Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region". A related United Nations paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct".
One definition describes Eastern Europe as a cultural (and econo-cultural) entity: the region lying in Europe with main characteristics consisting in Byzantine, Orthodox and some Turco-Islamic influences. Another definition, considered outdated by several authors, was created during the Cold War and used more or less synonymously with the term Eastern Bloc. A similar definition names the formerly communist European states outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe.
Several definitions of Eastern Europe exist today, but they often lack precision or are extremely general. These definitions vary both across cultures and among experts, even political scientists, recently becoming more and more imprecise.
Political and cultural
One view of the present boundaries of Eastern Europe came into being during the final stages of World War II. The area eventually came to encompass all the European countries which were under Soviet influence. These countries had communist governments, and neutral countries were classified by the nature of their political regimes. The Cold War increased the number of reasons for the division of Europe into two parts along the borders of NATO and Warsaw Pact states. (See: The Cold War section)
A competing view excludes from the definition of Eastern Europe states that are historically and culturally different, constituting part of the so-called Western world. This usually refers to Central Europe and the Baltic states which have significantly different political, religious, cultural, and economic histories from their eastern neighbors. (See: Classical antiquity and medieval origins section)
- The United Nations Statistics Division developed a selection of geographical regions and groupings of countries and areas, which are or may be used in compilation of statistics. In this collection, the following ten countries were classified as Eastern Europe: Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine. The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations. Rather than being geographically correct, the United Nations' definition encompasses all the states which were once under the Soviet Union's realm of influence and were part of the Warsaw Pact.
- The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) was set up to consider the technical problems of domestic standardization of geographical names. The Group is composed of experts from various linguistic/geographical divisions that have been established at the UN Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names.
- Eastern Europe and Northern and Central Asia Division: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russian Federation, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine.
- East Central and South-East Europe Division:Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.
- Romano–Hellenic Division: Fourteen countries including Belgium, Cyprus, France, Greece, Holy See, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Romania and Moldova.
- Baltic Division: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
- Other agencies of the United Nations (like UNAIDS, UNHCR, ILO or UNICEF) divide Europe into different regions and variously assign various states to those regions.
- Central and Eastern Europe: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine;
- Southern Europe: Cyprus, Greece, Vatican City State, Italy, Malta, Portugal, San Marino, Spain.
The Ural Mountains are the geographical border on the eastern edge of Europe. In the west, however, the cultural and religious boundaries are subject to considerable overlap and, most importantly, have undergone historical fluctuations, which make a precise definition of the western boundaries of Eastern Europe somewhat difficult.
The Baltic states
The Baltic states were widely recognised as occupied by the former Soviet Union and are EU members. They can be included in definitions of Eastern Europe in being situated between Western Europe and Russia and, geographically, in Northern Europe.
The Caucasian states can be included in definitions of Eastern Europe with reference to its Soviet membership and its legacy as well. These countries participate in European Union's Eastern Partnership Program. These countries are members of Council of Europe.
Other former Soviet states
Several other former Soviet republics are part of Eastern Europe
- Russia is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Asia.
- Ukraine is a member of the council of Europe, has aspiration of joining the EU and is in the process of signing an Association agreement with the EU. Geographically is entirely in Europe. Culturally and Politically also belongs to Europe. Ukraine lost its independence in 1919 and regained it in 1991.
- Kazakhstan is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, the vast majority of its territory being located in central Asia.
Most Central European states had communist governments implemented during the Cold War but became EU members. In the post-Iron Curtain era, the label Eastern European can be regarded as derogatory in a Central European context, especially since the enlightened concept of Central Europe survived the "Great Russian Chauvinism," and ethnocentric, political oppression that lasted since the end of World War II. In the words of historian Timothy Garton Ash, "Central Europe had triumphed" in 1989, and continues to solidify its presence on the geopolitical map of the world, as evidenced by the Visegrad 4 Group (V4). "Capitalism against Communism can no longer be used to clarify difference; instead vague and imprecise definitions exist. These too, are slowly being eroded as Eastern and Western Europe merge into a single 'Europe'". The following countries are still being labeled Eastern European by some commentators (in the former geopolitical sense, due to their Communist past) and as Central European by others (in the sense of occupying a niche between Western and Eastern Europe in terms of economy, history, religion, and culture).
