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70 years of OEI

The Institute for East European Studies

The Institute for East European Studies
Image Credit: Anna Khaerdinova

In November 1951, three years after the founding of Freie Universität, the Institute for Eastern European Studies was opened at the FU Berlin. The establishment of a separate institute for the study of Eastern Europe was a programmatic signal: It was necessary to establish research on Eastern Europe that was able to free itself from the old tendencies of Nazi-oriented "Ostforschung" - and at the same time, in view of the new realities of the Cold War, had to find a place in the changed world and academic order. To meet these challenges, a structurally new form of organization was chosen that was characterized by interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity and combined policy advice with basic scientific research. The founding professors Werner Philipp (History), Walter Meder (Law), Erich Kosiol and Karl Thalheim (Economics), and Max Vasmer (Slavic Studies) played a central role in this. A little later, other departments were added for art history, medicine, regional studies, education and sociology.

In addition to academic work in research and teaching, the aim was to make the knowledge acquired accessible to a wider public and, as Ernst Reuter demanded at the ceremony marking the opening, to create an awareness that the countries behind the Iron Curtain "belonged to Europe and that the Institute should contribute to forging a bond with the Eastern European peoples and point the way to a better future." The Osteuropa-Institut is committed to this mission to this day.

The Osteuropa-Institut's seventy-year history mirrors Berlin's and Germany's eventful relations with its eastern neighbors in the 20th and 21st centuries. The turbulent founding phase, during which very different people and positions were brought together, is as much a milestone for this as the period of student protests at the end of the 1960s and the years of system collapse and system transformation since the 1990s. In the course of these massive changes, the Institute itself changed along with Eastern European studies. Through the fall of communism, it came under massive pressure to justify itself and fought for its existence for years. Today, the Institute is once again a central location for international research on Eastern Europe.