The founding members of the Southeast Europe Association were Prof. Dr. Fritz Valjavec, Prof. Dr. Harold Steinacker, Dr. Boris Tschoban, Dr. Franz H. Riedl, Prof. Dr. Josef Matl, Franz Hamm, Prof. Dr. Johann W. Mannhardt, Dr. Hermann Maurer, Msgr. Albert Büttner, Karl August Fischer, Prof. Dr. Hans Koch, Hans Hartl and Prof. Dr. Hans Übersberger.
In the early years (until 1957), Prof. Dr. Fritz Valjavec served as the chairman. The first president was Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Gülich from 1958 until his death in 1960, followed by Dr. Rudolf Vogel (term 1960-1965). Dr. Theodor von Uzorinac-Koháry, managing member of the Steering Committee, was the first to take over the management of the Association (unsalaried at the time) from 1959 until his death in 1967.
The operational work of the Southeast Europe Association began in 1955. From 1960, it decided to devote itself to the goals of peace and reconciliation and to work as closely as possible with the partner countries across the Iron Curtain, even during the Cold War, and to exchange scholarly knowledge. As an intermediary organization within the framework of a "third pillar" of German foreign policy, the SOG received institutional grants from the Federal Foreign Office as early as the 1960s. From 1965 until his retirement in 2000, Dr. Walter Althammer, member of the Bundestag, was the SOG's most influential president.
When the bloc formation in Europe dissolved in 1989, the SOG already had an extensive program of events and publications, which was subsequently shaped by the topics of social, political and economic transformation in the former socialist countries. The consequences of the Yugoslav divisions and wars led to an increasingly intensive and topical orientation of the operational work of the SOG.
In a greeting to the 50th anniversary of the Southeast Europe Association in 2002, the then Federal Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer emphasized the importance of the SOG as follows:
In Southeast Europe, the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium focused on issues of conflict resolution, the transformation of society and the economy, as well as European integration. Accordingly, the work of the SOG focused on these issues of the future. Today, our work is even broader and further includes issues of migration and the demographic crisis, climate change and environmental protection, as well as information disorder and the influence of authoritarian powers in the region. The SOG established itself as an increasingly important institution at the interface of academia, politics and the media with regard to the region of Southeast Europe. From 2000 until the beginning of 2020, the SPD member of the German Bundestag Dr. h.c. Gernot Erler shaped the work of the SOG as its president. He was succeeded as president in February 2020 by Manuel Sarrazin MdB, from Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, who serves since 2022 as the German Government Special Representative for the Countries of the Western Balkans.
In 2012, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Southeast Europe Association, the SOG’s board established a working group on the history of the SOG. It consisted of historians who were to deal with the reappraisal of the SOG’s own institutional history. However, the question of the SOG's prehistory during National Socialism, as well as the personal and "ideological" continuities (and breaks) in the period of the early Federal Republic, soon acquired unexpected virulence.
Up to and including 2012, the SOG had awarded its journalism prize as the "Rudolf Vogel Medal". After conducting his own research, the winner of the 2013 Journalism Award, Dr. Andreas Ernst, drew the SOG’s attention to the problematic biography of the former president and eponym Rudolf Vogel and refused to accept the award under this name. The name of the journalism award was changed in light of these findings, and Ernst accepted the award under a new name in February 2013. In a series of articles, FAZ journalist Michael Martens revealed more details about Vogel's biography. They showed Vogel - contrary to his own alleged distance from National Socialism after 1945 - as a follower and journalistic propagandist of the Nazi system who was not afflicted by any discernible doubts.
Subsequently, the SOG board decided on a number of initiatives approach unresolved questions about its own institutional history:
- On December 16-17, 2013, a symposium on the "Pre- and Founding History of the Southeast Europe Association: Critical Questions on Contexts and Continuities" was held in Munich. (Report)
- The archive of the Southeast Europe Association was processed and handed over to the Bavarian Main State Archive for public use. It is thus open to research - currently for the period up to the mid-1970s -, inspection and use.
- A first research project was initiated by Robert Pech with his dissertation "Fritz Valjavec and the Development of German Research on Southeast Europe". Further theses as well as, if possible, research projects on the history of the SOG are to be initiated and funded. Colleagues are encouraged to close research gaps on the history of Southeast European studies and the SOG by suggesting topics for theses.
- The long time only monographic research work dealing in a more systematic way with the history of historiography of Southeast Europe, including the SOG – was a Hanoverian master's thesis by Dorothea Willkomm from 1979 that has remained unprinted - is to be printed after editing including a preface.
- In the meantime, Wolfgang Höpken has also published a monograph on the subject: He uses the example of Franz Ronneberger to describe the involvement of German research on Southeast Europe during the Second World War and lines of continuity in the Federal Republic.
- Südosteuropa Mitteilungen publishes articles on new research findings and insights that follow up on institutional and personal traces from the period of World War II and take stock of the history of research on Southeast Europe and its institutions in the transition from National Socialism to the early Federal Republic.