Debate 1/2012 about the definition of „Central Europe”

„Central Europe” – for you – only purely geographical name or a notion of a greater importance?

Suggestion for reading:

Marc Leon: What’s so Eastern about Eastern Europe? Twenty Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 2009.

33 thoughts on “Debate 1/2012 about the definition of „Central Europe”

  1. I’d like to say several word about definition of Central Europe.

    What does it mean Central Europe? We should think about the main problem of this definition. What is more important when we consider this case – culture or geography?

    Maybe we shoul firstly discuss case of „Mittel Europa”. It was German scheme from the era of the Reich.

    Central Europe have also something in common with Iron Curtain. After War World II countries from this place joined Eastern Block.

    As for me, definition of Central Europe isn’t quite simple and clear. It’s Poland, Germany, our neighbours from East and other from Sorth. It doesn’t have precise borders. It depends from eatch person which country includes Central Europe.

    We don’t have one definition of this case. Each person could say what doesn’t mean for her. However, we can find similarities in this definitions.

    I’d like also present some colocations connected with Central Europe. First, Central Europe as the area of cultural heritage of the Habsburg Empire. Second, Central Europe as the area of cultural heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Next, West-Central and East-Central Europe – conception presented in 1950.

  2. For me term „Central Europe” refers to the both level of consciousness – to it’s geographical and cultural notion. This particular region was under development for many centuries. In my opinion it geograpgically starts at the east german border and covers the line of unexistent nowadays polish border from II Republic. It is difficult to measure with a full certainty the exact location of „central” on our continent. I’m ready to accept a old model that accured during the industrial revolution. During this process two different Europes emerged. First – quickly developing, thanks to the new technological inventions, and second – fusty and backward, focused on agriculture and in supplying the West. In this model the border between two types of economy lied on the Laba river. Going a little bit more back in time, to the XV century we can see that the First Commonwealth was basically the ruler of whole Central Europe as we know it today. Therefore it is clear for me that we can identify today’s Poland with the Central Europe. Of course it is not the only state that forms this region, although it is a leading country because of it’s size. Central states are: Baltic states, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia (in fact with a last one a had a trouble – but taking into consideration it’s history I can clarify later my statement).

    Why did I choose those countries?
    The answer is not so simple. The main reason is that all of those states have something in common – in past all of them lost their independence to the better organised structures. All of them suffered from the oppressive communist system. Their societies know the price of freedom and despite bad circumstances haven’t laid down their weapons. We can also see the difference in mentality. It is huge when we compare it to the eastern neighbours such as Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Basic example – the respect for the law is more visible in those listed countries. Second important factor is that the democracy doesn’t work properly on the east. We can see the tendencies for autoritharian goverments and „eastern type” of dealing with political enemies or inconvenient journalists. Mostly, they dissapear in strange conditions or are sentenced in shady trials. Thirdly, the oligarch presence. They have very strong position in the chain of power but are also (sometimes) deeply addicted to the present ruling force. Their careers were bouild on an expolitation of the masses and as fast as they reached the top, they can be thrown from it with a single order.

    On the other hand, we have rich, developed, West states. Their democracies are strongly gourded by the checks and balances system. The private sector takes major part in creating the country’s GDP and it’s more or less independent from changes of politcal events.

    Countries of Central Europe are somewhere in the middle. They are still grinding their political system. Still their ecenomy is not so competetive in comparison to their west neighbours. There are no oligarchs (or not so many, but they are hidden in the shadows of their companies – They rather not stick with politicians, who are considered as a hot zone).
    What is common nowadays is their ambition in the big race of joining the elite club of rich countries. They are doing their best to manage this goal. One step was already set – the great majority of them joined the EU. It was and still is one of the biggest successes of Central Europe in modern history.

  3. Nowadays many people consider the term ,,Central Europe’’ only purely a geographical name. Unfortunately, the do not take into account the whole past connected with this beautiful region. That place, referred to as Middle Europe, is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe, had to face an enormous struggle to be independent and to have more freedom. It is definitely a notion of greater importance, a set of values and a kind of symbol. Moreover, in my opinion it is a space where that set of values was constituted and from where, it influenced the entire Europe – despite of the stubborn ignorance coming nowadays from the “Western democracies”.
    Firstly, I would like to present some current views on Central Europe. At the beginning I’d like to mention how Peter J. Katzenstein described Central Europe. He compared it to the a way station in a Europeanization process that marks the transformation process of the Visegrád Group countries in different, though comparable ways. According to him, in Germany’s contemporary public discourse „Central European identity” refers to the civilizational divide between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. He says there’s no precise, uncontestable way to decide whether the Baltic states, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria are parts of Central Europe or not. However, Lonnie R. Johnson thinks that Central Europe is a dynamical historical concept, not a static spatial one. For example, Lithuania, a fair share of Belarus and western Ukraine are in Eastern Europe today, but 250 years ago they were in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
    Secondly, we all must remember that everyone is different. Some people are inclined to believe that the term Central Europe exists only in Europeans ,,minds or strictly members of this area’’. Inhabitants of the rest of the world do not manage with this division. Fortunately, I hardly believe that CE is about something more, not only a region. When it comes to place where people died for ideas and morals, we can easily connect that place with the Central Europe. It is a place full of nationalities, people threat ourselves with balance, tolerance and harmony. Day by day, we see many people, white, black etc. and when we stay open-minded and tolerant living in that region will be only a joy for us.
    In conclusion, the topic a little bit confusing, because each of us has his own point of view. According to me Central Europe is very multifaceted region. From the very beginning it was the example of fighting for rights. On the other hand, I think that the concept of the Central Europe should be examined in terms of history and geographical location, thus both should be viewed separately. I do not agree with the view that people, who live in Eastern Europe, are somehow significantly different, in their behavior or mentality, to people from Western Europe. There is no use in comparing people from different places. We all must be ourselves and we cannot forget about our identities, respect and tolerance.

