History of the Association for International Affairs

The Association for International Affairs (In Dutch: Kring voor Internationale Betrekkingen, KIB) was founded in 1945 as the Kring voor Buitenlandsche Politiek (Association for Foreign Politics) at the Catholic University of Louvain (KULeuven), Belgium. The initiative came from Professor Omer De Raeymaeker. According to his experience, the Flemish students at the KULeuven lacked interest in internationals affairs, even though their lives were deeply influenced by them, especially after the Second World War. The mission of the KIB was to close this gap between knowledge and reality by informing students about current global developments.

The founding meetings were held in the lounges of the Philosophical Institute in Leuven by De Raeymaeker, in presence of Minister of State Frans van Cauwelaert and former Prime Minister Paul van Zeeland.

Prominent speakers

One of the primary ways to inform the students about international affairs was by inviting prominent speakers to Leuven to offer the students their unique perspectives on the international scene. Both Van Cauwelaert and Van Zeeland were early guests in the 40s. Van Cauwelaert pleaded for the foundation of an Atlantic oriented origination – prophetic words that were materialized in the NAVO only a few years later. Other renowned speakers invited by KIB throughout the years were Georges Bidault (former Prime Minister of France), Leopold Figl (Chancellor of Austria), Walter Hallstein and Jean Rey (both chairmen of the Commission of the EEC), Wim Schermerhorn (Prime Minister of the Netherlands), Robert Schuman (former Minister of Foreign Affairs of France and ‘father’ of the European Union) and Paul-Henri Spaak (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium and former Secretary General of NATO). In 1961 the KIB also welcomed Dominique Pire, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1958, to speak about ‘L’Europe du Coeur’ and the necessity of development aid to the Third World. In the 80s and 90s the (former) Prime Ministers of Belgium, Leo Tindemans, Wilfried Martens and Mark Eyksens, were also invited to Leuven.

The KIB has a tradition of inviting ambassadors to give their insights on their current international role and the further aspirations of their country. The KIB has had the pleasure to welcome ambassadors from countries all over the world, such as Germany, Israel, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Spain, United Kingdom, Argentina and the United States of America. Former members of the KIB who furthered their careers to become ambassadors or other prominent personalities gladly returned to Leuven to inform students about their views on the international scene.

Around 1975 the idea arose in the KIB to publish its own magazine. In 1977 this was realized and the first edition of Vizier was published with a circulation of 400 copies. This magazine appeared regularly until the end of the 90s. In 1993 it was reborn as Globaal (Dutch for Global) which still appears until this day, although it was officially renamed in 2013 to Global. In recent years the KIB makes use of the new opportunities of the internet and offers, besides the printed edition, a range of articles and other information online at www.kib.be.

Though the KIB never stopped inviting prominent speakers, it started to combine this tradition with a whole range of other activities. The KIB has organized many excursions and trips to the most important international institutions, such as the NATO, the European Parliament or the International Criminal Court and Peace Palace in The Hague. Around 2000 it also organized occasionally a multi-day trip to Paris to visit the WEU, OECD, ESA and UNESCO. During the course of its history, the KIB had certain traditional trips, such as Strasbourg in the 80s or NAVO/SHAPE around the turn of the century.

Inspired by professor De Raeymaeker, the KIB also organized several conferences. In 1980, for example, there was a conference on the Belgian foreign policy with speakers Pieter De Somer (rector KULeuven), Mark Eyskens and José Desmarets (Minister of Defence). A few years earlier, it also hosted a conference on the Helsinki Final Act. More recently the KIB has tried to directly involve the students into these international debates by organizing student debates, both in Dutch and English. In recent years the KIB hosts many activities in English, due to the increase of foreign students in Leuven.

In 2013, another way to close the gap between students and the world of international affairs was introduced. The KIB started organizing ‘KIB-pubs’ (KIB-cafés): a professor or other eminent speaker was invited to elaborate, in an informal way, on his personal experiences in the field of international affairs, gained throughout his career or research.

Other activities

Besides all the regular activities, there were periods in the history of the KIB that more ambitious plans were pursued. For example, in the 80s and 90s there was also a KIB student association at the Dutch Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB). There as well, the KIB organized activities such as debates, movie nights and trips to NATO or The Hague.

A different project was the nonprofit organization Globus, erected in 1997 by (former) board members of the KIB. It focused mainly on the intercultural aspects of international affairs, first and foremost in Eastern Europe. It arranged, for example, a summer camp in Central and Eastern Europe. Also, in 1998 a range of European associations interested in international relations met in Vienna to establish an International Non-governmental Organization (INGO), named: ‘FAIR – Forum of Youth Associations for International Relations’. At the first meeting, organizations from the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Greece were present. Belgium was represented by Steven Van de Walle, president of the KIB at that time. The goal of this organization was to establish and maintain close contacts between these different youth organizations and host exchange programs.

In May 2008 another NGO was founded, namely LECEUS, an acronym for Leuven Council of the European Union Simulation. The goal of this NGO was to host a ‘European Union Simulation Game’ where it would re-enact the EU’s decision-making process (much like Mock-trial or Model UN). The KIB organized such a simulation game in Leuven and Brussels, in association with the International Office of the KULeuven and partners from Hungary. The three-day simulation focused on the theme of European energy policy. Students from twenty-two European countries participated. Besides the simulation game, there was also a trip to the European Quarter and the European Council in Brussels. Additionally, lectures hosted by European experts and politicians, such as Mark Eyskens, were given to students.

