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The History of the East European Institute

Rear view of the East European Institute in Munich in Schreinerstraße 11 (Institute building from 1959 to 2007). Image credit: Hermann Beyer-Thoma

The Hans Koch Era

The Institute for East European Studies (OEI), a non-university institution jointly funded by the Free State of Bavaria and the German Federal Government, resumed its activities in Munich on February 1, 1952. With a remarkable lack of critical awareness, it saw itself as the successor to the Wrocław institution (formerly Breslau) of the same name, which had existed from 1918 until 1945. Its first director in Munich, Hans Koch (1884–1959), had led the Wrocław institution from 1937 to 1940. Koch, a protestant theologian and historian of the Eastern Churches born in Lviv, was by no means an uncontroversial character. As an outstanding expert on Ukraine, he had fulfilled important, and sometimes problematic, commissions during World War II. The priorities he set for the OEI complied with the requirements of the time: responding to the widespread thirst for information and ideological orientation regarding the new situation in a politically and ideologically divided Europe, he dedicated a large amount of his time to lectures on current issues. The Institute's research activities served to build a secure foundation of informed knowledge, while promoting the intellectual debate about Soviet Marxism. Reference works such as the Sowjetbuch (Soviet Book, published in 1957) and the encyclopedia 5000 Sowjetköpfe (5,000 Soviet Minds, published in 1959) deserve a special mention in this context. The peak of Hans Koch's career was in 1955, when he accompanied Konrad Adenauer as an advisor on the chancellor’s journey to Moscow. That said, the Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas (Yearbooks for the History of Eastern Europe), which had been established in Breslau as one of the leading specialist publications (especially on the history of Russia), were also relaunched at the OEI in Munich in 1952 based on their predecessor publications.

Prüfening Abbey near Regensburg had initially been discussed as a location for the OEI in the first postwar period. As, in those days, Regensburg had neither a university nor any other academic infrastructure, the decision was soon made in favor of Munich which, in the early postwar years, had become a meeting place for highly qualified experts specializing in Eastern Europe. In the years that followed, a number of institutions emerged here whose purpose was, on the one hand, to conduct research on the communist world and, on the other, to engage in an ideological and propagandistic fight against it.

Increasing Focus on Social and Economic Research

Around 1960, the “political” orientation of parts of the German research landscape on Eastern Europe, including that of the OEI, was coming under increasing criticism. The social sciences in general took on more importance and there were calls for closer cooperation both among the Munich institutions with a focus on Eastern Europe and with the university; as early as 1965, the German Council of Science and Humanities had demanded their consolidation. In 1963, Hans Raupach, holder of the newly established Chair of Economics and Society in Eastern Europe, took over the management of the Institute after Koch’s death and a brief interlude with the Munich-based historian of Southeast Europe Georg Stadtmüller. Without delay, Raupach began to set up a department for socioeconomic research, the establishment of which had already been decided in 1961. For this purpose, the Institute was granted posts for an economist in 1964 and a sociologist in 1966. Both positions were filled by young scholars who had not yet completed their doctoral degrees and who then found themselves overwhelmed with editorial work. Thus, in the beginning, this new research department made only slow progress. In 1969, economist Heinrich Vogel earned his doctoral degree and was appointed permanent deputy director. Success was quick to follow. Together with the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Munich, the Institute initiated a two-year postgraduate course on Economies of Eastern Europe, which from 1964 to 1970, received start-up funds from the Stiftung Volkswagenwerk foundation. The project “Einflussfaktoren im Wachstumsprozess der UdSSR unter den ökonomischen und gesellschaftlichen Bedingungen der sowjetischen Industriegesellschaft” (Factors influencing the USSR's growth process under the economic and societal conditions of Soviet industrial society), which ran from 1970 to 1976 with the support of the German Research Foundation (DFG), clearly contrasted with the prevailing Ostforschung (research on the East) in its feeling of obligation toward the generally accepted empirical statistical methods of social science. The work culminated in a statistically estimated, macroeconomic model of the Soviet economy that was the first of its kind. These studies brought the Institute further temporary research positions and worldwide recognition. The establishment of the academic journal Jahrbuch der Wirtschaft Osteuropas (Yearbook of the Economy in Eastern Europe) in 1970 can be seen as a visible expression of the aspirations and success of this fledgling Economics Department.

In 1976, Hans Raupach retired and, a year later, his former deputy Heinrich Vogel became the director of the German Federal Institute for Eastern and International Studies in Cologne. Under the joint leadership of Günter Hedtkamp and his deputy Hermann Clement—both of whom were economists—the Institute experienced a long period of consolidation and expansion. The two men successfully attracted a good number of regular commissions for research and expert opinions from the Federal Ministry of Finance. Another great success in 1984 was the approval of the project Deutsche in der Sowjetunion (Germans in the Soviet Union), jointly applied for with American partners at the Volkswagen Foundation, which paved the way for research on ethnic Germans in Russia, which was soon a burgeoning field. This was followed by a number of further projects, some of which were not only funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, but also by the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

In 1976, Georg Stadtmüller, head of the small History Department, was replaced by Edgar Hösch, who also succeeded him in the Chair of East and Southeast European History. Despite being an extraordinarily modest but in academic and organizational terms highly successful scholar, Hösch was very good at attracting third-party funds and motivating his staff. In addition to the research project Das Russlandbild in der deutschen Parteipresse 1859–1870 (The image of Russia in the German party press, 1859–1870), funded by the German Research Foundation at Stadtmüller's instigation, Hösch created the research focus Zwischen Demokratie und Volksdemokratie (Between democracy and people's democracy), which was dedicated to investigating the goals and policies of the losers in the struggles for power during the mid to late 1840s. In this context, several projects on Poland and Finland were successfully completed in the 1980s.

