East/Central Europe

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Eastern Europe, Central Europe, East Central Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, etc. are variously defined and often overlapping geographic, historical and political regions occupying eastern and central portions of Europe.


Tell me where Central Europe is, and I can tell who you are.
— Jacques Rupnik
  • Though in 1346 there were few differences between Western and Eastern Europe in terms of political and economic institutions, by 1600 they were worlds apart. In the West, workers were free of feudal dues, fines, and regulations and were becoming a key part of a booming market economy. In the East, they were also involved in such an economy, but as coerced serfs growing the food and agricultural goods demanded in the West. It was a market economy, but not an inclusive one. This institutional divergence was the result of a situation where the differences between these areas initially seemed very small: in the East, lords were a little better organized; they had slightly more rights and more consolidated landholdings. Towns were weaker and smaller, peasants less organized. In the grand scheme of history, these were small differences. Yet these small differences between the East and the West became very consequential for the lives of their populations and for the future path of institutional development when the feudal order was shaken up by the Black Death.
    • Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012)
  • I remember vividly in 1974 being in the mass of people, descending the streets in my native Lisbon, in Portugal, celebrating the democratic revolution and freedom. This same feeling of joy was experienced by the same generation in Spain and Greece. It was felt later in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Baltic States when they regained their independence. Several generations of Europeans have shown again and again that their choice for Europe was also a choice for freedom. I will never forget Rostropovich playing Bach at the fallen Wall in Berlin. This image reminds the world that it was the quest for freedom and democracy that tore down the old divisions and made possible the reunification of the continent. Joining the European Union was essential for the consolidation of democracy in our countries. Because it places the person and respect of human dignity at its heart. Because it gives a voice to differences while creating unity. And so, after reunification, Europe was able to breathe with both its lungs, as said by Karol Wojtiła. The European Union has become our common house. The “homeland of our homelands” as described by Vaclav Havel.
  • In the very different circumstances and culture of Eastern Europe, in contrast, Communist regimes successively collapsed in 1989. The end of the Cold War had been long envisaged, but largely through negotiations between states. That was not to be the key element in 1989. Instead, Gorbachev unintentionally provoked the fall of the Soviet bloc. His attempts to push through modernisation in Eastern Europe (which totally surprised the East German leadership who argued that there was no need for reform or openness) left the regimes weak in the face of popular demand for reform and for more change. Moreover, Gorbachev was unwilling to use the Soviet Army to maintain these regimes. Visiting Prague in April 1987, Gorbachev repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine of intervention in order to uphold Communism (‘the defence of the Socialist Commonwealth’ in Soviet terms), intervention which had been used in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Instead, Gorbachev claimed that ‘fraternal parties determine their political line with a view to national conditions’. On 7 December 1988, he announced, significantly at the United Nations in New York rather than at a Communist gathering, that Eastern European states should be free to choose their own political path. This was a clear signal for change, and for a reduction in international tension. In his speech, Gorbachev also declared that the Soviet armed forces would be cut.
  • I have visited most parts of the Central European country, and am familiar with people from every district. Shall I picture them all to myself? Then in thought I am in a peasant's cottage in Lower Germany, in a country house in Upper Germany, in an Alpine inn, in a little town in Bohemia, in the industrial region in Upper Silesia, in a shop in Posen, in an hotel in Tatra, with friends in Budapest, at the port at Triest, at home in Berlin, in the splendid old cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, in the silence of the Böhmerwald, on the shore at Rügen; and so on continually forms arise of men, women and children, and I hear every German accent, from the broad Frisian Plattdeutsch to the Tyrolean Mountain German, from the softness of the Lower Rhine to the sharpness of East Prussia, from the Mecklenburg calm to the Viennese liveliness, and in addition there is the sound of Danish in the North, French in the West, Italian and Croatian in the South, Tzechish in Bohemia, Magyar, Roumanian and Polish in the South-East and East. (...) And nowhere are limits or divisions sharply fixed.