- Czech Republic
- East Germany (reunified, now Germany)
- Slovenia is most often placed in Central Europe but sometimes in Southeastern Europe.
Most South-eastern European states did not belong to the Eastern Bloc (save Bulgaria, Romania, and for a short time, Albania) although some of them were represented in the Cominform. Only some of them can be included in the classical former political definition of Eastern Europe. Some can be considered as being in Southern Europe. However, most can be characterized as belonging to South-eastern Europe, but some of them may also be included in Central Europe or Eastern Europe.
- Albania belongs to Southeastern Europe.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina may be included in Southeastern Europe
- Bulgaria is in the central part of the Balkans,may be included in Southeastern Europe, but also Eastern Europe in the Cold War context
- Croatia may be included in Southeastern Europe and Central Europe.
- Cyprus belongs to Southwest Asia (Middle East), but because of its political, cultural and historical ties with Europe, it may be included into Southeastern Europe.
- Greece may be included in Southeastern and Southern Europe, but the country does not form part of Eastern Europe in the geopolitical sense nor in the colloquial sense.
- Macedonia belongs to Southeastern Europe.
- Montenegro belongs to Southeastern Europe.
- Romania can be included in Eastern Europe in the Cold War context, but is commonly referred to as belonging to Southeastern Europe or Central Europe.
- Serbia belongs to both Southeastern Europe and Central Europe.
- Turkey lies partially in Southeastern Europe: the region known as East Thrace, which constitutes 3% of the country's total land mass, lies west of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus.
Classical antiquity and medieval origins
The earliest known distinctions between east and west in Europe originate in the history of the Roman Republic. As the Roman domain expanded, a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization. In contrast the western territories largely adopted the Latin language. This cultural and linguistic division was eventually reinforced by the later political east-west division of the Roman Empire.
The division between these two spheres was enhanced during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by a number of events. The Western Roman Empire collapsed starting the Early Middle Ages. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire, mostly known as the Byzantine Empire, managed to survive and even to thrive for another 1,000 years. The rise of the Frankish Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism that formally divided Eastern and Western Christianity, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe. Much of Eastern Europe was invaded and occupied by the Mongols.
The conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Frankish empire) led to a change of the importance of Roman Catholic/Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox concept in Europe, although even modern authors sometimes state that Eastern Europe is, strictly speaking, that part of Europe where the Greek and/or the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet is used (Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia).
The Cold war divides Europe into the Eastern and Western bloc
During the final stages of WWII the future of Europe was decided between the Allies at the 1945 Yalta Conference, between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin.
Post-war Europe would be mostly polarized between two major spheres: the mainly capitalist Western Bloc, and the mainly communist Eastern Bloc. With the onset of the Cold War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain.
This term had been used during World War II by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and later Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk in the last days of the war; however, its use was hugely popularised by Winston Churchill, who used it in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address March 5, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri:
|“||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.||”|
As the Cold War continued the use of the term Central Europe declined. Although some countries were officially neutral, they were classified according to the nature of their political and economical systems. This division largely defined the popular perception and understanding of Eastern Europe and its borders with Western Europe till this day, along with the increasing polarization of the West-East relationship.
Max Frankel, citing historian Anne Applebaum, notes that Stalin during the war had set up "Soviet training camps for East European Communists, so that trusted agents could create and control secret police forces in each of the "liberated" nations. She [Applebaum] shows how reliable operatives then took charge of all radio broadcasting, the era’s most powerful mass medium. And she demonstrates how the Soviet stooges could then, with surprising speed, harass, persecute and finally ban all independent institutions, from youth groups and welfare agencies to schools, churches and rival political parties."
Eastern Europe was mainly composed of all the European countries liberated and then occupied by the Soviet army. It included the German Democratic Republic (also known as East Germany), formed by the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. All the countries in Eastern Europe adopted communist modes of government. These countries were officially independent from the Soviet Union, but the practical extent of this independence - except in Yugoslavia, Albania, and to some extent Romania - was quite limited.