  4. Now, after having read all the answers to all the questions raised here, I came to understand what did not fit to my understanding from the very beginning, what sounded odd or, at least improper. I think there is something beyond the question of defining Central Europe or its main historical events. It is the classical issue of agency vs. structure. Are we talking about the states or about people? For, in my understanding, (following, as I said, Milan Kundera, Jacques Le Rider, Ernest Gellner or Urs Altermatt but also politicians like Nagy Imre, Milan Hodza or Bronislaw Geremek) Mitteleuropa is above all, a culture. A political one, a set of values, of common memories (why not also a set of common forgetting, as Altermatt suggests?). It is a Weltanschauung, before (or instead of) being a group of states! Therefore, the starting point should be the definition of what are we looking for? My feeling is that all the replies, while talking about independent states, re-gaining sovereignty, borders (that separate, thou pretending not to do that), all these replies represent (perhaps unconsciousness) the point of view created, induced by and profiting to the states. The national-states, I mean. Their officials, their bureaucracies are eager to – and perhaps, the only one interested in – preserve (ing) the discourse, dilemmas and pitfalls of the differences, of the national heroes, events, independence. In this region, I can’t recall one single historical moment to witness a real identity between the states’ independence and a real, full sovereignty (on one hand) and, also, a superposition of these with the freedom of their people (on the other hand). Think about all the moving borders! Think of the people living there, and having the “chance” to be citizens of one, two or even three countries within one’s lifetime, without leaving their native place (even street or house!!!) Think, please of Banat, of the former Galicia, of Bucovina and so on. What does it really matter for us? Is it the map of a chessboard, on which we have been seldom – if ever – real players? Where “countries” of this region have been buffer states if not colonies or no countries for some time? And, again, what about people? What about their families – all of a sudden spread in different countries, with or even without fluid borders in between? What about the common issue to hold us together and define a Central Europe – if it still exists?
    I would say so: those dividing Europe into East and West do not even want to acknowledge any Central Europe, on any kind of map, be it political, geographical or cultural. They would have lots to learn and adjust in their minds, agendas, behavior and this is really uncomfortable! I am talking about present day case, thus presuming that Cold War is ended.
    Second, what is coming out from all the replies I read is more a list of family resemblances than “a common root” of Central Europe (if I may paraphrase B. Geremek) And this is a signal that the background, the education lying behind these answers is a national – when not a nationalistic one – more or less softened by the age and direct experiences of the responders. The “common roots” will only be manifest after we will put this entire school heritage apart! I am not suggesting that one should forget his/ her identity! Not at all! But it looks incomplete, so far! Each of us should define it in its whole, not just as much as it is accepted, promoted, and favorable to a certain state in a certain year. Therefore, I would say, we need to fill in our gaps, going – each of us – behind the national identity (taking it with us, but not as a monopolistic story), going behind, to the “common roots”. There we may find the definition of Central Europe, the treasure waiting for us to look for it in a proper manner.
    Last, but not least! More than two centuries ago, the 13 American colonies debated whether to become a federation or just a strategic/ defense alliance (confederation). At the end of the day, the federal idea won the battle, creating the USA. It still has that Constitution into force, it is still a big power, one extremely important actor in global politics. One may complain about the melting pot. Well, we all know that this is the aim/ behavior/ solution of any emigrant: assimilation; letting the environment assimilate him/ her. After all, emigration is about one’s will of change the pattern, the paradigm, the story. Will Kymlicka analyses this phenomenon in many of his books, esp. in “Multicultural citizenship” But we, here, in the Central Europe we are not emigrants! Here, we have the Swiss pattern. In 1848, when all the ethnic groups in Europe learnt about nationalism and independence, the Swiss small groups of different languages, perhaps different (political) cultures faced a hard dilemma: either to be nationalistic and, finally, swallowed by the big hungry wolfs around them (France, Germany and Italy) or, getting smart and preserve both their identity and freedom!!! I have said: both ! So, here it is Switzerland – with a modern Constitution, a legal system envied by all the Europeans, with a strong currency and a high living standard.
    But the whole story is to be able and define your “enemy”, understand when he is hungry enough to swallow us and in that particular moment, to be smart enough to stay free! I suspect that our real enemy is nationalism! The remaining question is: are we, the Central Europeans smart enough? Are we able to free ourselves from the narratives of national states, of geopolitics and others alike in order to find ourselves with full definition? As I said, how much full identity do we have and, what does the traditional independence / sovereignty pair still mean? Are we really aware of the chance we have been given; of our opportunities as well as of our odd ignorance?
    As long as we will still define Central Europe in terms of states’ borders, list of states and states’ sovereignty, the game is already lost. There is no Central Europe, but only a geographical matter, sometimes, a trendy topic for a seminar. But we have the chance to be smart and find the “common roots”, that is the definition, the identity, the sense of a Central Europe. All these are possible if and only if we, the people, matter! If and only as long as people matter much more than the states. Agency, not structure….
    If needed, I would only add that Central Europe has been a world of agencies, of free people, with ethically mixed identities, loyalties and ways of understanding life. Opened monads, with windows and gates transgressing, not bordering!
    And there is also something to be mentioned, perhaps as a nice way to conclude. It seems to me that Central Europe is a culture of beer, in contrast to the Western wine and the Eastern vodka. There are so many beer brands originated in this region, so much art and tradition in producing beer as well as a well known culture of talking around a beer. Talking!!! A culture of talking, of stories to be said and of people willing to listen. Wine is for fancy, for elegant people, tasting and leaving. Even the English tea is about short talking, since time is money… Vodka is about survival against hard times and geography. Beer is about the pleasure, the openness, the joy of being together and telling stories. The joy of living! I think we need to find these common stories and start telling them properly in the global seminar. When we will be convincing enough, Central Europe will have a say!