A history of almost 70 years

The history of the KIB is long, but that does not imply that the KIB has remained unchanged. Mainly because the association in not linked to a specific faculty or ideology, the composition of the board has always been very dynamic. There were occasions that a presidency lasted for more than one year, although that was rather exceptional. The other positions that made up the board showed some more continuity: board members might swap positions, but generally remained active within the KIB for more than one year. Nevertheless, were there years of radical breaks, where boards changed completely.

During the early years of the KIB’s existence, the dynamic character of the club was tempered mainly by one permanent ingredient: Omer De Raeymaeker. He remained Honorary President of the KIB for multiple years. In 1967, during professor De Raeymaeker’s glorious presidency, the 20th anniversary of the KIB was celebrated. There were lectures by Ludovic Moyersoen (former Minister) and Victor Leemans (Chairman of the European Parliament). Also the ambassador of the United States was invited to give a lecture in the Promotiezaal, followed by a reception hosted by the Leuven mayor Alfons Smets.

In the early 70s the activity of the KIB diminished for a while, but De Raeymaeker approached some students to form a new and active board, once again. With Jan Verhaege as President (1974-1976), the KIB organized many new activities and started to publish its own magazine (see above). By the end of the 70s, the KIB was one of the biggest student organizations with more than 300 members and it invited speakers such as Leo Tindemans (Prime Minister of Belgium) and Etienne Davignon (former European Commissioner). In 1978, De Raeymaeker retired at the KULeuven, but he remained Honorary President of the KIB. On that occasion a liber amicorum was published, including a text by Marc Briké (President of KIB from 1972 to 1974) about the relation between De Raeymaeker and the Association for International Affair (see bibliography).

In 1984 and 1985 the KIB organizes, to celebrate its 40th anniversary, a series of lectures by all Flemish party leaders (including, for example, Guy Verhofstadt from the liberal party). Also the archduke, Otto van Habsburg, spoke about “L’Europe dans le context mondial” (“Europe in a global context”). Leo Tindemans, Minister of Foreign Affairs and a regular speaker at the KIB, received a stained glass frame with the KIB logo.

The following year, after 41 years of commitment, the title of Honorary Presidency is passed on from Omer De Raeymaeker to Koen Lenaerts, professor in European Law at the KULeuven. After professor De Raeymaeker’s legacy, some changes are put into place. These were mostly initiated in 1993 with Peter Verplancken as president. The magazine Vizier is renamed to Globaal and Luc Reychler is the new Honorary President. The KIB also starts to organize discussion groups, for example about the NATO.

What follows, are glorious years for the KIB. Under the presidency of Steven Van de Walle (1996-1998) FAIR was founded and the close collaboration with Globus was initiated. Van de Walle, together with Dominique Ostyn (president 2000-2001) transformed the KIB into the NGO “Kring voor Internationale Betrekkingen” around the turn of the century. The following years, the KIB’s activity rate spiked and the amount of members increased substantially. In 2003, when Lior Ziv is president, the KIB is at its most active period yet: when the first semester ended, already 15 activities were organized by the KIB. In 2006, the KIB even won the inter-faculty soccer tournament, defeating Apolloon, the student organization of rehabilitation and movement science, in penalties.

Unfortunately, during the years of 2011 and 2012, there was a slight setback in the activity of the KIB. It ceased to exist this short period of time, but luckily in 2013 there was a revival. Old board members started a campaign to find new students, willing to jumpstart the KIB again. Due to a whole new board under the leadership of Johan Van den Brande, the new president, the KIB restored its reputation. In the years 2013-2014 the KIB hosted, for example, a debate on Syria and a lecture on Ukraine. Also ‘Globaal’ was published again, only under the new name ‘Global’. Aside from these new initiatives,, also the regular activities were picked up again with a trip to The Hague and the previously mentioned KIB cafés, who were organized on a regular basis.

Massimiliano Simons, editor-in-chief Global (2014-2015)

Bibliography

  • Briké, M., ‘Prof. Dr. O. De Raeymaeker, stichter en bezieler van de Kring voor Internationale Betrekkingen te Leuven,’ pp. 51-56 in Belgisch buitenlands beleid en internationale betrekkingen : liber amicorum Professor Omer De Raeymaeker, Leuven, Leuven university press, 1978.
  • Duchennne, G. & Courtois, G., Pardon du passé, Europe unie et défense de l’Occident: Adenauer et Schuman docteurs honoris causa de l’Université catholique de Leuven en 1958, Peter Lang, 2009, pp. 55-56; pp. 93-94.
  • Van de Walle, S., ‘Forum of Youth Associations for International Relations,’ Globaal, 5 (2), 1998, pp. 10-11.
  • Van de Walle, S., ‘De Eerste Stapjes van FAIR,’ Globaal, 6 (1), 1998, pp. 25-26.
  • Van Orshaegen, W., ‘KIB wint Interfacultaire beker!,’ Globaal, 13 (2), May 2006, pp. 4-5.
  • Van Reeth, C., ‘Een stukje geschiedenis’, Globaal, 1 (1), December 1993, pp. 6-7.
  • Verdickt, S., ‘KIB Interviews’, Globaal, 11 (1), December 2003, pp. 16-18.
  • Wauters, B., ‘KIB vroeger en nu,’ Globaal, 11 (1), December 2003, pp. 6-8.
  • ‘Prof. EM. O. De Raeymaeker – Stichter-erevoorzitter van K.I.B.,’ Vizier, February 1987, p. 4.