Federal Institute for East European and International Studies

The German "Federal Institute for East European and International Studies" (Bundesinstitut für ostwissenschaftliche und internationale Studien, BIOst), active from 1961 to 2000, was one of the most important anti-communist political research institutes in Europe, specializing in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and China. It was based in Cologne and was subordinated to the authority of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Innern, BMI).

History

It appears the BIOst's creation was preceded by an almost two year-long discussion in the Bundestag (German parliament) that goes back to at least 1959. At the time the Bundestag discussed about the creation of an "Institute for the Study of World Communism" (Institut zur Erforschung des Weltkommunismus). A footnote of a Bundestag protocol from that time refers to a proposal submitted by the Interior Ministry (BMI):1

The BMI's submission of 8 July 1959 foresees the establishment of a central research center on questions of Marxism-Leninism in order to counter the influence of Marxist-Leninist ideology more effectively. One of the main tasks of the institute would be to observe the intellectual-ideological and structural changes within the Eastern Bloc with special attention to the Afro-Asian developing countries. The financial requirements have been estimated at DM 660,000 per year. The institute should be given the legal form of a dependent federal institution. In its submission of 31 July 1959, the AA [Foreign Office] also suggested that greater attention should be paid to the practical development of the communist movement within and outside the Eastern Bloc.

The discussions seem to have dragged on for almost two years. Finally, with a decree dated April 6, 1961, the BIOst was established, according to the wishes of the BMI, as an institute with an ideological focus, under the name "Federal Institute for the Study of Marxism-Leninism," or short "Institute for Soviet Studies" (Bundesinstitut zur Erforschung des Marxismus-Leninismus / Institut für Sowjetologie).2

In 1963, Heinz Brahm, a political scientist and historian fresh from the university, joined the institute as a research assistant. He would later be responsible for the subject areas society, ideology and domestic politics of the countries of the Eastern Bloc. His department followed the changes in the Soviet Union and in the Eastern Bloc, from the Stalin era via Khrushchev and Brezhnev to the reform period of Gorbachev.

When the institute moved to a larger building in Cologne-Ehrenfeld in May 1966, its name was changed to "Federal Institute for East European and International Studies," which signalled a move away from a focus on ideology towards a more comprehensive field of research. Subsequently, the institute became a broader advisory body to the Federal Government, researching the political, social and economic developments in the Soviet Union, and later its successor states; the states of Central and South Eastern Europe; the People's Republic of China; and other communist-ruled states among developing countries.

1970s

There is very little information about the daily operations of the BIOst besides its extensive list of publications (the German National Archive references 759 publications3), and scattered biographical data of several of its employees.

The managing director of the BIOst from 1976 until its dissolution in 2000 was the economist Heinrich Vogel (1937-2014). From 1977 (?) to 1985, Alexander Rahr was a member of the BIOst research project "Soviet Elite," which closed down in 2000. Rahr (born 1959 in Taipei, Taiwan), is an Eastern European historian, business consultant, political scientist, and publicist, and son of the key German NTS figure, Gleb Rahr. In an RT Deutsch interview from January 2019 Rahr gives some background to his work as a spy that he started even before he had finished high school:4

Fasbender: Sasha, nine non-fiction books, one novel. How did all this come to pass, and what holds your work together?

Rahr: Well, friendly critics say I am the actual spider in the net of German-Russian relations … It all started during my last year in high school. That was when I signed my first contract with the Federal Republic of Germany. That was with the East-West Institute (Ost-West-Institut) in Cologne. My task was to write biographies of Soviet leaders, and all the material I gathered at the time was fed into a large computer … Then a professor from Cologne, Professor Schneider, was pressing a button —shortly before the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982— since we wanted to find out on the base of that research, who would be Brezhnev’s successor … It was in 1979 that I started out with the project, and for four years have worked  on it every night. This is also how, after my high school degree, I earned my money: by way of writing biographies about the Soviet leadership. These included people from the Central Committee … And after the famous pressing of the button, there suddenly appeared only one possible candidate: Andropov. He was at the time head of the KGB. But the project was suddenly suspended, because the German side, and also the federal government, said: “That can’t be. A KGB cannot replace Brezhnev.” It was not possible at that time, but it worked out in the end. And finally the project was continued, and I went back to work on the project for several years. In parallel I have started to work for Radio Free Europe, with the Americans, at a research institute, where I improved my Russian skills. It was more of a place of discovery for me as a researcher. I was no propagandist, but with great interest I studied the [Russian] materials and TV shows… I think we disposed of the only technical facility that could directly look into Russia. Some would say, we spied on them… As a young scientist I have written my first term papers on the base of that material. But then suddenly, with Clinton becoming president, Radio Free Europe in Munich was closed in 1992, and I did not want to move to Prague where many of them [Munich employees] went. Furthermore, Soros bought the valuable archive, and to spend my time for Soros I did not want at any cost. This is why I joined the Society for Foreign Policy (Gesellschaft für auswärtige Politik).