  5. Since I am in my hometown now and perhaps my previous answer sound a little bit poetic, I need to come back by saying at least two things.
    First, in my opinion it was the national (discourse, ideology, state) that broke the Central European paradigm and those supporting (conscious or, worse, unconscious) this path will always come to argue that Central Europe is an intellectual construct, an „imagined community” (Anderson), following their own rationale. I would only reply that before and beyond all constructed, imagined, engineered narratives, there has been and there is something real. Perhaps (and usually) annoying the realists, the positivists and all the -ists in this world. However, reality, substantive reality will contradict them, whatsoever.

    Second, thou my argumentation may sound metaphoricly, there is literature behind it and I will only mention three authors, out of a longer list. As for those seeking geographical borders, I would say> Ernest Gellner, „Nationalism”; or E.Gellner, „The Condition of Freedom”, where he describes the four meantime zones in Europe, with Central Europe as being the third one.
    Very close and related to his work, one may find Urs Altermatt with „Forecast from Sarajevo”, who continues Gellner s typology, although he does not use the term „meantime zones”.
    As for the features of Central Europe as well as for the differences between Mitteleuropa and Central Europa, there is Jacques le Rider with many of his titles.

    Thirdly, I would say the same think I plead for, some years ago in the Warsaw conference, namely that Central Europe – as any center – is a pattern. A model of how Europe (European Union) may find its way into politics and international relations as well as a pattern of how everything may be destroyed grace of misunderstanding, envyness and stupid ambitions. Politics is seldom about myths and balance, usually about vanity. I know. But I hope that the fate of Central Europe will stay as a lesson for the EU policy makers to preserve and strenghten the European project.

  6. So, finally, I manage to enter the debate – I hope. It seems to me a little bit strange that almost everyone discusses such a subjective charged topic using the most neutral, frozen clichees in international relations or history, as if for us, as (Central) Europeans, international relations ought came first, before Central Europe. While history … well, it depends what kind of history we „use”: the real one or the formal version. As for me, Central Europe is, above all, a set of values, a symbol, a space where that set of values was constituted and from where, it influenced the entire Europe – despite of the stubborn ignorance coming nowadays from the „Western democracies”. Central Europe is a Weltanschaaung, a type (set of types) of behavior and – perhaps grounding all of these – a particular way of thinking, of asking (certain) questions and of giving answers notonly to questions but to the life’ challenges.
    Following Kundera, I would say that Central Europe is a place where people fight and – at limit 0 – dye for ideas, for principles, for values. is a place of measure and education, of balance, respect and spiritual richness. And all these, due to its main definition as a space of borders transgressed> multilingual borders, multicultural ones, transdisciplinary, trans-human characteristics, trans-religion, trans-everything. The main feature is its committment to transgress any border> in arts, science, spirituality, geography, historical ages – in order to produce, maintain, preserve a rich culture. It may be puzzled, may be hard to understand from outside, where the purity is/ had been too often the basic command – but Central Europe, as any CENTRUM, is the place of coincidentia oppositorium finding their common place and inter-correlations. It is beyond any positivism geography – but borders are drawn by the human beings living and preserving this set of values. It is the consequence of lived history – though, I am afraid that there is no handbook in force, now, to mirror it. But there are the traditional inhabitants, even if – or perhaps bacause of – moving here and here within this space – these inhabitants are living history handbooks – for whoever might want to listen and take notes. There is not an issue of international relations, especially among (nation)-states, since the nation-states had been built somehow against its deep essence. I am not trying to mix things that have particularities, but pure groups do not belong to Central Europe, while national states aim to construct and impose such constructions. National states had been brought into building in order to destroy a world, its unity and coherence and separate its pieces into – sometimes – antagonistic units, other times in entities with restrain communication or controlled mobility.
    But Central Europe is our soul – of those living not only geographically, but culturally in a world designed for us by people – well-known or not – whose names are even unknown in the West or, most often, disconnected to Central Europe. They are Europeans, since the West can get the spiritual profit out of this and cease to be as important as they were considererd as soon as the Westerns discover that these people come from cities or regions with strange names, hard to be pronounced or connected.
    Yes, we may say that central Europe is a space between Western Europe and Eastern one, but in the sense of balancing between a certain national purity, grounded on vanities, wars and an exacerbated cult of power, on one side, and of a certain seeked spiritual purity of ortodox Christianism, aiming to separate mundan world from the spiritual one and explain all our complains in terms of principles there while we here and expectance in between.
    Well, Central Europe could never buy such things. They could have been imposed by means of tanks or international treatries – which, as any human made issues – do not exist very long.
    Central Europe is our fairy tale – for those still believing in them. A fairy tale with kind people and open minded communities; with mixed identities and thus, with mixed points of view, with a taste of de-borderring, of de-construction and of combining according to new and new opportunities. It is a tale in which all is possible, since all is taken into account and chances are valued even if nothing in the world would argue for that.
    To conclude, Central Europe is the definition of equilibrium and complexity, be it human, political, scientific or artistic. Is a taste, an irony and a deep sense of quality placed against all odds.

  7. For me Central Europe means only geographic area. If someone asked me if I consider myself as a „Central European” I would be very surprised that someone can divide our common European identity into regions. For me the greatest achievement of european integration is fact that we can identify ourselves as group even if we are divided ethnically, geographically, economically. Being European is basic right no matter if we are poor or rich, Polish or French, living in the city or rural area. That’s what’s in my opinion makes us (as the region) unique – kind of equity which is present in european legal and economical system. That we share some kind of European citizenship. That’s of course not the direct answer to the question but it is explanation why (in my opinion) Central Europe have only geographical meaning. Of course this region is in some way unique but I would say it is so mostly because of history but not because of any special bounds countries in CE have.