    • Naumann, Friedrich (2009). Central Europe: A Translation. BiblioBazaar.  Original title: Mitteleuropa (1915).
  • Who rules East Europe commands the heartland, who rules the heartland commands the world.
  • From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone - Greece with its immortal glories - is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation. The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place.
Over Central Europe there rises the heavy smell of boiled cabbage, stale beer, and the soapy whiff of overripe water melons...
— Josef Kroutvor
  • The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy. Turkey and Persia are both profoundly alarmed and disturbed at the claims which are being made upon them and at the pressure being exerted by the Moscow Government.
  • (...) There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration. (...) I don't believe (...) that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Rumanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.
  • Over Central Europe there rises the heavy smell of boiled cabbage, stale beer, and the soapy whiff of overripe water melons (...) The frontiers are vague and irrational; and it is only the smell which permits one to identify [the region] with absolute certainty.
    • Josef Kroutvor, Potíže s dějinami
    • Quoted in: Davies, Norman; Moorhouse, Roger (2003). Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City. Pimlico. 
  • (...) Three fundamental situations developed in Europe after the war: that of Western Europe, that of Eastern Europe, and, most complicated, that of the part of Europe situated geographically in the center – culturally in the West and politically in the East.
  • I assume there is such a thing as Central Europe, even though many people deny its existence, beginning with statesmen and journalists who persist in calling it "Eastern Europe" and ending with my friend Joseph Brodsky, who prefers to reserve for it the name of "Western Asia." In these decades of the 20th century, Central Europe seems to exist only in the minds of some of its intellectuals.
  • In the work of Havel and Konrád there is an interesting semantic division of labour. Both authors use the terms "Eastern Europe" or "East European" when the context is neutral or negative; when they write "Central" or "East Central," the statement is invariably positive, affirmative, or downright sentimental.
  • Every Central European family has its own stormy history in which family catastrophes and national catastrophes are mingled. History is more than erudition here, it is the inner meaning of actions, a validating tradition, a largely unconscious norm and parameter for conduct today.
    • György Konrád
    • Quoted in: Kumar, Krishan (2001). 1989: Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals. 
  • Europe is living through an exceptional period. Part of our continent torn up from its roots almost half a century ago is now aspiring to return. Back to Europe! This expression is gaining currency these days in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
    • Tadeusz Mazowiecki in his speech to the Council of Europe on 30 January 1990.
    • Quoted in: Stützle, Walther; Rotfeld, Adam Daniel (1991). Germany and Europe in transition. Oxford University Press. 
Is it only an accident that the four most enduring popular culture villains, Frankenstein, Count Dracula..., the Morlak and the Golem... are connected somehow to Eastern European regions?
— László Kürti
  • Tell me where Central Europe is, and I can tell who you are.
    • Jacques Rupnik
    • Quoted in: Johnson, Lonnie (1996). Central Europe: enemies, neighbors, friends. Oxford University Press US. 
  • Central Europe is a dynamic historical concept, not a static spatial one; therefore its frontiers have shifted throughout the ages.
    • Johnson, Lonnie (1996). Central Europe: enemies, neighbors, friends. Oxford University Press US. 
  • In the late nineteenth century, the concept of a German-dominated Mitteleuropa was launched to coincide with the political sphere of the Central Powers. In the inter-war years, a domain called "East Central Europe" was invented to coincide with the newly independent "successor states" – from Finland and Poland to Yugoslavia. This was revived again after 1945 as a convenient label for the similar set of nominally independent countries which were caught inside the Soviet bloc. By that time the main division, between a "Western Europe" dominated by NATO and the EEC and an "Eastern Europe" dominated by Soviet communism seemed to be set in stone. In the 1980s a group of writers led by the Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, launched a new version of "Central Europe", to break down the reigning barriers. Here was yet another configuration, another true "kingdom of the spirit".
