A Globalizing World – 1990 to 2004

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Jun 23, 2017
by Louise Hallman
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A Globalizing World – 1990 to 2004

A globalizing world called for a globalizing Salzburg Seminar. No longer focused on American  studies, the Seminar moved eastwards and southwards, tackling common concerns from economics and education, to the environment and peace-building.

As the velvet revolutions of 1989 ushered in a new era, the Salzburg Seminar’s focus shifted eastwards, towards the burgeoning democracies of Eastern Europe and the fast-rising economies of Asia, and southwards to post-Apartheid South Africa and the sustainable development of the tropics.

The Seminar sought to support these transitions by building networks among Fellows to aid their professional growth and by designing programs and initiatives that applied Salzburg-based learning to progress on the ground.

Alongside regular sessions, such as Economies in Transition and European Integration After the Cold War, the Seminar organized dedicated programs supporting post-Cold War reforms. One historic example came in 1990 when the Seminar was asked to assist the Czechoslovakian government draft a new constitution. In typical Salzburg fashion, the resulting session brought together not only Czechs and Slovaks but also leading statesmen and constitutional experts from the US, Western Europe and Asia.

As the former president of Middlebury College and US government advisor on Soviet relations, Olin Robison, who assumed the presidency in 1991, envisaged a role for the Seminar in re-establishing the intellectual capacity of higher education institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Supported by large grants from the Hewlett and Kellogg Foundations, the Universities Project and Visiting Advisors Program brought senior academics, administrators and government ministers from the region together with their counterparts from Western Europe and North America for practical discussions on university administration, governance and finance. These discussions were held in symposia in Salzburg and through on-site visits across the region. These were not academic conferences but rather gatherings of peers from both East and West, discussing issues of common concern and building lasting networks.  

Recognizing the opportunity for shared learning between the reforming economies of Eastern Europe and the emerging economies of Asia, the Asia Initiative was launched in 1993. In 1997, the Freeman Foundation initiated what became a 15-year project to convene rising Asian and American academics to discuss topics such as foreign policy and trade relations.

The Global South also became a greater focus for the Seminar. The end of Apartheid in South Africa saw increasing numbers of Fellows from that country and from the wider Southern African region. A partnership with EARTH University in Costa Rica produced five annual special sessions entitled Sustainability, Education, and the Management of Change in the Tropics, held in Salzburg, Costa Rica, Uganda, Thailand and Norway, as well as additional practical workshops in Uganda, Senegal, Thailand and Indonesia. EARTH university’s founding president, José A. Zaglul credited the partnership with “internationalizing EARTH” and making it an early leader in rethinking agriculture to support environmental sustainability.

True to its post-war roots, the Seminar continued as a place of post-conflict bridge-building. A one-off Peace Symposium in 1998, brought Fellows from conflict-ridden countries, including those involved in ongoing peace negotiations. A powerful moment came when a known Irish Republican made an earnest plea for reconciliation that “left the room in a stunned silence.” He then went on to talk privately at length with his British Unionist adversary. The groundbreaking “Good Friday Agreement” was signed mere months later. Taking another approach, the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) brought together historians from opposing sides of conflicts, such as Israel-Palestine, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, to try to craft shared historical narratives. The IHJR was spun off and became an independent organization in 2009.

The Seminar’s historic ties to America were not forgotten during this period: The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Center (ASC) was founded in 1994.Funded by an agency now part of the US State Department, seven years of sessions were held covering topics as diverse as American literature, foreign policy, and IT’s role in education. The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) was subsequently established in 2004. Originally aimed at ASC alumni, SSASA has since expanded its programs’ outreach and is now a leading member of the American Studies Network, an association of 17 independent centers for American Studies in 11 European countries.

The Seminar’s American origins coupled with an increasingly global outlook were exemplified by the founding of the International Study Program on Global Citizenship (ISP) in 2004. The ISP brought together students (not early or mid-career professionals) from population groups underrepresented in leadership echelons. These participants, identified as future leaders by their universities, attended a week-long program at the Schloss examining America’s place in an increasingly globalized world. Additional programs for faculty and administrators helped turn whole campuses into sites of global citizenship.

The world of 2006 would have been unrecognizable in 1989: the ubiquity of the Internet, the increasing tension between the West and the Islamic world, the expansion of international fora like the European Union and ASEAN to include formerly communist neighbors, illustrated a seismic shift. But as the world changed, so too did the Salzburg Seminar.

READ MORE: People and Power - 2005 onwards