  8. After reading a headword of this debate I remembered some articles written about central Europe. Middle Europe was always an object argument for thinkers and writers in geopolitical issues. Milan Kunderas (“The Tragedy of Central Europe”), Alexey Miller and many others used Central Europe as an inspiration in their works.
    As for me, Central Europe is not only purely geographical name, except from its geographical location( lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe), this part of Europe is the heart of European culture. In my point of view , The term „Central Europe” has primarily political content. After the Yalt conference in 1945 the west Europe decided a fate of the middle Europe by “handing in” to the soviet Russia (Poland ,Hungary , Czechoslovakia… ) Central Europe had borders on Russia and the South-Eastern Europe, but the exact frontier of the region is difficult to determine. An important distinction between the modern image of Central Europe, cultivated in the region, is the understanding of Russia as a “stranger”.
    Central Europe has a cultural, political and geographical identity that’s why it is a notion of a greater importance. Middle Europe exists as an ideological phenomenon.

  9. “Central Europe” – for you – only purely geographical name or a notion of a greater importance? – commentary

    After reading through all commentaries about the question at hand it became more than clear that the notion of “Central Europe” is somewhat hard to decipher. Some people embraced it, others never heard of it. There were a lot of voices for and against. So after long deliberation this is what I came up with, from all the different opinions.
    1) The concept of “Central Europe” understood by people our class mates.
    • Genevieve – “The European politics courses I followed in Canada focused almost exclusively on the EU and Western European countries, so I find I know too little about the countries that I would place in Central Europe to explain what I think defines them” – The point presented by our class mate from Canada pretty much summons up the overall opinion of how the concept of “Central Europe” is viewed overseas and everywhere else except of Central European area. In other, words it’s not a concept very widely accepted. The main reasons for this in my opinion, is that usually the english news in Europe concentrate on Germany, France, Italy, England or the US. Another reason is that foreign literature at universities and schools also centres on Europe in the context of UK, France and Germany. Thus, French, German and English history is pretty much European history, as far as the world is concerned. Forgetting that Europe is far bigger and richer then these “great nations”. I sometimes watch english news channels like CNN International, BBC World News, France 24 and Al Jazeera, you will almost never hear anything about Poland or most post – communistic countries. Unless something really tragic happens in that specific country. One could argue that it’s also partly due to the fact that our economic role in the international arena is simply to small and irrelevant to make the headlines. Concluding, with – Katarzyna B – statement “Perceiving Central Europe as a region depends on the standpoint of human beings. I am inclined to believe that the term Central Europe exists only in Europeans’ minds or strictly members of this area’’
    • Lidia Gibadło – “To my mind considering Central Europe today as a geopolitical notion isn’t right.” From Lidia point of view “Central Europe” geo-politically doesn’t actually function at the notion at all, in Europe. The main argument she points to is that everyone works to better their own agenda. Thus, there is no clear cooperation between nations, like for example in case of common energy policies. Personally I agree, we live in a world where the realist approach in politics dominates. The liberal approach only works when two or more sides have something to gain, and only when it’s impossible to achieve it alone. But even then statesmen are never 100% sure if cooperation is worth it. Suffice to say, the idea of Central Europe is nothing more than an idealistic idea propagated by people, who wish to see more, in places where there’s nothing to see (in my opinion). – Ksawery B. – “However, to be honest, I believe, that the idea of Central Europe is a bit artificial, made up and unnecessary term”.