  • For all the participants in this fascinating debate, "Central Europe" was defined, not by geography, but by values. "Central Europe" was, in György Konrád's words, a Weltanschauung, not a Staatsangehörigkeit (i.e., a way of looking at the world rather than a question of citizenship); for Leszek Kołakowski it was a "culturally connected area"; for Stefan Kaszyński a "state of mind"; for Czesław Miłosz "a way of thinking".
    • Hyde-Price, Adrian G. V. (1996). The International Politics of East Central Europe. Manchester University Press ND. 
  • No one writing about Transcarpathia can resist retelling the region's favourite anecdote: A visitor, encountering one of the oldest local inhabitants, asks about his life. The reply: "I was born in Austria-Hungary, I went to school in Czechoslovakia, I did my army service in Horthy's Hungary, followed by a spell in prison in the USSR. Now I am ending my days in independent Ukraine." The visitor expresses surprise at how much of the world the old man has seen. "But no!," he responds, "I've never left this village!"
    • Batt, Judy; Wolczuk, Kataryna (2002). Region, state and identity in Central and Eastern Europe. Taylor & Francis. 
  • Indeed by 1919 there could be no question of saving the old arrangements in Central and Eastern Europe. The nationalists had already torn them apart. From the distance of seventy years it is customary to regard Austria-Hungary as a tranquil exercise in multi-racialism. In fact it was a nightmare of growing racial animosity. Every reform created more problems than it solved. Hungary got status within the empire as a separate state in 1867. It at once began to oppress its own minorities, chiefly Slovaks and Romanians, with greater ferocity and ingenuity than it itself had been oppressed by Austria. Elections were suspect, and the railways, the banking system and the principles of internal free trade were savagely disrupted in the pursuit of racial advantage immediately any reform made such action possible. Czechs and other Slav groups followed the Hungarians' example. No ethnic group behaved consistently. What the Germans demanded and the Czechs refused in Bohemia, the Germans refused and the Italians and south Slovenes demanded in the South Tyrol and Styria. All the various Diets and Parliaments, in Budapest, Prague, Graz, and Innsbruck were arenas of merciless racial discord. In Galicia, the minority Ruthenians fought the majority Poles. In Dalmatia the minority Italians fought the majority South Slavs. As a result it was impossible to form an effective parliamentary government. All of the twelve central governments between 1900 and 1918 had to be composed almost entirely of civil servants. Each local government, from which minorities were excluded, protected its home industries where it was legally empowered to do so, and if not, organized boycotts of goods made by other racial groups. There was no normality in the old empire.
Who to look to better than Central European countries that 20 years ago acted with such courage and resolve, and over the last 20 years, have made such sustainable progress?
— Joe Biden
  • Concernant en tous les cas les pays candidats, (...) honnêtement, je trouve qu'ils se sont comportés avec une certaine légèreté. Car entrer dans l'Union européenne, cela suppose tout de même un minimum de considération pour les autres, un minimum de concertation. Si, sur le premier sujet difficile, on se met à donner son point de vue indépendamment de toute concertation avec l'ensemble dans lequel, par ailleurs, on veut entrer, alors, ce n'est pas un comportement bien responsable. En tous les cas, ce n'est pas très bien élevé. Donc, je crois qu'ils ont manqué une bonne occasion de se taire.
    • Concerning, after all, the candidate countries, (...) I honestly think that they have behaved with a certain lightness. Because entering the European Union still requires a minimum of consideration for others, a minimum of consultation. If, on the first difficult subject, you begin to express your point of view independently of any consultation with the body which you incidentally want to join, then it is not very responsible behavior. In any case, it is not well brought-up behavior. So I believe that they missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.
    • Jacques Chirac at a press conference in Brussels on 17 February 2003, following a European Council emergency summit on Iraq
    • Conférence de presse de M. Jacques Chirac, Président de la République, à l'issue de la réunion informelle extraordinaire du Conseil européen. Présidence de la République. Retrieved on 2009-11-14.
