From Cairo to Karl-Marx-Stadt: Studying during the Cold War

To communicate science to a larger public has become increasingly important for scholars and research projects. Institutes are called upon to implement what is called "science communication" and use various media for this purpose. The OIB's project "Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950s to 1991)" is particularly apt for this purpose as it lends itself to different formats of science communication, which we successfully used during an events’ week - and of course there is no better place in this case than Berlin, which was divided into East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. So we decided on Berlin as the location for our OIB outreach-publicity event in Germany. Our photo exhibit "From the Middle East to the Eastern Bloc – Life Worlds of Middle Eastern Students during the Cold War" took place in the GDR Museum in Berlin and included a panel discussion on this topic. The second panel discussion had the title “International Solidarity, Soft Power, Science Diplomacy - Is There a Continuity from the Cold War to Today?" and took up the issue of science diplomacy and relations between states through academic exchange in historical perspective. The panel discussions were streamed and can be found on our social media channels. The conference of the overall project of the Max Weber Foundation took place in Berlin, 16/17 September, and the film festival on relationships in the Cold War on October 11/12 in Berlin (Arsenal). Both exhibit and parts of the film festival will travel to Beirut soon.

Event 1: Photo exhibition "From the Middle East to the Eastern Bloc - Student Life in the Cold War".

The photo exhibition presents on 18 panels general information about foreign students in the Eastern Bloc and especially in the GDR, concrete biographies, activities, knowledge relations and lifeworlds of Arab art students in the GDR, Poland and the USSR. It shows how Iranian communist intellectuals in exile were involved in higher education in Berlin and Warsaw, tells the story of the Turkish communist radio in Leipzig "Bizim Radyo" and its student employees. Special colleges for foreign students in Moscow and Prague are presented.  The People's Republic of Poland established the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Mosul in Iraq - this is also the subject of the exhibition.  Several panels are dedicated to women who came to study in the countries of the Eastern Bloc - aspects of emancipation and equality are addressed here; the biographies of Egypt's first prima ballerina, Magda Saleh, and the famous Turkish writer Oya Baydar are also presented.
The Exhibition took place in June, 11th – 20th, in the DDR Museum in Berlin.

Event 2: Panel Discussion "From the Middle East to the GDR - Student Life in the Cold War".

Between 1951 and 1991, approximately 75,000 students from abroad studied in GDR universities. In 1988, 13,400 students from 126 countries were enrolled, including about 2,000 from the Middle East. Who were these young people? How were they viewed by society, treated by the state, and controlled by state security? How did everyday life under socialism influence their view of the GDR and also of their countries of origin? What experiences did they bring back with them to their home countries?
- Dr. Sophia Hoffmann, Leibniz Center for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin
- Stella Kneifel M.A., University of Erfurt
- Dr. Ala Al-Hamarneh, Orient-Institut Beirut, Alumnus of the Ukrainian National University "Taras Shevtchenko" - University of Kiev, Ukraine
- Dr. Patrice Poutrus, University of Erfurt, Germany
Moderation: Prof. Dr. Birgit Schäbler, Head of the Research Project, Director of the Orient-Institut Beirut
The panel discussion took place on the 11th of June in the conference room of the DDR Museum in Berlin.

Event 3: Panel Discussion "From International Solidarity to Soft Power to Science Diplomacy - Is There a Continuity from the Cold War to Today?"
In the larger political context, the question of the relevance and efficacy of "knowledge relations" in world politics arises. Do "knowledge relations" ─ that is, relations such as those endowed by international academic mobility, years abroad, fellowships-have political relevance? Considered over time: Can we identify a continuity from the Cold War to today, i.e., from international solidarity, to soft power, to science diplomacy?
- Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, journalist, publicist, former ARD correspondent in the USSR and Russia, professor of television and journalism at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn.
- Matthias Platzeck, Chairman of the German-Russian Forum, former SPD Chairman and Minister President of Brandenburg.
- Zaur Gasimov, member of the research project and research associate at the Department of Eastern European History at the University of Bonn
Moderation and project presentation: Prof. Dr. Birgit Schäbler, head of the research project, director of the Orient-Institut Beirut
The panel discussion took place on the 16th of June in Cinema Babylon in Berlin, and was attended by a good crowd of people.