    2) Issue of Geographic location vs. Geo-political allocation
    Another, general issue that was present in most comments, whilst debating the idea of “Central Europe”, was the dispute between the idea of Central Europe as a geographical concept vs. a geo-political concept. To be honest it was hard to get it all together, as some people dismissed it all together, whilst others embraced both concepts as valid or just one of the two.
    • Marta Romanowska – For example argued that “Central Europe is a geographical name for countries that are situated between Western and Eastern Europe”. Than moves on claiming that there’s some historical context that validates this notion, between countries like Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland Estonia and the Balkans. What’s really interesting she, also claims that this region is less technologically developed than western Europe but more than eastern Europe (I think meaning Ukraine and Belarus not sure). I think that’s an interesting idea and something could be there.
    • Monika Mróz – “The matter of central Europe as something more than geographical position is a bit complicated.” – she acknowledges the presents of this idea, as in a geographical context, encompassing countries like Poland, Slovakia and Czech Rep., but then moves on claiming that, the mentality of our society is still closer to the Eastern bloc. So in this case it’s our society, which I guess can be stretched to political views, are more eastern European. Although, I agree with the general concept, personally I think that each nation and the society within it, whether in Eastern or Western Europe, has its own unique perspective and identity.
    • Filip Sz. – “The terms “Eastern”, “Central” are merely tools of stereotyping one’s worldview. Stereotypes, as many have mentioned before me, can do a lot of harm, but I feel they’re a necessity and will never diminish. The world is far too big a place to rationalize every single thing that occurs within.” – I really like this statement! Why?! Well, because it points out exactly the true nature and the real reason behind ideas like ‘central e.’, ‘western e.’ or ‘eastern e.’. These are names, labels or designations that we as people give to each other and to places, in order to understand the world around us. However, usually it serves as a tool, to underline the differences between “us” and “them”. Personally, I’m not a fan of dividing the world like that.
    • Joanna Sz. – “how can we define parts of Europe in other way than by countries? How can we use the notions like “central, eastern, western” if we don’t agree in what to take into consideration while making these notions?” – This is another interesting way of looking at the idea of central Europe. As here we face the question of how we define the region we live in. Do we base our allocation by how we feel, by our common identity, history, culture or geography? Moreover, how far back into the past do we reach? How does it correlate to the present situation in Europe and our neighbours? Honestly it’s hard to decide, I guess it all depends on which, concept we concentrate on when discussion “Central Europe”.
    3) Is Central Europe better version of Eastern Europe
    The third most prominent aspect that surfaced in the debate was the issue of economic wealth and development. From what I have read it would seem that the concept of “Central Europe”, also to some, points towards more than geographical aspects or geo-political issues. See now, “Central Europe” is a region in Europe, composed of some post-communistic countries, which at present are more developed and at a higher economical level, than some others which still should be called Eastern Europe, because there less developed.
    • Zoryanaskalych – “Western- developed wealthy and high industrialized, Central- quite developed but in the process reaching the same level as Western, and Eastern- on the third position, as a region with a lot of economic problems, developing, but very slowly and with a lot of internal problems that Central Europe has already passed through.” – I can’t argue for or against this claim, because I don’t have the sufficient knowledge to give a valid opinion. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting view worth looking at. I think the main issue here, is how we view ourselves, and how we want to be viewed by the international community. Wanting to be seen with value or with equal statues, by others is human nature. Nobody wants to be the underdog. I think that Eastern Europe caries to much negative emotions. Not only does it remind use of the gloomy past, but also puts use in the second category to Western Europe. When people think of Eastern Europe they think of poverty, lack of civilisation, authoritarian rule, communism, Russian influence, undeveloped, weak economy and so on. So naturally it’s obvious that we want to work our way away for these stereotypes, but is creating an new concept of “central Europe” a good idea?!
    • Aleksandra – “In the past, and probably in some cases today as well, we are thought (mostly in West Europe) to be cheap labour force, poor people loving alcohol and disturbances.” – Aleksandra, unlike some, embraces the idea of “central Europe” as an authentic reality. However, from my experience, when talking to people from UK, Germany or France “central Europe” is perceived as a geographical area not as a geo-political concept and it refers to Germany in their views. Also, when looking back at some other comments we can see that the idea of “central Europe” is somewhat hard to pin point. I guess the coming decades will show if the idea of ”central Europe” will have any value or not. Whether, in terms of economic development like claimed “Zoryanaskalych” or like “Katarzyna b” sees it – “In my view, the notion ‘’Central Europe’’ is rooted only in the mentality of ‘’members of this territory’’’ which want the distinction because of their common history (they are all ex-communist countries).”
    • Agnieszka Piech – “If we look at The United Nations Statistics Division definition of Poland we find it in the group of Eastern Europe countries, among the others: Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine. This classification is based on the Soviet Union realm and the Warsaw Pact” – I think that Agnieszka Piech, just pointed our attention, with this information, on the right track. The thing is how can we debate the notion of “Central Europe” if the United Nation designates us as part of Eastern Europe?! Well in all truth it’s pointless. This also answers our questions on why the international country refers to Poland as part of Eastern Europe, instead as “central Europe”. Because by all international standards and law central Europe does not exist! Many people, living in the area might not agree with this or even feel offended. To those who might feel that way, I have one thing to say, does it really matter so much. Not to me.
    Concluding, I think that the debate was intense and many good ideas where presented. I had the opportunity to analyze all the different opinions, which was really stimulating. It’s nice to see, so many different points of view. Personally, I think the concept of central Europe should be viewed in terms of history and geographical location; however both should be viewed separately. I also don’t agree with the view that people, who live in Eastern Europe, are somehow significantly different, in their behavior, to folks from Western Europe. I’ve lived more than half my life abroad and one thing I’ve learnt is that we are all more or less the same; it only depends on the individuals that we meet on our path. More to the point, I think that the notion of central Europe has little validity in today’s realities and with time the western/eastern division will also subside.

  10. What would be the best and most reasonable criterion, that we could use to separate Central Europe as a slightly exceptional region, not using geographical key, which seems to be too obvious (as a Central Europe I could understand: Poland, Hungary, Czech Rep., Slovakia, maybe, but just maybe, parts of Bulgaria, Romania and Balkans) ? First of all, I thought about religion and the primary role of catholicism and protestantism; also language could help us to find a symbolic „borders” of Central Europe – i believe, that inside Central Europe we can communicate (sometimes better, sometimes not) with other nations without using foreign languages (maybe except Hungarians).
    However, to be honest, I believe, that the idea of Central Europe is a bit artificial, made up and uneeded term. Sometimes I wonder, if It hasn’t been created by nations, which identity has been based on tensions between East and West. Central Europe was always (maybe except few centuries) a victim, a puppet, because of its political and geographical location. Great Russia and Great Germany – Central Europe always had to take one of these sites.
    That is why, I think that dividing Europe into two parts – Western and Eastern – makes sense and even easily can defend itself. Lots of people can ask – ‚What about Southern, Northern, Central Europe? Maybe let’s go further – semi – middle Europe (Austria), semi – northern Europe (Estonia) etc.? I don’t see the point to create such many, and probably not possible to define, conceptions. Political existence in Europe is aleady too confusing.

  11. Central Europe is a geographical name for countries that are situated between Western and Eastern Europe. We began to use this term more often after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Nevertheless, there is plenty of definitions for this territory. Some sources assume that Central Europe consists of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, but for others it is an extensive area from Estonia to the Balkans.
    As far as I am concerned, Central Europe, as purely geographical name, cannot exists, because its boundaries are not clearly defined. I am also convinced that we have a lot more in common, starting from history, ending on our position in modern Europe. What is more, Central Europe is kind of a line that divides more technology advanced and rich West from a poorer and more traditional East. However, this line is very fluent and it changes in time. For example, in a historical and political way we are more similar to post soviet countries, but I like to consider our nation as as open minded and modern as the Western European nations. To sum up, the area of Central Europe is flexible and it is not easy to define it.

