Futures Studies in the European Ex-socialist Countries



Eleonora Barbieri Masini

What was called the Second World Conference in Future Research (at that time this was the name of the discipline) took place in Bucharest in September 1972. It was the first time that scholars and other people interested in futures studies from Western and Central and Eastern Europe had met to discuss and exchange views. I was present at the conference organised by Prof.Hidetoshi Kato in Kyoto in 1970 but not at the very first one in Oslo in 1968 whenJohan Galtung andRobert Jungk had invited people such asJohn McHale from the United States,Hidetoshi Kato from Japan,Igor Bestuzhev-Lada from the USSR and others from Poland. In this Oslo meeting, Mankind 2000,Galtung andJungk started the discussion of a possible world federation.

The Soviet Union was present at all WFSF meetings with the participation ofBestuzhev-Lada, who was able to give the information on the studies undertaken.Lada ’s personal work was on methods and the use of social indicators in futures studies as well as on terminology on which I also worked with him. He certainly kept futures studies alive in the USSR and especially in the Russian Republic and published extensively. I would also like to recallGennady Dobrov , a member of the WFSF till his death, who was for a long time at IIASA in Austria, and in Kiev organized a school for futures studies which I personally visited.

Bucharest was a wonderful experience with people from the Romanian group such asMircea Malitza, Mihai Botez, Pavel Apostol, Viorica Varga and many others actively present. We must think of the historical moment and what that meant. The group in Romania later took the name International Center of Methodology for Future and Development Studies. The Romanian school was mainly made up of mathematicians, because in that period Romania had an important school in this discipline and was interested in models. In my understanding, the most important present activity is that of Prof.Mircea Malitza, the founder of the University of the Black Sea. With his knowledge as a mathematician, but also as a great humanist, in a different historical moment and a different manner, he is carrying on the work initiated thirty years ago. I believe thatAna Maria Sandi , also a mathematician, is still working in the area of development and future thinking, as well as the very open-minded social scientistViorica Ramba Varga, who has been present since the very beginning.

In 1972 Poland was strongly represented by Poland 2000, which was the group within the Polish Academy of Warsaw. It was specially interested in cultural issues, whether in terms of cultural artefacts, as the theatre, or in  anthropologically understood culture in Europe. People from the excellent school of sociology of Poland were also part of the group, includingJan Strelecki , a hero of the resistance against the German invasion and an excellent and famous sociologist, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1981,Andrzej Sicinski, briefly Minister of Culture during the first government after the change,Jan Danecki andDanuta Markowska . This group was extremely active in the 80s during the difficult period of change.

In my view, two aspects of the 1972 Conference were of particular importance: the decision to found a World Federation of Futures Studies (the WFSF came into being in 1973) and the real interest in futures studies expressed by Eastern European countries despite the limitations of the historical period. I would like to stress the important role played by futures studies and the WFSF in a very difficult time for these countries, offering whatMilos Zeman of Czechoslovakia later referred to as a “window on the outside world”. This is no small role, if viewed in a historical perspective. Despite its many problems, Czechoslovakia managed to keep the interest in futures studies alive, first withRadovan Richta , the author of the famous book “Civilization on the Crossroads” (now impossible to find) and later thanks to the commitment of many others, includingMilos Zeman , at present a high-ranking political leader.

The third WFSF World Conference was held in Rome (1973). Again there were many scholars from Eastern Europe with Hungary showing the extent to which interest in futures studies had developed under the leadership of Prof.Géza Kovács and with the presence within the Futures Research Committee at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of people of the calibre ofMaria Kalas Kőszegi and Erzsébet Gidai . The group in Hungary was mainly oriented towards economic development and has therefore been able to play an important role in recent decades and indeed through the entire historical period. Much was also due to the charismatic figure of Prof.József Bognár , a great economist and member of the Club of Rome.

The very important school of Hungary was present at the Rome conference but became more visible and active in the following years. Therefore the European Regional Experts Meeting on “Technology of Future and its Social Implication” was organised in Budapest in 1987 and three years later the XI World Conference of the WFSF under the title “Linking Present Decisions to Long-Range Visions” was also successfully organised there at the time of the beginning of the transition period in the European socialist countries.

Yugoslavia did not have a group as such, but many people took an interest and worked in futures studies.Mihailo Markovich was one; for a longer time and at great personal price,Radmila Nakarada was another. The School of Philosophy and Sociology was mostly involved and supportedJohan Galtung’ s interesting idea to create an International University Center (IUC) in Dubrovnik in 1975. Many cutting edge disciplines were taught there since its foundation in 1975, with the initial support of the United Nations University and the contribution in terms of faculty and students of over one hundred universities from all over the world. Both faculty and students came from Western and Eastern European countries; among the courses, there was also a Futures Studies course, the first didactic activity of the WFSF aimed at building the next generation of futures thinkers. The University was destroyed in 1991 during the war. Although it has been rebuilt, it no longer has a Futures Studies course as such in Dubrovnik, and the Futures Studies Department of the Budapest University of Economic Sciences - headed byErzsébet Nováky - has continued the tradition since 1999.

Courses such as Mediterranean Studies, Women Studies andJurgen Habermas philosophy and sociology were held in Dubrovnik interacting with the other courses including futures studies courses. The IUC was an example of international academic freedom rarely found anywhere in the world. In Dubrovnik also the Fourth World Conference in Futures Studies (in 1975) was held with many participants from different countries with limited but sufficient support from UNESCO. The amount of its support would today be considered very low but the conference took place because people wanted to be there and paid their own expenses with dedication and sacrifice.

To the best of my knowledge and information in all European ex socialist countries despite the periods survived, sometimes amid extremely difficult circumstances futures studies and research are again revived in different forms, places and institutions thanks to those new generations who had a possibility to work together with the founders of futures studies in different countries and who are still lucky to pass on their knowledge and experience to the youngest generation. To our greatest satisfaction these young people are deeply interested in their futures and more than one of them have become experts of internationally renown in this field.

I would like to conclude for my Western colleagues by saying that, from my own experience as a member of those engaged in the efforts of these years withJohan Galtung ,Mahdi Elmandjra andRobert Jungk , I know that, despite the difficult times, people continued to hold meetings and carry on research with great courage and in great personal danger. They did so because they believed in the advent of different and alternative futures to the ones they were experiencing. Has this been so and what responsibility do we, Western futures thinkers, have from now on?