  • I am one of the servants of Allah. We do our duty of fighting for the sake of the religion of Allah. It is also our duty to send a call to all the people of the world to enjoy this great light and to embrace Islam and experience the happiness in Islam. Our primary mission is nothing but the furthering of this religion. ... Let not the West be taken in by those who say that Muslims choose nothing but slaughtering. Their brothers in East Europe, in Turkey and in Albania have been guided by Allah to submit to Islam and to experience the bliss of Islam. Unlike those, the European and the American people and some of the Arabs are under the influence of Jewish media.
  • Around the same time, communism in Central and Eastern Europe finally fell, but its economic rivalry with capitalism had, of course, long since been decided. It’s easy to think that these countries were never close to the market economies, but in 1950 countries such as the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had a GDP per capita about a quarter higher than poor Western countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece. In 1989, the eastern states were nowhere close. The eastern part of Germany was richer than West Germany before World War II. When the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989, East Germany’s GDP per capita was not even half that of West Germany’s. Of these countries, those that liberalized the most have on average developed the fastest and established the strongest democracies. An analysis of twenty-six post-communist countries showed that a 10 per cent increase in economic freedom was associated with a 2.7 per cent faster annual growth. Political and economic institutions have improved the most in the Central and Eastern European countries that are now members of the EU, not least the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Today, they are some of the freest countries in the world and have more than tripled average incomes since independence. But one can also observe a recent reformer like Georgia. It was seen as an economic basket case, but after the Rose Revolution in 2003 it increased per capita incomes almost threefold and cut extreme poverty rates by almost two-thirds.
    • Johan Norberg, The Capitalist Manifesto: Why the Global Free Market Will Save the World (2023)
  • Central Europe has several recognizably common architectural features that make some towns in Galicia look remarkably like towns in Transylvania and Slovakia; shared musicians—Liszt, Chopin, Mahler, Dvořák, Smetana, Bartók, Kodály; shared writers, such as Musil, Gombrowicz, Koestler, Brod, Mickiewicz, Kafka, Roth, Zweig, Faludy; and some peculiar shared traditions, such as the tiny coffee spoon and the oversweet desserts with whipping cream.
  • Eastern Europe caused constant alarm in the Soviet supreme leadership. The suppression of the Hungarian Uprising had been traumatic for Khrushchëv. He had thought he was relaxing communist rule for everybody’s benefit but found that societies west of the Soviet Union hated their oppressors. The Prague Spring was less traumatic for Brezhnev, who had never promised reform in eastern Europe; his conscience, if he had one, was untroubled by his decision to send Warsaw Pact forces into Czechoslovakia in 1968. But military action dealt only with the symptoms. It offered no fundamental cure for the malaise of communism across the entire eastern half of the continent. From Stalin to Brezhnev the sickly phenomena persisted. The ‘colonies’ in eastern Europe had turned into a multinational drain on the Soviet budget. Nuclear missile bases had to be supplied if the threat of attack by NATO was to be faced down. The Soviet army also maintained garrisons which needed equipping and financing. These disgruntled troops were locally very unpopular and Moscow took the precaution of secluding its contingents well away from regular contact with the country’s civilian inhabitants. It was a most peculiar empire which resorted to such expedients. This was not all. Communised economies in eastern Europe were constructed on the Soviet model. It is true that Poland refrained from collectivising most of its peasantry; but industry, commerce, finance and transport copied the templates invented in the pre-war USSR. The result was permanent economic inadequacy. The countries of eastern Europe lacked the USSR’s abundance of natural resources. If Moscow wished to salvage the situation, it had to reconcile itself to the unceasing subsidisation of gas and oil exports.