  12. The matter of central Europe as something more than geographical position is a bit complicated. It is easy to form a statement that we live in central Europe basing on grid references.
    In the mass media we can also see that it is in good taste to present countries such as Poland Slovakia or Czech Republic as ‘central’ when speaking of Europe. Someone not familiar with our culture and habits may assume that it’s the proper division.
    But in my opinion we have too much things in common with other former U.S.S.R . republics to make separate division for us. Moreover, mentality and behavior of people living in geographical center of Europe is something so fluent and fast changing that it is impossible to define it. If someone asked me to divide Europe by mindsets, my first thought would be: Western, Eastern and Mediterranean. Adding definition of ‘Central’ is not worth the effort, statements describing central Europe nowadays may fit completely different region in just few years.

  13. Perceiving Central Europe as a region depends on the standpoint of human beings. I am inclined to believe that the term Central Europe exists only in Europeans’ minds or strictly ‘’members of this area’’. Inhabitants of the rest of the world don’t manage with this division as Genevieve said. It seems to me that they draw the attention only on the aspect of membership to the European Union. On the grounds of this argument Europe is divided on the European Union and Russia (the rest-Ukraine, Belarus etc. is not distinguished-they are treated as Russian areas). Nowadays a notion ’’Central Europe’’ has lost its importance-it last up to joining to the EU by these countries. However, countries which are situated geographically in Western Europe such as France, Great Britain or Germany look at the territory of Central Europe as an eastern border of European Union which is characterized by the backward and a cheap labour.
    In my view, the notion ‘’Central Europe’’ is rooted only in the mentality of ‘’members of this territory’’’ which want the distinction because of their common history (they are all ex-communist countries) or maybe some cultural similarities-most of them are Slavs. The diffusion of the perception of unity with all members of EU by the Central Europeans is not visible as in countries located in Western Europe. I firmly believe that this phenomenon will fade away and these countries will treat themselves as members of European Union. Taking everything into consideration it is an idea of this confederation…..

  14. Central Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the areas of Eastern and Western Europe. But, in my point of view Central Europe is not only purely geographical name.

    There is no denying that there is some differences between the Central, Eastern and Western Europe, at the very least in income and living standards. Of course, Western Europe is a richest region. Why? One of the reason is that the Central Europe is a area consist of countries which ended up in communist captivity, and which have to catch up on the decades that they lost. They have stood up to challenges of establishing democracies and market economics. This transition to different political and economic system is their common history, which integrate all this countries into one name- Central Europe.

    In a sense, the definition of this geographical region is determined historically, and depends on being free and not controlled, on dependence or independence from communists.

  15. This is, indeed, a tremendously difficult matter. Is the fact that the countries in question share a communism-ridden past enough to associate them as one geopolitical region? Hard to say, but I do not agree with such a sentiment. The name, for me, holds a geographical context, which is also hard to decipher. Most of the rules seem arbitrary. The terms „Eastern”, „Central” are merely tools of stereotyping one’s worldview. Stereotypes, as many have mentioned before me, can do a lot of harm, but I feel they’re a necessity and will never diminish. The world is far too big a place to rationalize every single thing that occurs within. There’s been some discussion above about how does a Central European’s portrait looks like and, yes, it’s a sad state of affairs. I visit London quite often, and people are always surprised I can speak the local language. This is not, however, a trait exclusive to us – a vast majority of stereotypes are of a negative nature (see: the dirty Italian, the dimwitted yokel from the southern USA…).
    Summing up, a term like Central Europe is a necessity. We need stereotyping, grouping, in order to make sense of the world. I don’t it shall ever disappear.

  16. I do agree with all the opinions saying that the notion: “Central Europe” has more to do with common culture or common history than with geography. However, personally I would not minimize the importance of geography in this case and not only in this case. What I want to say is that the Central Europe is not the only region (certainly, for me it is a region) difficult to define. Let’s take for example (earlier mentioned) Eastern Europe or Western Europe, or let’s go further and think about Middle East, North Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America, etc. First association we have when we hear each one of these names is precisely geography. I mean that firstly we put each one of these terms on the map (even though we may not know exactly which countries compose it) and later we associate it with some special characteristics like common politics, culture, economy, history, religion, industry, etc.

    In this sense, from my point of view, Central Europe is a geographical region in Europe whose state composition is determined nowadays mainly by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the extent of independence from its successor, namely Russia.

  17. I surmise that the notion of Central Europe has a greater political and cultural importance. Little would I agree that it is only a purely geographical term such as the North European Plain due to several reasons.

    To start with, if we look at the political history of Europe, we would notice an abundance of ideas about what constitutes Central Europe. Some of these concepts were pointed out during the lecture, namely Friedrich Neumann’s Mitteleuropa. Albeit there was no definite agreement between them about the range of Central Europe, yet plenty of them denoted some kind of political or cultural connections.
    Moreover, if Central Europe was thought to be only geographical idea the concepts would have been based only on firm geographical features which did not happened. And still it sustains to me unclear what geographical features (e.g. the midpoint of Europe) and countries might build Central Europe.

    Therefore I find the definition of Central Europe both intricate and dynamic. I reckon that during research one shall also consider observation of the discourse about existence of this imagined community (B. Anderson) among interested individuals who identify themselves or other people as “from Central Europe” in some situations. On this basis, I suppose that the notion surely denotes areas of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. As for the rest of potential “candidates” I remain more cautious.

