Cold War Crossroads – 1962 to 1989

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Jun 23, 2017
by Louise Hallman
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Cold War Crossroads – 1962 to 1989

In the heart of Europe, where East met West, the Seminar played an important role in bridging Cold War divides. Geographic expansion beyond Europe and thematic expansion beyond American studies gave the Seminar even greater purpose.

The Cold War period saw the Salzburg Seminar grow in importance as a neutral space in the heart of Europe. The era also saw the Seminar grow thematically, with the adoption of a “common problems” approach; geographically, with recruitment of Fellows from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia; and physically, with the purchase of the Meierhof.

With Austria seen as a crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe, the Salzburg Seminar provided a natural place to bridge Cold War divides. Diplomatic pressures had made the recruitment from Eastern Europe almost impossible from 1949 onwards. As successive presidents expanded the Seminar geographically and thematically, however, openings appeared. Through efforts initiated by Seminar president Arthur S. Adams, and augmented significantly by his successors Paul M. Herzog (the Seminar’s first full-time president), Thomas H. Eliot, John “Jack” W. Tuthill and Bradford Morse, the Seminar recruited Fellows from further afield and began to address topics beyond the study of America, its culture and institutions.

Geographic expansion was aided primarily by private foundations, starting with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and their $100,000 for staff travel to recruit Fellows. Before the age of online applications, session recruitment was done largely face-to-face through connections at leading universities, government ministries and embassies. Thanks to Adams’ efforts, Fellows started to come from Greece, Turkey and Spain. Under Herzog, two years of diplomacy finally enabled Fellows to travel from “behind the Iron Curtain” in 1966. Those four Czechs were followed in 1967 by Fellows from Hungary and Bulgaria, and in 1968 by Fellows from Romania.

The 1970s saw the first Fellows come from Central America and Africa, but it was in the Middle East and later Asia that the Seminar made its most concerted recruitment efforts. Previously a US Ambassador, Tuthill recognized that the Middle East could benefit from the same neutral meeting place as former European enemies had in 1947, and thus launched an extensive outreach program, specifically to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. By the mid-1980s, Palestinian and Israeli Fellows were attending programs together. As a Jordanian Fellow wrote in 1979, “If the world recognized the extent of affection and understanding that can be generated by human interaction, it would denounce and abandon forever wars and hatred. The Salzburg Seminar is a forum whereby such a realization can be easily obtained.”

Asian recruitment was accelerated as former UN Development Programme (UNDP) head Morse took over the presidency in 1986. This was greatly aided by a million-dollar contribution to the Seminar’s endowment by the Japanese Shipbuilding Industry Foundation (today known as The Nippon Foundation). Several other philanthropic organizations, including the Ford, McKnight and Mellon Foundations, also contributed greatly to help bring more Fellows from further afield. Financial support also came from both the US and Austrian governments. 

Support from private individuals has long been of central importance to the Seminar, dating from the initial funding contributed by students at Harvard University. In 1973, board members, alumni, and the widow of former Vice President Amory Parker rose to meet another challenge: the purchase of the neighboring Meierhof building. The additional property, which required extensive renovations over two decades, provided the Seminar with a large conference room in a space that had once served as the apartment for Max Reinhardt’s brother and business manager, Edmund. Aptly named Parker Hall, the Seminar now had a central place for major lectures and plenary sessions.

The expansion of the Seminar’s reach was accompanied by the expansion of its session themes. Originally a forum where Europeans could learn about, debate and dissect America, in the 1960s the Seminar adopted a “common problems” approach. Rather than focusing on American studies, Fellows came together “to exchange experiences, to explore differences, to seek out consistent – though rarely identical – solutions for problems that plague and puzzle men on both sides of the Atlantic,” as Herzog explained in 1966.  

Long-studied subjects such as literature, politics and education began to lose the “American” from their session titles (American Law and Legal Institutions remained steadfast). More non-American experts were introduced to the faculty, bringing new perspectives. Innovative sessions such as The Social Impact of the New Technology and Planning and Development of the Urban Community were held. (The latter birthed the Salzburg Congress on Urban Planning and Development (SCUPAD), which continues to hold annual conferences at Schloss Leopoldskron.) Recurring session topics were established, covering international trade, health and health care, civil society and gender issues.

By the end of the Cold War, the Salzburg Seminar had become a vital place for leading cutting edge conversations on free markets, democratic transition and civil society. For many Fellows, attending a Salzburg session was a crucial juncture in their professional development en route to becoming leading figures in their own countries. As maps were redrawn post-1989, political institutions overhauled, and new systems of societal engagement established, the Seminar was there to play, as the then-Chairman of the Board, Lloyd N. Cutler said, its “small but unique and catalytic” part.

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