The International Scientific Conference - Kaunas - March, 2007 - by Ingrida Veliute Print E-mail

The International Scientific Conference
"Research, protection, reconstruction and rehabilitation of fortresses"

21-23 March, 2006 - Kaunas, Lithuania
 

Cities and Fortifications - Contemplations after the Conference by Ingrida Veliute

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One early morning in March in the central building of the Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) started not the way it usually does: there were greetings in English, German, Polish, Russian, Dutch, Swedish, Italian, Danish, Hungarian, and other languages. On 21-23 March, the VMU Military History Centre, together with Kaunas City Municipality and the Institute of Architecture and Construction of Kaunas University of Technology organized a long-planned international scientific conference entitled "Research, Protection, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation of Fortresses."


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This conference was planned as one of the concluding works of the international project INTERREG IIIB "Baltic Fort Route." Hundreds questions asked by the guests – what, where, when? Marvelling and joyful smiles at receiving positive replies, pleasant gifts to the organizers – all that promised a successful start.

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The organizers of the conference did their best to invite as many most famous specialists in fortifications, who work in various European universities, institutes, museums, and fortifications as possible. The plan was to reveal not only the history of the fortifications, but also the scientific part of renovating the fortifications, it was also expected to receive practical advice on how to preserve and use the fortifications.

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The conference was opened by the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities of the VMU, R. Marcinkevičienė, PhD, who gave a warm and heartfelt welcome speech. Later on, the representatives of the Institute of Architecture and Construction of Kaunas University of Technology, Kaunas City Municipality, and the lead partner of the project, the mayor of Kostrzyn nad Odrą, A. Kunt, gave their speeches. However, the welcome speeches were not the main reason why the participants gathered at the conference, this is why the reports were much awaited.

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The first plenary session was opened by Dr. R. Rolf from the Netherlands, who has written several books on the topic of fortifications, among them a Dictionary on Modern Fortifications. Since quite a number of the participants were to read their speeches, the organisers had to divide the conference into parallel sessions, which helped to save time and allowed the listeners to choose the topic they were interested in and to listen to the speeches they wanted to listen to.

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The parallel sessions took place in the buildings that were close to each other – in the VMU's small hall and the Mykolas Römeris Law Reading Room. It is difficult to mention all the speakers and to discuss all the speeches, because some representatives made informative reports about their fortifications, rather than scientific reports. For example, Gdańsk bunkers were presented by S. Bryla, Latvia's seashore fortifications were presented by J. Melkonovs, the Giżycko and Modlin fortifications, located not far away from Kaunas, were presented by L. Bieliewski and M. Wojda.

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However, there were some speeches that were on very narrow research topics. F. Riesbeck, PhD, together with G. Issbruecker examined the complex problem involving the nature and monuments in Kaunas, Kaliningrad, and other fortifications; the history and topicalities of the Kaunas fortification was presented by N. Steponaitytė, assoc. Prof. K. Zaleckis and VMU Military History Centre employees.

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The topical issue of the bats was also discussed, the in-depth presentation about that was presented by Prof. Dr. N. Paužienė. The topic of the restoration works was also discussed, a lot of attention to this topic was dedicated by the presentations given by C. Scheletema, L. Pardela, and others.

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Quite a lot of attention was given to the possibilities of using the fortifications and to the projects that have already been implemented. The colleagues from the Netherlands – Dr. P.G.M. P. Ros, Germany – A. Taube, PhD, United Kingdom – J. Cable, and Poland – P. Twardochleb, K. Bilska had the most to say about the results that have been achieved already and how to achieve these results.

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Organizing the conference, listening to the speeches, and communicating with the guests gave a lot of wide experience. The contacts with the European scientists and various institutions have been made; the talks about various expert agreements were initiated. It is expected that after publishing the articles and presentations, more attention will be given to the possibilities to organize further conferences.

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The organizers wanted the guests, especially those who came to Lithuania and Kaunas for the first time, to leave with good memories, with good mood, and with the contacts they needed. The guests surprised the organizers with their cordiality and good opinion about the conference.

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After a long excursion in the city, during the visit to the IX Fort, most of the guests felt a relief and just said - Finally, You have brought us to a fortification.

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In the meantime, the general secretary of the International Fortress Council C. G. Scheltema, when looking at the seen in the distance Fort of the fortification said - You know, during my life I have visited so many forts that I cannot find anything new in them. I know everything there, I know each detail present in them, but I am glad that I had the possibility to visit you and to simply communicate with you.

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The doctoral student of the University of Wroclaw, L. Pardela, was of similar opinion, when evaluating the organization of the conference as well as the possibility to get acquainted with the scientists from the Humboldt University of Berlin, who write on similar subjects, and to agree about the lectures for the Wroclaw students in Berlin.

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The conference received the least attention from Kaunas's students. Even though thanks to the help from the VMU history students the organizers managed to not only faster prepare for the conference, but also to make very good first impression to the guests, there was lack of interest from other universities; the guests of the conference also noted that the students did not participate. Perhaps it is still related to the very persistent attitude towards the Kaunas fortification as a fortification belonging to a "foreign" state and history.

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However, the majority of the cities also have the same problem of "foreign fortifications," which they successfully use to improve the tourist potential. Perhaps for this or many other reasons, the VMU has been hosting for several weeks now the exhibition by G. Česonis "Walks around the Kaunas Fortification".

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The conference guests also could "walk" the places they were not taken to due to lack of time during the half-a-day excursion to Kaunas and the fortification.

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Perhaps one day this exposition will travel to some distant European fortification. One does not have to learn the difficult Lithuanian words to feel the reality caught in the pictures, it is enough to see with your heart. Perhaps not all the speeches were equally impressive, perhaps the organizers did not manage to host all the guests as warmly, but even the stubborn equipment and broken-down overhead projector did not manage to spoil the good mood.

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The caring VMU staff has contributed to that considerably. A lot of sincere work has been put in, and the reward is the satisfied guests, new contacts, and the good image of the university and the city.

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