  18. To my point of view today if somebody thinks about any region, he takes under attention a geopolitical aspect. We don’t think only in geographical way. So it is obvious that the definition of Central Europe is hard to unify. In fact Central Europe as a geographical name is a region between Western Germany and Western Ukraine and from Northern Poland to Northern Balkans, and touching also a part of Romania,to my mind. Geographical coverage don’t take under attention countries and their borders or political obstacles,if it is correct to relate some country with some region. They are constant.
    If we try to define the position of Central Europe, it will go from our personal perception, but our perception is built on the general stereotype of the country or region where we are from. Also if we look on the definitions of some authors, we should take under attention where are they from and in what period where they creating their theory or definition.
    Maybe I was not clear in expressing my own point of view on the question. So, as a conclusion of what I wrote before, I can say, that dividing Europe into Western, Central and Eastern has some political meaning. Western- developed wealthy and high industrialized, Central- quite developed but in the process reaching the same level as Western, and Eastern- on the third position, as a region with a lot of economical problems, developing, but very slowly and with a lot of internal problems that Central Europe has already passed through.

  19. When people ask me where I come from, my answer to that question is: „Central Europe” (meaning Poland). By saying that I express my background, my philosophy, my experience and much more. It is not only a region where I was born and brought up. To me this term has a special notion. It is not an easy task to define the exact area of it. Where does this Central Europe begin, where is its end? Well, there is no right answer. As everything on this continent, also this aspect is very flexible and unstable. With the passage of time, the heart of Central Europe has been changing. However, I think that there are several common points among Central Europeans (although it is difficult to talk about their exact citizenships). We share similar history, values and traditions. In the past, and probably in some cases today as well, we are thought (mostly in West Europe) to be cheap labour force, poor people loving alcohol and disturbances. Quite often the role of Central Europe is undervalued. It might be so because of complexity of Central Europe.The inhabitants of this part of Europe have the sense of unity but at the same time they are extremely divided by their ethnic origine, religions, languages etc. All these factors show that the term of Central Europe cannot be discussed only as a region. To understand Europe as a whole, it is necessary to gain knowledge about this what is called Central Europe.

    1. Is it so wrong with a stereotype of Central Europe („cheap labour force, poor people loving alcohol and disturbances” as you write) or it is your idea? Have you experience the existence of this stereotype?

      1. Of course this is the worst possible image of Central Europeans and I strongly disagree with it. Unfortunately from my personal experience I see that this stereotypes are still alive. In France, when I said that I come from Central Europe, first association of the French (people at the age of around 60) was „oh yes, plumbers’ region”. To my surprise their knowledge about Central Europe was extremely bad. During a discussion about it, they used a name „Czechoslovakia”. It was me who explained them that this country doesn’t exist (it was in 2009). I had similar situation in the UK after I had said that I come from CE. The only thing they could say about people from this part of Europe was that we are good at rebuilding houses, cleaning etc. Another example – while ordering meal in a restaurant, where I was with people from different European countries, a German asked me: „you don’t order vodka? I though that you drink it all the time”. That was really unpleasant. By all means, I also heard many good things about Central Europe from foreigners, for example the Dutch. But I wanted to show that this kind of stereotypes are still present. And in my opinion we should do something to root it out. Otherwise we will be still treated like I mentioned above.

  20. It is problematic to take a concept as widely heard as Central or Eastern Europe and declare that it should somehow be left to something as inconsistent as personal perspectives or points of view. It would seem that this leads to the exact sort of misunderstanding that often frustrates the residents of those regions. In allowing categorization to be left to the individual, we open the door for a continuation of that same behaviour.

    There is clearly an argument to be made for Central Europe as a geographical, not a cultural, term. If Central and Eastern Europe were simply treated as geographical regions, a lot of frustration could be avoided. We do not define countries by geography alone – if Central Europe were merely a geographical term, it is possible that foreigners would be less likely to assume the countries located within it are ‘all the same’ based on their location.

    However, there are numerous cultural and historical associations made with the idea of Central Europe which are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Treating Central Europe as ‘mere geography’ may be impossible. So we come back to the need for a wider discussion. If we are to find a definition of Central Europe that does not frustrate the people who live within it, and also does not lead to confusion and false assumptions on the part of those who live outside it, it cannot simply be left to personal perspective.

    1. Okey, but what do mean with „personal perspective”? At the beginnings somebody must be „personal” to give (describe) a new perspective. What do think about this?

  21. It seems impossible to answer to this question in a few words. There’s a lots of different points of view as far as the term “Central Europe” is concerned. The problem is what criteria should we take in consideration. Shall we look at these countries in a purely geographic way or just compare their history, language, religion and politics?

    If we look at The United Nations Statistics Division definition of Poland we find it in the group of Eastern Europe countries, among the others: Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine. This classification is based on the Soviet Union realm and the Warsaw Pact.

    But then, Lithuania falls under Northern Europe category, just like the United Kingdom. At this moment, the only thing that comes to my mind is how could they classify Lithuania in the same group that the UK while it is obvious that Lithuania has more in common with Poland than with Great Britain. Geography can’t be the only criteria.

    I think it would be terribly difficult to propose a clear classification but I am totally offended when foreigners say that e.g. Poland is somewhere close to Russia and it seems to be all the same to them. Mixing Eastern Europe and Central Europe is a manifestation of a strong ignorance. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia are historically catholic and/or Lutheran while Eastern Europe is orthodox. Central European countries use the Latin alphabet whereas Eastern Europe use the Cyrillic one. Also, speaking of politics, it is essential to stress the importance of the rich tradition of democracy in Poland (first constitution in Europe). Russia, the heart of Eastern Europe has been always authoritarian.

    The definition of Central Europe is a matter of perspective and personal point of view.

