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History of the Institute for Southeast European Studies

Bild: IOS/Kurz

History Before 1945

The Institute for Southeast European Studies (SOI) was set up in Munich in 1930 by a foundation jointly established for this purpose by the Free State of Bavaria and the German Imperial Government and located at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München as a form of affiliated institute. Under its first director, Karl Alexander von Müller, the Institute focused first and foremost on the history of the Bavarian settlement area and thus also on the German culture and civilization (Deutschtum) in the areas bordering Bavaria: Bohemia, Austria, and South Tirol. The Institute’s original name (which, similar to the that of the foundation  that established it, was the Institute for Research on German Ethnicity in Southern and Southeast Europe) emphasized this focus. A permanent testimony of this profile, which was both specifically Bavarian and also German centric, is the first 12 volumes of the publication series Südosteuropäische Arbeiten (Southeast European Studies), which were published in cooperation with the Institute for East Bavarian Heritage Research in Passau. When Fritz Valjavec joined the Institute in 1935, the focus increasingly began to shift to Southeast Europe, albeit initially with an emphasis on the German populations there. Valjavec was asked by the board of the foundation to launch a new historical journal. In 1936, the Südostdeutsche Forschungen (Southeast German Studies) were published for the first time. In 1940, the journal was renamed Südost-Forschungen (Studies on Southeast Europe), a name it has kept to this day. The journal focused on the history of the Germans in Southeast Europe as well as the general history of the separate states. For this purpose, from the very beginning, Valjavec sought contact with scholars in Southeast Europe, the vast majority of whom were not, in fact, ethnic Germans. The name Institute for Southeast European Studies (Südost-Institut) gradually became established from 1935. In 1939, it appeared for the first time in the editor's note of volume 19 of the Südosteuropäische Arbeiten, which, in turn, also took the name from volume 26 (1942) on. In general, from 1935, the “German” content was no longer the highest priority, and from 1940 at the latest, it was clearly of minor importance. Soon after the beginning of World War II, the Institute became closely affiliated with the state-run Deutsches Auslandswissenschaftliches Institut (German Institute for Foreign Studies) in Berlin, founded in January 1940 (but not in fact part of it, as is incorrectly stated in some research on the Institute’s history). Valjavec was also appointed professor of the newly established Faculty for Foreign Studies at the University of Berlin, which was founded alongside the Berliner Institut (Berlin Institute). As these Berlin connections developed, in 1943, the SOI, like most or even all German institutes focusing on foreign studies, was placed under the control of Department VI G of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichsicherheitshauptamt) of the SS. Valjavec himself served, during the second half of 1941, as chief interpreter for Task Force 10b of the Operation Group D of the Security Police and the SD in Bukovina. His possible involvement in a war crime committed by the Germans in Czernowitz in July 1941 will probably never be resolved. That said, during the further course of the war, Valjavec cultivated close contacts to Bavarian monarchist and Catholic resistance groups that opposed the Third Reich and there is also other evidence to suggest that he had distanced himself from the regime, making it rather difficult to ascertain his stance on National Socialism. The Institute continued its publishing activities during the war years until 1944. In the same year, it was evacuated to the rural area of Arbing in Lower Bavaria, but the library collection remained in Munich where it was destroyed during a bombing raid.

Post-War Reconstructions (1945–1960)

The ambivalent role Valjavec had played during the Third Reich initially prevented him from aspiring to an academic position. This is also one of the main reasons it took until 1951 to revive the SOI under the aegis of the Bavarian Ministry of Science and with the involvement of the German Chancellery. Another important reason for the delayed relaunch of the Institute was, of course, that in light of the new “Eastern Bloc”, some important science policy actors in Bonn and Munich advocated a “pan-Eastern European” approach and institution-building rather than a focus on specifically Southeast European aspects. However, as Valjavec had maintained his contacts with important figures from the political and academic worlds, the SOI soon began to flourish, from 1951 under his de facto (and since 1955 official) leadership. In addition to the History Department, studies of contemporary affairs became a new focus. Until 1990, the main aim was to conduct analyses of the politics and societies of the countries of Southeast Europe that had been transformed into communist states on the basis of accessible material (for decades, this was primarily the local press, along with statistics and law books, etc.), and to make the results of that research available to the German academic community and political sphere. Accordingly, political consulting was one of the main tasks of the Institute, with various federal ministries being the main target group and funding bodies. The journal Wissenschaftlicher Dienst Südosteuropa (Academic Service Southeast Europe) has been published since 1952 (under the title Südosteuropa” [Southeast Europe] from 1982 to 2020 and now as COMPSEES); in 1957, the first volume of the series Untersuchungen zur Gegenwartsurkunde Südosteuropas (Studies of Contemporary Events in Southeast Europe) was published. Further, starting in 1956, the publication of the Südosteuropa-Bibliographie (Southeast Europe Bibliography) filled a gap in literature research, which had become particularly difficult during the Cold War. In the same year, the Institute moved to its Munich premises in Güllstraße 7, where it remained for the next half century, and its formal funder, renamed the Foundation for Research on Southeast Europe, was given a new set of bylaws. By this time, federal ministries had joined the Bavarian Ministry of Culture as sponsors, and the SOI had established itself as an internationally important and influential institution in the field of Southeast European Studies. This reputation remained unaffected by the sudden death of Fritz Valjavec in 1960.