Under pressure from Stalin these nations rejected to receive funds from the Marshall plan. Instead they participated in the Molotov Plan which later evolved into the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). As NATO was created, most countries of Eastern Europe, became members of the opposing Warsaw Pact, forming a geopolitical concept that became known as Eastern Bloc.
- First and foremost was the Soviet Union (which included the modern-day territories of Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova). Other countries dominated by the Soviet Union were the German Democratic Republic, People's Republic of Poland, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, People's Republic of Hungary, People's Republic of Bulgaria and Socialist Republic of Romania.
- The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (formed after WWII and before its later dismemberment) was not a member of the Warsaw Pact. It was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organization created in an attempt to avoid being assigned to any of the two blocs. The movement was demonstratively independent from both the Soviet Union and the Western bloc for most of the Cold War period, allowing Yugoslavia and its other members to act as a business and political mediator between the blocs.
- Socialist People's Republic of Albania broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet split, aligning itself instead with China. Albania formally left the Warsaw pact in September 1968, after the suppression of the Prague spring. When China established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1978, Albania also broke with China. Albania and especially Yugoslavia were not unanimously appended to the Eastern Bloc, as they were neutral for a large part of the Cold War period.
With the Fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 the political landscape of the Eastern Bloc, and indeed of the world, changed. In the German reunification, the Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the German Democratic Republic in 1990. COMECON and the Warsaw Pact were dissolved, and in 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) fell apart, creating new nations in 1992: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Macedonia (see Breakup of Yugoslavia). FRY was later renamed to Serbia and Montenegro and, in 2006, it broke up into these two countries.
Many countries of this region joined the European Union, namely Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Croatia is an acceding state and will join the EU on 1 July 2013. Three other states Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are currently official candidates that are yet to start membership talks with the EU.
- Slavic Europe
- Enlargement of the European Union
- Russian explorers
- Geography of the Soviet Union
- Central Europe
- East-Central Europe
- Southeast Europe
- Eastern European Group, or Countries with Economies in Transition Group
- Western Europe
- European Russia
- Geographical midpoint of Europe
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- Ramet, Sabrina P. (1998), Eastern Europe: politics, culture, and society since 1939, Indiana University Press, p. 15, http://books.google.com/books?id=eWmDAd6vr5sC&pg=PA15&lpg=PA15&dq=eastern+europe+definition&source=bl&ots=tYi5LhsIpz&sig=rHczwXEiCcPkVGNMUokIYc-sMVE&hl=en&ei=q5CPSt_0C4GN_AaSlK2vAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5#v=onepage&q=eastern%20europe%20definition&f=false, retrieved 2011-10-05
- "The geopolitical conditions (...) are now a thing of the past, and some specialists today think that Eastern Europe has outlived its usefulness as a phrase." Regions, Regionalism, Eastern Europe by Steven Cassedy, New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005, http://science.jrank.org/pages/11016/Regions-Regionalism-Eastern-Europe-Future-Eastern-Europe.html, retrieved 2010-01-31
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- "Too much writing on the region has - consciously or unconsciously - clung to an outdated image of 'Eastern Europe', desperately trying to patch together political and social developments from Budapest to Bukhara or Tallinn to Tashkent without acknowledging that this Cold War frame of reference is coming apart at the seams. Central Europe Review: Re-Viewing Central Europe By Sean Hanley, Kazi Stastna and Andrew Stroehlein, 1999
- Berglund, Sten; Ekman, Joakim; Aarebrot, Frank H. (2004), The handbook of political change in Eastern Europe, Edward Elgar Publishing [via Google Books], p. 2, http://books.google.com/books?id=HeRzzwzdfPkC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=Eastern+Europe+term+outdated&source=bl&ots=LSLHG97Qxj&sig=6WDECgIXGRj7hrP6RNTBMqCvMHE&hl=en&ei=63n9StCdDNjD_gbp0vSMCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CBgQ6AEwBDgU#v=onepage&q=Eastern%20Europe%20term%20outdated&f=false, retrieved 2011-10-05, "The term 'Eastern Europe' is ambiguous and in many ways outdated."
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