Another seminar in the Rethinking Leadership. Oxford Series is behind us! This time, together with our guests and partners, we tackled the topic of “The Burden of Memory: How can we build solidarity when our memories clash?”.

27th October at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford we had the privilege of continuing our Rethinking Leadership. Oxford Seminar Series. This time we focused on difficult questions of building solidarity despite differing historical memories of social, ethnic and national groups.

Our first speaker Dr Robert Kostro, director of Polish History Museum, has presented the multi-faceted nature of relationship between history and contemporary politics to the audience, thus explaining the role of history cultivated and upheld by nation-states within politics of memory. History is seen and interpreted through the lens of collective identities, which gives birth to different visions of the same events. That does not however invalidates these differences but rather forms a starting point for authentic dialogue.
Prof. Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski provided a detailed description of remembrance of the Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the changing reception of Constitution of 3 May 1791 among Poles and Lithuanians historically and nowadays. We got to understand why the attitude of both these nations is often so different in interpreting their long common history. Prof. Butterwick-Pawlikowski has also dared to propose the perspective that sees the reforms of the late Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as the “road not taken” to the XIX-th century; a distinct way to modernity that almost managed to succeed in omitting danger of absolutism on the way of forming a political system based on orderly liberty.
Lord John Alderdice has spoken about the long and arduous process of healing national memories from historical trauma. According to him, the past is not to be overcome or forgotten but rather accepted. Because we can only add a better present to the past but never replace it, forgiveness is possible but always on the basis of conscious acceptance of historical truth. True leadership that is able to guide that process does not attempt to force forgiveness or transformation on others, but inspires them to these things on the basis of integral example given by internally transformed leader.

At the end, participants of the seminar offered their questions and debate continued on, showing both audience’s interest in the topic and its vitality. Are memory and history one and the same or not? How do modern social media influence memory? What is the role of emotions in shaping memory? Is history doomed to become the permanent moot point between nations and groups? Despite challenging question, our guests presented a convincing case for solidarity, forgiveness and dialogue.

We thank to all our guests and partners, especially Polish History Museum, Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and Oxford Polish Association. This project is financed by Polish National Foundation – thank you!

We invite you to the next international seminar in the “Rethinking Leadership” series on 24th November!

For online attendance please register via the Two Wings Institute’s “>profile on EventBrite or at