    • Robert Service, Comrades: A History of Communism (2009)
  • In their native countries, Roosevelt and Churchill are regarded as examples of wise statesmen. But we, during our jail conversations, were astonished by their constant shortsightedness and even stupidity. How could they, retreating gradually from 1941 to 1945, leave Eastern Europe without any guarantees of independence? How could they abandon the large territories of Saxony and Thuringia in return for such a ridiculous toy as the four-zoned Berlin that, moreover, was later to become their Achille’s heel? And what kind of military or political purpose did they see in giving away hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens (who were unwilling to surrender, whatever the terms) for Stalin to have them killed? It is said that by doing this, that they secured the imminent participation of Stalin in the war against Japan. Already armed with the Atomic bomb, they did pay for Stalin so that he wouldn’t refuse to occupy Manchuria to help Mao Zedong to gain power in China and Kim Il Sung, to get half of Korea!… Oh, misery of political calculation! When later Mikolajczyk was expelled, when the end of Beneš and Masaryk came, Berlin was blocked, Budapest was in flames and turned silent, when ruins fumed in Korea and when the conservatives fled from Suez – didn’t really some of those who had a better memory, recall for instance the episode of giving away the Cossacks?
  • But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening. A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger -- 60 years for our people and 30 years for the people of Eastern Europe. During that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generally [produced] by standardized Western well-being. Therefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of many years of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.
  • To my mind, imperialism is something very simple and clear and it exists as a fact when one country, a large country, seizes a certain strip of territory and subjects to its laws a certain number of men and women against their will. Soviet policy after the beginning of the second world war was precisely this. There is no difficulty in pointing this out, but the difficulty lies in the fact that when one quotes from memory one will forget one or other argument. Because the Russians, thanks to the second world war, have quite simply annexed the three Baltic States, taken a piece of Finland, a piece of Rumania, a piece of Poland, a piece of Germany and, thanks to a well thought-out policy composed of internal subversion and external pressure, have established Governments justifiably styled as Satellites, in Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Sofia, Bucharest, Tirana and East Berlin - I except Belgrade where the regime is unique thanks to the energy and courage of Marshal Tito. If all this does not constitute manifestations of imperialism, if all this is not the result of a policy consciously willed and consciously pursued, an imperialist aim, then indeed we shall have to start to go back to a new discussion and a new definition of words.
  • Twenty-five years ago we [Poland] were eastern Europe. When we joined Nato and the EU, we became central Europe. Now, because of our resilience in the face of the financial crisis, we are northern Europe.
  • The French writer, Albert Camus, once lamented that "man eventually becomes accustomed to everything". I have always believed that this is an unjustly pessimistic view of our human condition; and in recent weeks I have seen enough to convince me that Camus, on this point at least, was wrong: 30,000 East Germans abandoning home, friends, jobs, everything, to escape to a new life of opportunity but also uncertainty in the West; thousands of Soviet miners striking not for more pay, but for better supplies; the joy of Poles as they greet their first non-Communist Prime Minister in 40 years; over a million inhabitants of the Baltic states forming a human chain to protest against the forced annexation of their nations; demonstrators in Prague braving the security forces to mark the 21st anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion; or in Leipzig calling for freedom of speech. Clearly the peoples of the East have not become accustomed to their lot.
  • Totalitarian rule has not made people less attracted by freedom, democracy and self-determination. The opposite is true. Nor has it made them incapable of exercising these values through political organization and self-expression: look at the debates in the new Congress of the People's Deputies, the activities of the popular fronts, Solidarity in Poland or the opposition parties in Hungary. The demand for pluralism and reform can now be heard in every Eastern nation. Some regimes have responded with a promising beginning: they are experiencing the turbulence of change but at least they are finally grappling with the real problems that have held them back for so long. Others have responded with repression, merely postponing the day of reckon-ing by loading their problems on to the future. In the meantime, their citizens fleed draining their economies of the precious skills and resources they will need most when ultimately they face up to the needs of tomorrow.
    • Manfred Wörner, Address given at the 35th Annual Session of the North Atlantic Assembly, 9 October 1989
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