Thomas Fasbender interviewing Alexander Rahr on RT Deutsch.

Rahr must have misspoken when he called the institute that he had worked at “East-West Institute,” since in other places it is stated that he had worked with the BIOst at that time.5 That he worked for the institute is furthermore indicated by the fact that his collection of biographies of Soviet leaders (Biographien der sowjetischen Politbüro-Mitglieder) had been published in 1984 by the BIOst.6 Interestingly, in 2019 these were re-published in English by Routledge under the title A Biographical Directory Of 100 Leading Soviet Officials.7

The scenario that Rahr describes in regards to Andropov seems also to point to the BIOst, since aforementioned Heinz Brahm, who had been with the institute almost from the beginning, had written a book entitled “The Soviet Union in the transition from Brezhnev to Andropov” that appeared in 1984.8

The “Professor Schneider” that Rahr is mentioning in the interview must be Eberhard Schneider (*1941), who had worked for the BIOst from mid-1976 until it closed down in 2000. Born in 1941, Schneider grew up in the GDR, and apparently embarked alone on trespassing to Western Germany in 1958, where he finished his studies. From 1966 to 1970 he worked at the Institute for the Study of the USSR9, a CIA cover organization10 headquartered in Munich, which, until its dissolution in 1971, was subordinated to the Radio Liberty Committee in Washington. From 1971 to mid-1976, Schneider was a lecturer on Eastern Europe at the International Institute for Politics and Economics “Haus Rissen” in Hamburg. In those years, “Haus Rissen” regularly organized conferences and held talks with important political representatives of the GDR and the USSR on behalf of the Federal Government. Schneider was significantly involved in these unofficial explorations - partly in East Berlin and in Moscow.

Another interesting figure from the BIOst is Ole Diehl, a political scientist and diplomat, who had joined the BIOst in 1988. In 1992 he wrote his thesis on the Soviet Union, and would subsequently embark on an illustrious career, which culminated in his appointment to vice-president of the German foreign intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst from 2016-2019, as deputy to the meanwhile ousted Hans-Georg Maaßen. 

1990s

Gerhard Simon, a graduate in history and Slavic studies, who had been working for the institute since 1968, was executive scientific director of the BIOst from 1991 to 2000.11 In this period he was head of the research division Russia and other CIS countries.

At the end of 2000, the institute was dissolved and its staff transferred to the research institute of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik ("Science and Policy Foundation"), the institution behind the foundation of the "German Institute for International and Security Affairs" (Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit). The Berlin-based international relations think tank, founded in 1965, has an advisory function to the Bundestag and the federal government on foreign and security policy issues, much alike the BIOst.

In retrospect, Heinz Brahm, longstanding head of the research department and Scientific Director of the Institute, praised the role of the Federal Institute as the "hub of Eastern European research" and described it in 2005 in the journal Osteuropa:12

Five years have passed since the closure of the Federal Institute for Eastern European and International Studies (BIOst). The interdisciplinary BIOst, as a link between Eastern European research and the German government, was a novelty. Political scientists, economists and lawyers had to constantly compare their findings in roundtable discussions. Although the BIOst worked for many ministries, its actual strength was research. The institute was neither taken over by those ministries nor did it follow academic cycles. It was an open house in which students worked and journalists found interlocutors. The scientists gained insights through contacts that were hardly possible elsewhere.

Other People

Prof. Dr. Boris Meissner (1915-2003)

1940 Assistant at the Universities of Poznan and Wroclaw, 1941-1945 military service, 1947-1953 assistant and lecturer for Eastern European law at the Research Centre for International Law and Foreign Public Law at the University of Hamburg, 1953-1959 in the Foreign Service, there 1953-1956 Head of Division 350 (Soviet Union, East Lectorate), 1956-1958 at the Embassy in Moscow, 1958-1959 Foreign Service Head of Division 702 (Political Structural Issues of the Eastern Bloc) and Division 703 (Socioeconomic Structural Issues of the Eastern Bloc), 1959-1964 University professor in Kiel, there director of the Seminar for Politics, Society and Law of Eastern Europe, and 1964-1984 in Cologne, there director of the Institute for Eastern European Law, Cologne, 1961-1971 member of the board of directors of the Federal Institute for Eastern European and International Studies, Cologne, 1959-1982 member of the board of directors of the Ostkolleg, Cologne.