Prosperous Decades (1960–2000)

The temporary shock caused by the death of the person who had played such a decisive role in shaping the Institute over the previous 25 years was overcome by the quick appointment of Mathias Bernath, a Berlin-based professor of Southeast European History, as the new head of the Institute. Temporary staff contracts were converted into permanent posts. A Contemporary Studies Department was established, encompassing subdepartments for individual countries set up to satisfy the increasing demand for expertise on communist Southeast Europe. Greece and Turkey, however, were not the subject of separate research at the Institute, although both countries were represented in the Institute’s publications and in the historical definition of the greater region of Southeast Europe. With the Biographisches Lexikon zur Geschichte Südosteuropas (Biographical Encyclopedia on the History of Southeast Europe), which today is also open access, and the Historische Bücherkunde Südosteuropa (Historical Bibliography of Southeast Europe), the History Department produced two comprehensive reference works from the 1970s onwards. The fact that authors from Southeast Europe and the West were involved in their preparation is a reflection of the extensive international contacts that have been consistently maintained by the Institute as well as its excellent reputation across the area of study. However, this reputation also brought in its wake intensive surveillance of the activities of the Institute and its staff by the foreign services of countries with whom the Institute had academic partnerships. Toward the late 1970s, the Institute underwent another generational change, and, unlike in the past, only a few of the new members of staff originated from the area of study. In 1990, the Munich-based historian on Eastern and Southeast Europe Edgar Hösch succeeded Bernath as head of the Institute.

During the 1990s, when systemic transformations in the former communist states promoted the exponential expansion of intersocietal contacts with the unified Germany, and war brought about the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia from 1991, the German public became increasingly interested in Southeast Europe. The Contemporary Studies Department developed into a sought-after point of contact for the media and the political sphere.
Further, after German reunification, the Federal Republic gained international diplomatic importance, with its active policy on Southeast Europe a new area of focus. The Federal Government recognized the value of the current political analyses prepared by the SOI.

Crisis and A New Beginning (2000—2007)

This was one of the factors that led the German Government, which by then had moved to Berlin, to decide to establish a new foreign policy think tank under the umbrella of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP). It was planned to include the Federal Institute for East and International Studies (BIOst), previously located in Cologne, and the academic staff of the SOI’s Contemporary Studies Department. As a result, at the end of 2000/beginning of 2001, most of the scholars at the SOI had to move to Berlin at short notice, and the Institute for Southeast European Studies, at that time funded entirely by the Bavarian State Government, was reduced to just three academic staff members working primarily in the field of history. The Bavarian State Government's rigid fiscal policy at that time led to a reduction in the number of technical staff and also affected the work of the library. Following the failure to merge premises in Munich, an idea that had been repeatedly considered by the ministers for decades, the Bavarian Cabinet decided to relocate the Institut für Ostrecht (Institute of East European Law), the Institute for East European Studies, and the Institute for Southeast European Studies from Munich to Regensburg. The political motives for this were largely of related to internal regional Bavarian politics. In 2004, an explicit science policy initiative attempted to counter this decision with a concept mainly focused on Southeast Europe and involving the consolidation of the Munich-based institutions. In the same year, the Institute produced another standard work, the Lexikon zur Geschichte Südosteuropas (a second, significantly expanded edition was published in 2015 under the aegis of the IOS). Despite the dissolution of the Contemporary Studies Department, the journal Südosteuropa was successfully retained at the Institute thanks to the joint commitment of the remaining historians and, in particular, its main editor, Kathrin Sitzler, who had been transferred to Berlin. In 2006, the Untersuchungen zur Gegenwartskunde Südosteuropas were integrated into the Südosteuropäische Arbeiten, providing the former with increased editorial supervision. In 2007, the Institute moved to Regensburg. A new phase of the Institute’s history began.

Archival Documents on the History of the Institute for Southeast European Studies (1930—2011)

With the Institute for Southeast European studies the older of its predecessor institutes, the IOS is one of the longest established institutes for research on Southeast Europe worldwide. This also makes it unique within the German non-university research community on Eastern Europe due to its institutional link with the late Weimar Republic. Accordingly, the preserved documents of the Institute for Southeast European Studies are of great importance for the history of national and international research on Southeast Europe.

Since the first batch was received in 2001, these documents, which are on permanent loan at the Bavarian Main State Archives (Munich) in Department V (Legacies and Collections), have been professionally preserved and made accessible for research. The first major material loan at that time has been impressively documented in its own catalog. Besides the files and the official institute correspondence from 1930 to approx. 1970, the 370 archival units the catalog contains also include the extensive institute correspondence of Fritz Valjavec (36 units) from 1936 to 1960. In addition to four smaller (partial) legacies (Alfred Csallner, Lutz Korodi, Franz von Scheiger, and Lajos Liptay), the extensive estate of Carl Patsch (1865–1945; 109 archival units), which is highly important for the history of Habsburg Balkan archaeology and general Balkan research before 1918, deserves special mention.

In early 2000, a large amount of important material was, once again, sent to the Bavarian Main State Archives. The 36 moving boxes from the SOI at that time contain the Institute's correspondence and files from around 1960 to the 1990s. They have not yet been fully organized or used by researchers. The same applies to special part collections such as the partial estate of Momčilo Vuković Birčanin (Serbian monarchist activist in exile and secretary to the pretender to the throne Petar II Karađorêvić) or to 46 original letters written by Milovan Djilas from 1955 to 1961, as well as to other valuable individual items.

See also "Archives and Legacies" for what are, from the point of view of the library, the most important legacy collections in the context of the IOS.

Literature on the history of the Southeast Institute (1930–2011)

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