  22. For me Central Europe is not and cannot merely be a geographical region. It is a notion of much greater importance and should be understood politically as consisting of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. There have been many similarities in the contemporary history and fate of these four countries, which at the same time distinguish them from the rest of Europe and give the term of Central Europe a collective identity.
    History has proven that it is a distinct region with a past marked by the hegemony of two empires over populations of different ethnicity, then by the formation of states, later by Soviet dominance and still later by the collapse of the socialist regimes. What distinguishes Central Europe from the Balkans that have a similar pattern, is the widely spread pursuit of freedom under communism, awareness of democratic values, social revolt, and discontent which resulted in events such as the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague spring, and the numerous strikes and Solidarity movement in Poland.
    Such events did not happen on the Balkans, therefore Central Europe as a political entity is again a different case. Central Europe is also a crossroads between the West and the East and between the North and the South, between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Protestantism and Catholicism.
    Other features which are intrinsic to this region and come to my mind as first associations to the term „Central Europe” are Greek Catholic Church, the many diacritical marks in the orthography of all four languages, and the area where the Holocaust was at its worst…

  23. Just as Joanna mentioned, it is not exactly appropriate to use a term which can be hardly defined. Thus, it is only the geographical meaning I consider valid. Such understanding of the Central Europe would include notably Germany, Poland and Hungary along with contemporary Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

    When discussing the other aspects – political and cultural – we have to consider the historical point of view. This brings me to the conclusion that even in those aspects, geographical definition is very accurate. For millennia, the main axis of both cooperation and hostilities in the region was between German states and Poland – analogous to the French – Anglo-Saxon axis in the west.

    In the late XIX century, post-Bismarck’s Prussia did not shift its orientation to the west – its ambitions went global. This approach along with future events (most notably, the Habsburg empire collapse and re-creation of the Polish state) greatly diminished mutual dependences. Still, connections between existing countries in geographically defined central-European countries are relatively strong and develop, contrary to the relations with Balkan countries which hardly affect us.

    Summarizing, even in political understanding, Central Europe is parallel with more precise geographical term – thus, it is the one that I find more accurate. The general concept of Central Europe in other meanings can be properly described using the geographical definition.

  24. Since we have problem to decide what country should be in the European Union (and those before us had a problem to appoint the boundaries between Europe and Asia as there is actually no natural border and at least 5 different ways of allocating them) the title question seemed really strange to me at first. If we are not able to define Europe in undoubtful way (what about Turkey being a member of the EU, what about Russia? – to became a member of EU one of the requirement is to be “European country”) how can we define parts of Europe in other way than by countries? How can we use the notions like “central, eastern, western” if we don’t agree in what to take into consideration while making these notions?

    Nevertheless, I think that dividing Europe into “Western”, “Central” and “Eastern” is made only in geographical way. It is easier to say eastern/western Europe than to mention all of the countries that are situated in the mentioned part of the continent. Every country is still different (though globalization is in progress) and has different aspirations. The fact that countries are situated close to each other is the factor which may help them develop their mutual politics but while remaining independent and different from each other. Poland is said to be in the central Europe and so is Hungary. ”Pole and Hungarian cousins be” of course. But what else? And Albania, Estonia? Do we really have that much in common in other than geographical way? Is latest common history enough?

    And the last thought: is it even rational to use notions we don’t all agree on their designates?

  25. To my mind considering Central Europe today as a geopolitical notion isn’t right. Professor Wóyciki showed during his presentation that there are several factors connecting the countries from Estonia to Albania. Nevertheless despite the common heritage of the communist era nowadays business of each part of the region is different. Even the countries from Central Europe which are members of the EU and should aim to execute common energetic or foreign policy don’t speak with one voice. What’s more the animosities which seemed to die during the years of communist domination have reborn in recent years. Speaking about them you have to mention the war in Balkans in 90’s which created an insurmountable gulf between people of different nationalities and religions. In my opinion “Central Europe” cannot be perceived so widely any more. Consequently I would opt for dividing this part of the Old Continent into three regions: northern, southern and the Baltic states. Members of the first one should be Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary while the second group should embrace the Balkan states.

    1. Just as in every academic dispute, we can find lots of arguments for and against almost all of such geopolitical concepts. You point out the most important matter: even if we see things in common between former communist states, it doesn’t mean that their citizens do so and that those concepts are something more than merely scientific idea. In fact, what connects Balkan states – such as Albania or Macedonia – with Poland or Estonia? We have different history, different problems, different disputes and main topics in our politics. However, we could for sure discuss the status of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. Of course, for most of us it is obvious, that Ukraine is in the East of Europe, not in its Centre – but what to do with the fact, that parts of Ukraine where once part of Austrian Empire, and historically they could match the same region as Hungary? This is why, while I generally agree with your way of thinkings, I would opt for such subregions:
      – Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, however, Estonia could try to create its identity as an Scandinavian state;
      – the Visegrad Group states: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary;
      – Balkan states: from Slovenia (is it still our region?) and Romania (?) to Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria;
      – and the fourth, already mentioned group, which we should try to bring closer to Europe: Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.

  26. The words ‘Central Europe’ mean more to me than geography – but if you asked me what specifically defines Central Europe I would have difficulty answering. Part of the problem is that I live so far away from it: I am from Canada, where the USA dominates in our news and media, and is more extensively studied than Europe.
    Some ideas that come into my mind when Central Europe is mentioned are: post-Communist states, small countries, new to the EU or not members at all. Like many Canadians, I tend to think Eastern Europe and Central Europe together – as a single group. The European politics courses I followed in Canada focused almost exclusively on the EU and Western European countries, so I find I know too little about the countries that I would place in Central Europe to explain what I think defines them.

    In short, Central Europe is a term that evokes more than just geography for me, but what specifically defines it is a mystery to me. This is one of the reasons I chose to travel to Poland for my exchange; it is a country that I as a Canadian know very little about, and I know that most other Canadians would probably classify it as Eastern or Central European. It has always seemed strange to me that such a large group of countries are so often lumped into one category (Eastern Europe) by North Americans, when the countries obviously are all different from one another. I hope that by living and studying in Poland I will learn a bit more about this region and come to understand how the two ideas – Central and Eastern, can be defined.

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