Event 4: Relationships in the Cold War – Films Between North Africa and the Eastern Bloc
Public Film Screening
Berlin, October 11/12, 2021

In cinema, the Cold War is often presented in the context of espionage and other such operations. The relationships between the Global South and the two Cold War power blocs, however, were also marked by non-alignment, anti- and post-colonialism, wars of liberation, and individual interpretations of socialism and communism.
The film festival program on the 11th and 12th October 2021 included mainly films made by North-African directors who studied in the Eastern Bloc and addresses personal and social conditions and at times a clash of ideologies.
The movie “Ahdath Sanawat al-Djamr/Chronicle of the Years of Embers” by the Algerian director, cameraman and script writer Mohamad Lakhdar-Hamina who studied at the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague at the behest of the National Liberation Front, demonstrates that the beginning of the Algerian War in 1954 was the culmination of a long battle for independence that started with the French landing in 1830. The crew of the movie includes well-known European anti-fascist activists such as Italian cameraman Francesco Gatti, Greek actor Yorgo Voyagis and French actor François Maistre. This movie is an example of the anti-colonial knowledge relations between individuals and societies in the Eastern Bloc, Western Europe and North Africa. The movie won the Golden Palm in Cannes 1975.
“Al Nil wal Haya/ Once upon a Time … the Nile” by Youssef Chahine from 1969, rejected by both the Soviet and the Egyptian authorities, is the only Soviet-Egyptian coproduction in which actors and crews from both countries worked side by side, with a soundtrack by Aram Khachaturian, script by Nikolai Figorovsky and Abdelrahman el-Sharqawi. The coproduction of Mosfilm and Cairofilm was to highlight the Egyptian-Soviet cooperation, culminating in the construction of the High Dam, but Chahine's film interprets human relations and social and political issues in both societies.
The short graduation movie “Hunting Party” (1964) by Sudanese director Ibrahim Shaddad, graduate of Eastern German Academy for Film Art Potsdam-Babelsberg is an early scream against racist violence staging the hunt for a black man within a rural community.
The Sudanese director Suliman Elnour studied in the 1970s at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow (WGIK). “Africa, The Jungle, Drums and Revolution” (1977) is based on Soviet archive material and interviews. His graduation film “It still Rotates” (1978) led him to the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, where he showed the fundamental significance of education in building the new state.


International Workshop “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950s to 1991)” at the University of Sofia

From July 22nd to 24th, the internal workshop, which had been postponed by one year due to the COVID 19 pandemic and which had been planned for Moscow, took place in cooperation with the Seminar for Arabic and Semitic Studies at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. The members of the research group, who had only met virtually for more than a year, discussed their research lively and enthusiastically - the long-missed direct exchange released a lot of creativity. Results were presented at the Connecting Themes conference “Contested Knowledge in a Connected World” within the framework of the large-scale research project “Knowledge Unbound: Internationalisation, Networking, Innovation in and by the Max Weber Stiftung”.

The Dean of the Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology, Prof. Dr. Madeleine Danova, greeted the research group and voiced her surprise that the subject of the project is so under-researched, and shared memories of her years as a university student when she had many colleagues coming from the Middle East and Africa.

Prof. Dr. Birgit Schäbler, Director of the OIB, and Dr. Alaa al Hamarneh were both thrilled by the generous hospitality of Sofia University. In her address, professor Schäbler informed the audience about the history of OIB, as well as about the main goals of the project, she also discussed the interim results of the overall research project.


MWS Connecting Themes Conference - Contested Knowledge in a Connected World

Berlin, September 16 - 17, 2021

The OIB took part in the Max Weber Stiftung’s conference  „Contested Knowledge in a Connected World” in Berlin in September. The conference brought together institutes of the Max Weber Foundation and their researchers from the large-scale research project “Knowledge Unbound”.
OIB-Director Birgit Schäbler, one of the principal investigators of the project, and the research group “Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc” played a prominent role during the conference.  In two panels – “Relations in the Ideoscape: Entanglements of Knowledge between the Middle East and the Eastern Bloc” and “Challenges in the Socialist Ideoscape: Experiences and Perspectives of Middle Eastern Students” –, they presented their research and discussed the overall ramifications of the project in two discussion panels. The OIB partners in this endeavor with 2 sister institutes, the German Historical Institutes in Moscow and Warsaw, which makes the project transregional in scope, anchoring the Middle East in the history of global issues with high local and regional relevance. Throughout the project different media, exhibits as well as podcasts and public panel discussions, were utilized, too, in an attempt to share the results of the project with a wider audience. In his keynote address - which we reproduced in German - well-known public intellectual Herfried Münkler called upon the Humanities to actively engage in what he called Gesellschaftsberatung, i.e. advise society and be active at the science-society interface, as opposed to the science-policy interface of the political and social sciences. In this vein he discussed the need for so-called inter-discourses to be added to the specialized discourses of academia. Max Weber’s writings were mostly such discourses at the science-society interface – and their legacy to the Humanities today could be seen as providing the kind of ‘deliberative and critical knowledge’ needed to counterbalance the practical and partisan knowledge usually produced in politics.  

