Skip Navigation
Historian Ivan Berend Honored on His Service as Director

Historian Ivan Berend Honored on His Service as Director

Eminent authority on European history steps down after twelve years as director of the Center for European and Eurasian Studies.

By Leslie Evans

More than 60 faculty, students, staff, and friends gathered at the UCLA Faculty Center December 10 to celebrate with historian Ivan Berend on the conclusion of his twelve years of service as director of the International Institute's Center for European and Eurasian Studies. Berend is the author of many standard works on both Eastern and Western Europe. He had a long and distinguished career in Hungary before joining the History Department at UCLA in 1990, where he has served as director of the Center for European and Eurasian Studies since 1993. During his tenure at the center he presided over a major reorganization, from a focus on Russia and Eastern Europe to its present pan-European interests.

The event was opened by Geoffrey Garrett, vice provost of the university's International Institute, who voiced an appreciation of Ivan Berend's character shared by all who know him. Ivan Berend, Garrett said, exemplifies "a decency, integrity, grown-upness, and humanity that we can all only aspire to." This is a person "of complete integrity," Garrett said."

Sociologist Gail Kligman, the incoming director of the European-Eurasian Center, offered a brief overview of Ivan Berend's background:

"As a Jewish boy in Hungary, history imposed itself on Ivan's young life. But liberation from Dachau also meant that Lady Luck and good fortune had been sown upon him as well. In post-World War II Hungary a series of opportunities offered within an increasingly flexible socialist system. Ivan became president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in addition to attaining an international reputation among economists as an economic historian.

"After the collapse of Communism in 1989, historical contingencies again enabled him and his wonderful wife, Kati Radics, to embark on a new adventure, and that new adventure brought him here to us."

Since 1955, Ivan Berend has published 24 books. Gail Kligman cited just a few of the more recent:

History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of California Press, 2003); Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II (UC Press, 1998); and Central and Eastern Europe, 1944-1993: Detour from the Periphery to the Periphery (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Political Science Professor Ronald Rogowski described Berend as "a globalizer before the term existed." Berend, Rogowski said, "has lectured at universities Austria, China, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, not to mention Hungary and the U.S."

Rogowski pointed to Ivan Berend's long and successful career in Hungary: "He was president of the Hungarian Historical Association, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and he also worked hard for economic reform in Communist Hungary in the 1960s, and then held important positions, including as president of the advisory committee to the Hungarian prime minister in the transition between 1988 and 1993."

Echoing the general feeling, Ronald Rogowski spoke of "the fundamental pleasure of dealing with a person of this sensitivity and diplomacy and integrity." He added that Berend "has an exquisite sensibility to others' feelings and manages to do the hard work of administration without trampling hard on anybody else even when difficult decisions have to be made."

The Hungarian Period

Arch Getty, a well-known historian specializing in the Soviet Union, declared of Ivan Berend that "It's not too much to say that he invented Eastern Europe as a historical space, as something to be studied, as something to be understood. His ideas about development, about backwardness, about center-periphery, and about transition have become essentially the bible for scholars of Eastern Europe and for scholars of Europe in general."

Getty offered some insights on the Hungarian period of Berend's life. "Because I work in this general area, I frequently run across people who know Ivan Berend's tenure at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and in general in the academic world of Hungary. And from what I have been able to piece together it would have been an amazing achievement just to keep the Academy together in these times. This was a time as you know of storm and stress, a time of constantly changing rules and expectations, a time of intellectual ferment, a time of budgetary uncertainty. And therefore just to keep body and soul together in the Academy of Sciences would have been quite an achievement. But he did more than that. Not only did he keep the institution together, but through a series of maneuvers, through a series of alternate displays of humanity and toughness, he allowed the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to create new spaces for intellectual development, to nurture new ideas without discarding old ones, to really turn it into a dynamic institution at a time and a place when dynamic institutions were hard to find. . . . He proved himself to be an absolute master of the politics of the possible. A master not only of defending an organization but of turning it into something new and something exciting."

Vera Wheeler administrative director of the European-Eurasian Center, who has worked under Berend for the whole of the twelve years in which he has served as director, said of him, "He has a gift for not showing frustration or anger. Sometimes I have thought that Ivan has decided, wisely, simply not to be bothered by the negative, to let others deal with them since they are such a waste of precious time."

Other speakers included Ronald Vroon, chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature; and Nicholas Entrikin, professor of Geography and a former associate director of the European center, 1995-97. Entrikin recounted that there were faculty members committed to retaining the Russian-East European orientation of the center who opposed taking on Western Europe as its area of focus. "This required long discussions and much tact to come to a resolution. Some of those early advisory board meetings were very tense and stressful. Ivan was always as gracious to his opponents as he was to his friends."

Some Remarks by Ivan Berend

The celebration closed by giving the podium to Ivan Berend, who looked back over his time as director of the center. "My fifteen years at UCLA and twelve years at the Center for European and Eurasian Studies, to make a serious and true statement, are the highlights of my life. I am honored to be here, surrounded by so good and really excellent friends and colleagues, having so outstanding students. I am very fortunate to belong to the History Department and the International Institute list."

He noted the sharp break in his life on leaving Hungary. "When I came here I left behind not only my own country but the academic jobs that have been mentioned. Nine years as dean and chancellor of the Budapest University of Economics. Five years at the Academy of Sciences with thirty-six research institutes and ten thousand employees. So fourteen years of demanding academic service there, I enjoyed teaching and making undisturbed research."

He said he was touched that he was selected to head the European Center at UCLA while still a relative newcomer. "I was deeply honored. I think it could not happen in any other country. And it was an entirely interesting job all the time for me, to change the center from the old Russian-East European to a pan-European, and following this dramatic transformation of Europe. I loved to do that from the beginning. I did not like but could not avoid conflicts. They were extremely friendly ones here. I had some fights, good fights. My effort to establish the European Studies program was blamed as Eurocentric. Actually, a true accusation."

He joked about learning to live in America. "I learned that I have to pay in advance to fill up my car. I never knew that before. I had to also learn that I have to leave the door of my office open if I am talking with one of my female students. I still could not avoid all the difficulties of these encounters although the door is open. I learned that I have to close immediately the garage door to avoid being attacked at gun point, and  I could not avoid that. But I also learned about a country which does not ask about your color, your religion, your age -- everybody naturally knows it anyway -- a country where you feel immediately integrated as equal."

He said he had to learn fund raising: "How to dine with a millionaire. Unfortunately, not how to become a millionaire."

He summed up, saying, "it has been a great, great pleasure to serve and work here, to live here, to have all of you around me."

Center for European and Eurasian Studies