Eastern Europe Expert: Senate Medal for Professor Wolfgang Eichwede

The founder and long-time director of the Research Center for Eastern Europe Studies at the University of Bremen, Professor Wolfgang Eichwede, has been awarded the senate medal for art and science of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen on June 15, 2022.

Wolfgang Eichwede came to the University of Bremen in 1974, where he held the chair of Politics and Contemporary History. Eight years later, he founded the Research Center for Eastern Europe Studies and continuously built and expanded it. He led the research center as director until his retirement in 2008. Through his activities, especially outside the institute and the chair, Eichwede has made an outstanding contribution to the development of Eastern European relations for Germany and has distinguished the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen as an internationally networked scientific location academia and science.

Bremen’s mayor Andreas Bovenschulte: “Wolfgang Eichwede has always attached importance to understanding Eastern European societies from within and to working in a scientifically comparative way. His contributions to the press, radio, and television are highly regarded and significantly contribute to a fair accurate of Eastern Europe among the German people. He was also particularly committed to the people he encountered outside of his scientific work. He selflessly mentored and supported many of the dissidents and civil rights activists as they took their first steps in the West in the areas of culture, science, and politics. Many a celebrity such as Lev Kopelew and numerous other people were and are supported by Wolfgang Eichwede in their projects in Germany.”

Bremen’s Senator of Science Dr. Claudia Schilling: “Professor Wolfgang Eichwede is an outstanding scientist who – especially as a result of his Eastern Europe expertise and as founding director of the Research Center for Eastern Europe Studies – has received recognition far beyond the borders of the city of Bremen. Within the politically driven public as well as the scientific community, he is a shining example of how social and political commitment can be combined with the management and coordination of scientific work and cultural initiatives. He is without doubt one of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen’s most important personalities.”
Professor Bernd Scholz-Reiter, President of the University of Bremen: “I warmly congratulate Wolfgang Eichwede on receiving this award. As a proven expert on Eastern Europe, he has moved a great deal beyond Bremen’s boundaries. He successfully built up the Research Center for Eastern Europe Studies at the University of Bremen during the Cold War under adverse circumstances and did not allow himself to be mislead. With his friendly, approachable, and diplomatic manner, he has always been an impressive mediator between different cultures and political systems. To this day, Wolfgang Eichwede remains a figurehead for the University of Bremen.”

Contacts with Oppositionists

As part of his research work, Eichwede and the Research Center personally established close contacts with oppositionists in the states of Eastern and East Central Europe. As a result, the Research Center now has one of the most extensive collections of documents from the underground of the former Eastern bloc countries (Samizdat Archive). This is considered to be unique in Europe. Bovenschulte: “Former Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek has called the Research Center ‘part of European memory’. Is there any finer praise?”
Through his work on the Samizdat Archive, Eichwede also maintained intensive relations with the stakeholders of Memorial (international society for historical enlightenment, human rights, and social welfare) in Moscow – intensive relations from its founding until its liquidation by the Russian state. This organization combined processing Russia’s totalitarian past with the creating social networks for the victims and with building a civil society in Russia. Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Eichwede has once again supported these stakeholders, who fear for their lives, by means of “civil society diplomacy” from the underground and exile.

Services to Returning Stolen Works of Art

In addition, Eichwede also worked intensively the return of illegally stolen works of art during the Second World War. He is the Kunsthalle Bremen’s representative for questions concerning the art gallery’s works that were brought to Russia and Ukraine toward the end of the war. At the same time, he also takes care of works of art lost by Russia and Ukraine. His negotiations made it possible to organize repatriations in both directions. Andreas Bovenschulte: “They played a significant role in ensuring that a mosaic from the Amber Room was returned to St. Petersburg and that 101 ‘graphic sheets’ from Moscow could to return to their home in the Kunsthalle Bremen. The discovery of the mosaic was spectacular and its story reads like a detective novel. Only thanks to this could the Amber Room be reconstructed in the palace.”
Wolfgang Eichwede has been honored with several national and international awards for his political commitment as well as the value of his scientific work.


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March 2007: The Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic Karel Schwarzenberg (left) visiting the Research Centre for Eastern Europe with Wolfgang Eichwede.