Please find the text of the key note here

Report on the Inaugural Conference “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc 1950-1991”

by Max Weber Stiftung · Published 24. April 2019 · Updated 12. November 2019

by Ala Al-Hamarneh

The inaugural conference of the research project “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc, 1950-1991” took place at the Orient-Institute Beirut on the 19th and 20th of May 2019. The two-day conference in the form of a workshop was the first meeting of the international research team following the official commencement of the research project in March 2019. Scholars from Germany, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Poland and Russia are contributing to the cutting-edge research project on knowledge relations. The research group is part of a larger research project of the Max Weber Foundation and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany.

Group picture of the participants.

The subproject “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in Eastern Block 1950-1990” is concerned with knowledge relations between the Middle East and the Eastern Bloc in the context of the Cold War. Numerous students from the Middle Eastern region studied at universities in the USSR and countries of Eastern Europe, a space created by a common ideology, an ideoscape (Appadurai). The complex relationships which were forged through the mobility/migration of students from the Middle East and North Africa to the Eastern Bloc have often been highly persistent, far beyond the end of the Cold War. With the opening of the archives in Russia and other countries of the Eastern Bloc, research on the high number of Arab, Iranian and Turkish students is now possible.

Perspectives from Beirut, Moscow and Warsaw

Prof. Dr. Birgit Schäbler, head of the research team and director of the Orient-Institute Beirut (OIB), opened the conference by welcoming the attendees and by emphasizing the innovative character of the research project. She pointed out the importance of synchronizing and coordinating the various methodological approaches within the case studies carried out by the members of the team in order to reach the expected and projected goals. Prof. Schäbler highlighted the geographic, cultural, historical and disciplinary diversity of the research project that covers students of the social sciences, humanities, fine arts, and architecture from Arab countries, Iran and Turkey who studied in the countries of the Eastern Block after WWII until the fall of the Soviet Union. Ex-Yugoslavia and Cuba are also included. 

During the workshop.

The first session chaired by Prof. Schäbler focused on conceptual approaches, methodology and research methods that are of importance to the research. Various aspects of oral history, biographical research, and life-story methods were extensively discussed, especially within the methodological lines and trajectories of the research project. Dr. Sandra Dahlke, the director of the German Historical Institute in Moscow, and Prof. Dr. Miloš Řezník, the director of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, gave deep and comprehensive insights about the structure and the organization of different archives in Russia and Poland, possibilities of accessing the archives, and conceivable limitations of working with the documents in those archives: analyzing the available material and looking for non-systemized biographical and institutional historic documentations are two of the core research aspects of the project. 

Various case studies approaching the ideoscape

Members of the research team presented outlines of their individual research case studies, highlighting their own experiences with archive materials and interview partners. The team demonstrated their ideas of team work and research cluster building, and discussed the further conceptualization of the research as a whole. Dr. Olga Nefedova, who is studying the knowledge relations and networks of the Iraqi fine art students in the Soviet Union, explained the importance and limitations of using various types of interview techniques and concepts to receive comprehensive information. Dr. Mikuláš Pešta from Charles University in Prague, who is working on the image of Prague as an intellectual hub of knowledge production and international publications in the Socialist era, explained the importance of biographical research to his case study. Dr. Constantin Katsakioris discussed the comprehensive relations in higher education between Algeria and some countries of the Eastern Block, namely the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. The research of Dr. Dorota Woroniecka-Krzyżanowska aims to explore the relations and impacts of the Polish architectures and architecture institutes on the urban design and esthetics of Iraqi cities, and the impact of the Iraqi architecture students who studied in Poland on the (re-)configuration of knowledge relations in an ideoscape. Dr. Zaur Gasimov presented his research on the production of knowledge concerning Iran in institutions of higher learning in Poland and Hungary by two intellectual Iranian communists in exile. He pointed out the importance of discussing the ideoscape as a space of knowledge relations and productions in all its complexity and interaction. Elmin Alyiev explained the differences between the political and historical framing of the Turkish and Iranian students in the Soviet Union, where international relations, the “Azerbaijani discourse”, the Turkish internal politics, exiles and migration redefine the relations in the ideoscape between the two countries and the Soviet Union. The research primarily done and presented by Olga Nefedova, Zaur Gasimov and Elmin Alyiev demonstrates the importance of oral history and biographical research, and thus delivered a solid base for discussions on field research and research clusters.