In as early as 1990, Hösch realized the immense opportunities that the electronic media, and later the internet, offered for the further development of the Institute's central, specialized information and service activities. Hösch advanced the digitization of Erik Amburger's extensive register of foreigners in prerevolutionary Russia that was successfully completed at the OEI in 2000 with the support of third-party funds and later became the basis of the Erik Amburger Search Database of the OEI and today of the IOS. In the same year, Hösch grasped the opportunity offered by one of the German Research Foundation's new funding priorities and attracted funds together with partners such as the Institute for Southeast European Studies, which he also led, to set up the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Osteuropa (Virtual Library for Eastern Europe—ViFaOst). As part of this project, the Institute's various bibliographic and information services for German and international research into Eastern Europe was transferred to the internet by means of state-of-the-art database technology. ViFaOst's successor project, OstDok, which aims at the promotion of electronic publishing on Eastern Europe, is still running.

The Aftermath of the Fall of Communism in 1989/1991

The upheaval of 1989 initially led to a new demand for the services of the Economics Department in particular. Practical policy advice was especially crucial during the period of transformation and the influence of members of the OEI on events during these important transitional years is not to be underestimated. Thanks to their language skills, their profound knowledge of the region, and their research on the weaknesses of the socialist system, they were in an excellent position to put their expertise to practical use. Researchers of the OEI were advisers to Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and especially Ukraine, but also to various countries of the Balkans. They often had access to high-ranking decision-makers. During this period, many new contacts were made and existing connections reestablished. When it came to the economic research activities of the Institute itself, the renewed international interest in economic systems and transitional economies caused by the fall of the Iron Curtain was seen, in as early as 1991, as the opportunity to replace the Jahrbuch der Wirtschaft Osteuropas (Yearbook of Eastern European Economies) with an English-language periodical; printed by Elsevier, Economic Systems is a highly regarded international journal which the IOS still publishes.

The early years of the new millennium marked another turning point in two respects. First, eastward expansion of the European Union in May 2004 influenced the range of research topics at the Institute, so that work now focused on the convergences and divergences of the paths of growth. As a consequence, new research fields were defined, such as the transfer of technical know-how, the increase and change in trade flows between East and the West, migration, fiscal reorganization combined with macroeconomic stability, the reforms of the social system in the transitional countries, and issues concerning the expansion of the Eurozone, to name but a few. In addition, the geographical focus was extended to include the successor states of the former Soviet Union, so the OEI was now increasingly investigating Central Asia, a very exciting region in many respects, and one which had so far barely been studied by German researchers.

Second, at the time periodical commissions for expert reports for Federal Ministries were discontinued and this had a big impact on the OEI as it was more or less tantamount to a cancellation of its institutional funding. In response to this, attempts were made to replace the descriptive style, which, due to nature of the commissions, had dominated economic research work up till then,  with methodologically more sophisticated approaches in order to enhance the quality of research. These changes coincided—once again—with the management of the Institute being taken on by a new, younger generation. From 2001 to 2005, the Institute was led by Lutz Hoffmann who was succeeded by Joachim Möller, and in October 2007, by Jürgen Jerger; all three men were professors at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Regensburg at the time. The aim of developing a closer relationship with the academic and research environment of the university was achieved not least thanks to the appointment, in cooperation with the University of Regensburg, of Professor Richard Frensch as vice director of the OEI.

The still significantly smaller History Department, however, also rose to the challenges that had come with the political changes since 1989, transformation, and globalization by intensifying its onsite archive and literature research in a way that, for a long time, had not been possible. The OEI thus became, for example, one of the few institutions in the German-speaking world to develop a research focus on the history of Ukraine.

Archive Material on the History of the East European Institute (1952–2011)

The Institute's records are an extremely important resource with regard to the history of German research on Eastern Europe from the 1950s onwards. For the longest time, however, these were hardly accessible to researchers given that they were kept at the OEI itself, or later at the IOS, where, as is usually the case in institutions of this kind, there was no archival expertise.

This situation has fundamentally changed since the beginning of 2020, when a large part of the records of the OEI for the period up to around 1999 were transferred on permanent loan to the Archives of the Bavarian State (Munich). That said, the records still have to be professionally processed by Department V (Legacies and Collections) and can therefore only be used in part and only after prior consultation with the Archives. A preliminary list of this transferred inventory can be found here. The same applies to the extensive Hans Koch archive, which was transferred to Munich together with the other records at the beginning of 2020. In future, due to its size and importance, the items from Hans Koch’s estate will form their own archive collection.

For the most important legacies concerning the IOS, see also the section "Archives and Legacies".

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