The research activities conducted at the Institute for East European Studies involve the areas of Eastern Europe, Eastern Central Europe, and Southeastern Europe and include the historical, cultural, political, and economic origins and current definitions of these regions. Differences and commonalities, especially in relation to Western Europe, are examined from a comparative, cross-regional, and intercultural perspective. Research at the Institute for East European Studies is also dedicated to the internal regional specifics of individual sub-regions defined according to political, cultural, or economic factors. Here as well, comparative aspects are of particular relevance.
The interdisciplinary research profile of the Institute is based on a structure of six professorships, defined according to individual subjects: Historical Studies, Cultural Studies, Political Science, Law, Sociology, and Business and Economics. These professorships are also represented with chairs within the Institutes and Departments that comprise their respective disciplines:
- Friedrich Meinecke Institute for Historical Studies within the Department of History and Cultural Studies,
- Peter Szondi Institute for General and Comparative Literature within the Department of Philosophy and Humanities,
- Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science and Institute for Sociology within the Department of Political and Social Sciences,
- Department of Business and Economics
- Department of Law.
Research projects by these professorships are based, within Freie Universität, on cooperative initiatives at both the department level and at the level of the central institutes concerned with regional studies. The Institute for East European Studies is involved in national and international research alliances with a number of different projects.
All of the divisions represented within the Institute for East European Studies perform their research both from a historical and diachronic perspective and with reference to the present day. As regards the former aspect, the focus lies in particular on issues of the varying historical definitions of the other and the self in and regarding Eastern Europe. The research aims to establish the region delineated as “Eastern European” since the Enlightenment, in its era-specific changing geopolitical and geocultural formats, while also considering the macro-historic and micro-historic factors involved in this process. (An in-depth historical view of the polarizing events and factors in the European sphere of civilization during the Middle Ages and early modern period and of the aftereffects of the division of Europe into the Western and Eastern Roman or Latin/Catholic and Byzantine/Orthodox hemispheres serves as the basis for these investigations.) The research looks at the polarization of Europe in light of the history of industrialization and modernization through the 19th century and the revolutions of the 20th century. One particular area of emphasis is the break between Eastern and Western Europe in the world order established after World War II.
The institute’s present-day research examines above all the trends in the development of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of its sphere of influence. Where perceptions of the other and of the self that are held by today’s Eastern European nations, ethnic groups, and societies are currently still dominated primarily by the accentuation of a “post-Communist” Eastern European identity – meaning by a negative delimitation and a sense of being liberated from and distinct from the sphere of Soviet hegemony that applied for several decades, a sphere defined by the ideological internal and external fronts of the Cold War – these perceptions are increasingly developing into alternative and positive models of definition. These models encompass a broad range of competing ideas, from nationalist and ethnic separatism to promotion of integration into a broader Europe, and even ideas that embrace wider globalization.