During the discussions.

Various case studies are focusing on the role of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the knowledge relations in the ideoscape. Two PhD research projects carried out by the young scholars Stella Kneifel and Ekaterina Vasileva are focusing on Arab students of social sciences and media studies in the GDR and the Soviet Union. Another PhD research project by Parang Niakan focuses on various gender aspects within the relations in the ideoscape by exemplifying female Kurdish students from Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in the GDR.

Two OIB doctoral research fellows shared their field work experiences in Lebanon with the members of the research team: PhD candidate Molly Oringer discussed her research on the legacy of Lebanon’s Jewish community and its spaces after the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), and PhD candidate Samuel Dinger presented his field work on the practices and ethics of brokerage and exchange between Syrian and Lebanese residents in the Bekaa Valley. Susanne Polek, Nikita Volkov and Dr. Haggag Ali contributed to the discussion by pointing out different research questions, approaches and methodologies that could be used either in specifically designed case studies or in future research projects. 

The two-day workshop came to an end with a set of theoretical and methodological conclusions and practical recommendations outlined by Prof. Schäbler and Dr. Ala Al-Hamarneh, the research project coordinator.

Conference on “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc, 1950's to 1991“

In the project ”Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950's to 1991)“ within the research project “Knowledge Unbound”, the OIB cooperates with the German Historical Institutes in Moscow and Warsaw within the Max Weber Foundation, and external supporters. The conference which had been planned for Moscow in March 2020 could not take place because of the Corona pandemic and was now held as an online videoconference. The whole team of about a dozen international researchers met between 2 and 5 June 2020 to discuss the presentations of the individual research projects.

The program of the workshop was divided into eight sessions, including a final discussion round. Prof. Birgit Schäbler (Director of OIB Beirut) and Sandra Dahlke (Director of GHI Moscow) opened the conference. In the first session “Students of Social Studies and Journalism”, Stella Kneifel talked about Marxism-Leninism in study programs of social studies in the GDR, and Ekaterina Vasileva about Arab journalism graduates in the USSR. In the following session “Students of Fine Arts”, Olga Nefedova shed light on Arab art students in the USSR and Mustafa Switat talked about the interactions between Polish and Syrian students in arts education. The second day saw two sessions. The first one covered Turkey and Algeria with Elmin Aliyev and Constantin Katsakioris as speakers, and the second one covered Poland, Iraq and a special case study on Kurdish women in the GDR with Dorota Woroniecka and Parang Niakan. On the third day Zaur Gasimov talked about Iranian communist exiles in Poland and Ala al-Hamarneh about the history of Soviet/Russian alumni associations in Jordan and Lebanon.

Even though everyone is looking forward to meet in person again the video-conference worked out very well. Since it was spread out over a longer period of time participants had the chance to engage in very lively and inspired discussions.

Exhibition and Film Screening in Warsaw

The photo exhibition "From the Middle East to the Eastern Bloc - Student Lifeworlds in the Cold War" will be shown at the Ethnological Museum in Warsaw from February 15, 2022. In addition to general information about foreign students in the Eastern Bloc, the exhibition presents specific life histories, activities, knowledge relations, and lifeworlds of Arab art students in the GDR, Poland, and the USSR. The exhibition shows how Iranian communist intellectuals in exile were involved in higher education in Berlin and Warsaw and tells the story of the Turkish communist Leipzig radio station "Bizim Radyo" and its student employees. Special colleges for foreign students in Moscow and Prague are also presented. The People's Republic of Poland established the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Mosul in Iraq - this is also the subject of the exhibition. Some of the 18 panels are dedicated to women who came to study in the countries of the Eastern Bloc. Here, the focus is on aspects of emancipation and equality. The biographies of Magda Saleh, Egypt's first prima ballerina, and the famous Turkish writer Oya Baydar are also presented. The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by an introduction held by Dr. Ala al-Hamarneh (OIB), film screenings and panel discussions. 

 More Information on the MWS-Blog