dapper man standing next to me. He turned out to be Jerzy Kwaśniewski, president of Ordo Iuris. His organization—too often portrayed in the mainstream media as a lobbying group of ultra-conservative Catholic zealots—focuses, in fact, on various issues related to human rights and human dignity.
As their name suggests, they defend the authority of the “legal order” (ordo iuris) against the modern ideologies that seek to weaken it. In their pursuit of their objectives, they have demonstrated impressive organizational skills and efficacy—especially when one considers their key role in the development and promulgation of Poland’s new pro-life law.
Now, after such successful legal advocacy, the establishment of the Collegium Intermarium seems like a natural ‘next step’ for them. It will provide them with a robust institutional foundation on which the main ‘pillars’ of their activities—that is, research, training, and advocacy, as well as the development of a broad international network—may continue to be built.
The lessons of history
The gathering by the column in Castle Square that morning has to be seen as profoundly historic. The location is certainly symbolically appropriate: Polish King Sigismund III had erected that column in 1644 to mark the move of the Polish capital from Kraków to Warsaw. Four centuries later, it has marked the launch of an initiative that seeks to rebuild, restore, repair.
During Zych’s address, a group of students held large photographs of the city of Warsaw, in ruins, taken just after the Second World War. In this part of Europe, there are a lot of ruins though not all of them physical or material. The tragic memories and harsh lessons of the 20th century are still alive in the minds and psyche of the people. But even decades of totalitarianism have failed to crush the people of Poland and Central Europe. In fact, it has made them stronger, more resilient.
Those involved in the Collegium Intermarium are deeply aware of all this. In fact, the new educational venture is a recognition of this history, reminding people how Poland—as well as others across the Visegrad region—has always stood strong, despite war, oppression, totalitarian regimes. In his address, Zych cited this strength and resilience. Such strength, Zych notes, was gained through suffering. And today it makes them more capable of resisting invasive new ideologies—like those that threaten academic freedom across the West.
The future of academic life
Following Zych’s address, a series of panel discussions in a nearby venue focused on these and other historical and philosophical themes. Intellectuals, journalists, and leaders from around the world—renowned Europeans like the former Czech President, Václav Klaus, the Swedish scholar of international law, Ingrid Detter de Frankopan, British journalist and president of the Danube Institute, John O’Sullivan, and the Belgian classicist and historian, David Engels, as well as the American political scholar (and deputy editor of American Affairs) Gladden Pappin, the Polish-American economist and journalist, Matthew Tyrmand, and Newsweek magazine’s opinion editor, Josh Hammer—all spoke of the importance of classical values to education, the legal heritage of the West and its future, and even Central European integration, for example.
But the recurring theme was the dismal state of the academy. In an age in which neo-Marxist groups, woke censors, and social engineers have imposed greater restrictions across societies and imposed their ideology in the academy, the Collegium Intermarium is thus an important response—and an inspiration. It is also proof that a healthy and sound academic life, firmly rooted in the Western tradition, can indeed be resuscitated in the very heart of a modern, new university.
Despite the degradation of the academic dogma that began in the 1960s, and today’s woke revolution, not all is lost. And if the Collegium Intermarium—whose goal is nothing less than rebuilding what the “long march” through the cultural institutions destroyed—can demonstrate that we can do something positive and that new institutions can be established, inspiring similar ventures across the Visegrad region—then perhaps there will be something to preserve in the future.