The history of the ASPR begins in 1982 with the founding of the „Österreichisches Institut für Friedensforschung “(ÖIF) by Gerald Mader, Burgenland Provincial Councilor for Culture, together with Hertha Firnberg, then Minister of Science. After leaving the Burgenland provincial government, Mader became the honorary executive president of the ÖIF in 1985. He had a lasting influence not only on the development of the institute but also on the development of Schlaining.
The 1980s were marked by (re)constructions in terms of content and infrastructure that still characterize Schlaining's townscape today: The castle bastion and the granary were converted into a conference centre, which opened in 1987. The former armoury was transformed into a conference and seminar hotel and started operating in 1988. At the same time, the "European University Centre for Peace Studies" (EPU) -the sister institute of the ASPR- was founded.
The former synagogue in Schlaining was purchased and renovated by the institute and, with the permission of the Jewish Community, the Peace Library was installed there in 1989. Finally, the student dormitory, Haus International, was built and began operating in 1992.
From this point forward, the ASPR’s activities shaped the Schlaining townscape. Schlaining became an international hub for participants of ASPR events and training courses as well as university students from all over the world. They were joined by visitors to the Peace Museum, and numerous schoolchildren from all over Austria that participated in the Peace Weeks. Concurrently high-ranking politicians, ministers, religious dignitaries, and representatives of opposition groups came to the ASPR in Schlaining and engaged in constructive conflict dialogue and worked out joint solutions.
After more than three decades of operations, the infrastructure created in the 1980s required extensive renovation. Negotiations with the Province of Burgenland resulted in the Hotel Burg Schlaining being incorporated into other existing structures in the region in 2019 and the administration of the castle being transferred from the ASPR to the cultural management of Burgenland. In the year 2021, which marked 100 years since the founding of the Austrian state of Burgenland, the Peace Museum was closed, and the Peace Library was moved out of the Schlaininger Synagogue to make room for an anniversary exhibition.
The fact that Schlaining Castle has become known worldwide as the “Peacecastle” is not only thanks to Gerald Mader but also to the numerous staff members, members of boards and advisory councils, sponsors and supporters, peace researchers and peace activists, as well as the many participants in ASPR events and training programmes from all over the world.
Efforts to establish a Peace University started as early as 1985. In 1987 the institute submitted a proposal to the UNESCO General Assembly for the establishment of a European University for Peace Studies, which was unanimously accepted. One year later, the sister institute of the ASPR, the "European University Centre for Peace Studies" (EPU) was founded. After the first pilot semester in 1990, regular operations started in 1992.
EPU students and ASPR course participants from all over the world became part of Schlaining’s everyday life and the ASPR became the largest employer in the municipality. In 2010, the Austrian federal government decided to cancel basic subsidies for non-university research institutions such as the ASPR. The ASPR's funding was secured relatively quickly through its incorporation into a research cluster on "Conflict, Peace and Democracy" coordinated initially by the University of Klagenfurt and later by the University of Graz.
The EPU failed to find the necessary funding and its accreditation as a private university was revoked in 2013. The following year, EPU had to close its doors after 22 years of operations.
By then, more than 1,650 people from 125 countries had studied at EPU, and the teaching staff came from 42 different countries, especially from the Global South. Students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds lived together in “Haus International” for three semesters at a time. Many of them came from crisis and war zones. This allowed for a unique learning space to be created in which not only theory, but also real experiences and practice of peace and conflict work were reflected.
The former synagogue in Schlaining, which had stood empty since the expulsion or murder of Jewish families under National Socialism, was purchased and renovated by the institute. In 1989, with the approval of the Jewish Community, the Peace Library of the institute was moved there. Today, the library holds more than 31,000 volumes and journals, making it one of the largest specialized libraries for peace studies and peace education in Europe. The staff of the ASPR Peace Library also took over the support of Jewish Schlaininger descendants in researching their ancestors.
Since 2021 the synagogue has been used for exhibitions by the cultural management of Burgenland- the library is temporarily in a transitional location and therefore not open to the public. However, library operations are up and running. The entire collection can be consulted online. Bibliographies or literature suggestions on specific topics are provided upon request.
In 2000, the Burgenland Provincial Exhibition "From the Cult of Violence to a Culture of Peace", curated by the ASPR, opened its doors. The exhibition was subsequently transformed into a permanent museum for peace. It covered 6,000 square meters and the ASPR was thus able to bring closer the idea of peace to a wider public. By the time it closed in 2019, the museum had welcomed 336,000 visitors and hosted 30 special exhibitions. The Peace Museum was only recently closed in 2021 for Burgenland’s 100th-anniversary exhibition.
- Peace Weeks - UNESCO "Award for Peace Education"
- UNITWIN Award for "UNESCO Chair on Peace, Human Rights and Democracy"
- Peace Museum - Recognition for "outstanding achievements in the field of museum education"
- UN awarded titles as "Peace Messenger"
- Nelson Mandela Award for Peace and Conflict Resolution
The profile of the ASPR is unique in the world today. Similar international institutes are primarily concerned with either research, education, or conflict transformation and only a few of them combine two of the areas or follow a multi-level approach. Thus, the ASPR’s unique characteristics combine theory and practice by facilitating exchanges between academics and practitioners and by translating the theoretical as well as practical findings into educational work which can be applied from a local to the global level.
The ASPR's work over the past 40 years has positively impacted the lives of many people worldwide: The ASPR now has a global alumni network of more than 8,000 individuals. These individuals hold high-level positions - in politics, academia, peacekeeping missions, humanitarian aid, and development cooperation - impacting the lives of many.
Sources: Book from Gerald Mader „Von der Utopie zur Wirklichkeit“, 2016; article„Wir sind 100. Burgenland schreibt Geschichte“, Eisenstadt 2021 by Gudrun Kramer: Vom Burgenland in die Welt und wieder zurück – Friedens- und Konfliktarbeit auf Burg Schlaining, In: Rathkolb Kirchknopf (Hg.) as well as internal archives (Web & Annual Reports)