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Central European states and historic lands at times associated with the region

Central Europe is the region lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe. The term and widespread interest in the region itself came back into fashion after the end of the Cold War, which, along with the Iron Curtain, had divided Europe politically into East and West, splitting Central Europe in half.

The concept of Central Europe, and that of a common identity, is somewhat elusive. However, scholars assert that a distinct "Central European culture, as controversial and debated the notion may be, exists." It is based on "similarities emanating from historical, social and cultural characteristic",. A UN paper employs 8 factors "to define a cultural region called 'Central Europe'". Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture characterized "Central Europe as an abandoned West or a place where East and West collide".

As of the 2000's, Central Europe is going through a phase of "strategic awakening",.


The understanding of the concept of Central Europe is an ongoing source of controversy, though the Visegrád Group constituents are generally included as de facto C.E. countries. The region is usually considered to include:

The region sometimes also includes parts of neighbouring countries (for historical and cultural reasons):

Current views on Central Europe

Rather than a physical entity, Central Europe is a concept of shared history which contrasts with that of the surrounding regions. The issue how to name and define the Central European region is subject to debates. Very often, the definition depends on nationality and historical perspective of its author.

Main propositions, gathered by Jerzy Kłoczowski, include:

According to Ronald Tiersky, the 1991 summit held in Visegrádmarker, Hungarymarker and attended by the Polishmarker, Hungarianmarker and Czechoslovakmarker presidents was hailed at the time as a major breakthrough in Central European cooperation, but the Visegrád Group became a vehicle for coordinating Central Europe's road to the European Union, while development of closer ties within the region languished.

Peter J. Katzenstein described Central Europe as 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.

Lonnie R. Johnson points out criteria to distinguish Central Europe from Western, Eastern and Southeast Europe:

  • Multinational empires were a characteristic of Central Europe. Hungarymarker and Polandmarker, small and medium-size states today, were empires during their early histories. The historical Kingdom of Hungary was until 1918 three times larger than Hungary is today, while Poland was the largest state in Europe in the sixteenth century. Both these kingdoms housed a wide variety of different peoples.

  • as a mode of self-perception, despite the debated nature of the concept Central Europeans generally agree on which peoples are to be excluded from this club: for example Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians and Russians.

He also thinks that Central Europe is a dynamical historical concept, not a static spatial one. For example, Lithuaniamarker, a fair share of Belarusmarker and western Ukrainemarker are in Eastern Europe today, but 250 years ago they were in Poland.

Johnson's study on Central Europe received acclaim and positive reviews in the scientific community.

The Columbia Encyclopedia defines Central Europe as: Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. The World Factbook and Brockhaus Enzyklopädie use the same definition adding Slovenia too. Encarta Encyclopedia does not clearly define the region, but places the same countries into Central Europe in its individual articles on countries, adding Slovenia in "south central Europe".

The German Encyclopaedia Meyers grosses Taschenlexikon ( ), 1999, defines Central Europe as the central part of Europe with no precise borders to the East and West. The term is mostly used to denominate the territory between the Scheldemarker to Vistula and from the Danube to the Moravian Gatemarker. Usually the countries considered to be Central European are Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, the Czech republick, Slovakia, Hungary, in the broader sense Romania too, occasionally also the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

File:Central Europe Katzenstein.png|Central Europe according to Peter J. Katzenstein (1997)

File:Visegrad group countries.png|According to The Economist and Ronald Tiersky a strict definition of Central Europe means the Visegrád GroupFile:Central Europe (Lonnie R. Johnson).PNG|Map of Central Europe, according to Lonnie R. Johnson (1996)File:Central Europe (Brockhaus).PNG|Central Europe according to The World Factbook (2009) and Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (1998)File:Central-Europe-map2.png|Central Europe according to Columbia Encyclopedia (2009)File:Central-Europe-Encarta.png|Central European countries in Encarta Encyclopedia (2009)

File:Central Europe (Meyers Grosses Taschenlexikon).PNG|The Central European Countries according to Meyers grosses Taschenlexikon (1999):

File:Central Europe (Larousse).PNG|Central European states, according to the French Encyclopaedia Larousse(2009)File:Central and Eastern Europe Map.png|Central and Eastern Europe according to the United Nations

History of the concept

Middle Ages

In 1335 the castle of Visegrádmarker, the seat of the Kings of Hungary was the scene of the royal summit of the Kings of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary. They agreed to cooperate closely in the field of politics and commerce, inspiring their late successors to launch a successful Central European initiative.

Before World War I

The concept of Central Europe was already known at the beginning of the 19th century, but its real life began in the 20th century and immediately became an object of intensive interest. However, the very first concept mixed science, politics and economy – it was strictly connected with intensively growing German economy and its aspirations to dominate a part of European continent called Mitteleuropa. The German term denoting Central Europe was so fashionable that other languages started referring to it when indicating territories from Rhinemarker to Vistula, or even Dnieper, and from the Baltic Seamarker to the Balkans. An example of that-time vision of Central Europe may be seen in J. Partsch’s book of 1903.

On 21 January 1904 - Mitteleuropäischer Wirtschaftsverein (Central European Economic Association) was established in Berlinmarker with economic integration of Germany and Austria–Hungary (with eventual extension to Switzerlandmarker, Belgiummarker and the Netherlandsmarker) as its main aim. Another time, the term Central Europe became connected to the German plans of political, economic and cultural domination. The “bible” of the concept was Friedrich Naumann’s book Mitteleuropa in which he called for an economic federation to be established after the war. Naumann's idea was that the federation would have at its center Germanymarker and the Austro-Hungarian Empire but would also include all European nations outside the Anglo-French alliance, on one side, and Russia, on the other. The concept failed after the German defeat in the World War I and the dissolution of Austria–Hungary. The revival of the idea may be observed during the Hitler era.

Interwar period

According to Emmanuel de Martonne, in 1927 the Central European countries included: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. Italy and Yugoslavia are not considered by the author to be Central European because they are located mostly outside Central Europe. The author use both Human and Physical Geographical features to define Central Europe..

The interwar period (1918–1939) brought new geopolitical system and economic and political problems, and the concept of Central Europe took a different character. The centre of interest was moved to its eastern part – the countries that have reappeared on the map of Europe: Polandmarker, Hungarymarker and Czechoslovakiamarker. Central Europe ceased to be the area of German aspiration to lead or dominate and became a territory of various integration movements aiming at resolving political, economic and national problems of "new" states, being a way to face German and Soviet pressures. However, the conflict of interests was too big and neither Little Entente nor Międzymorze ideas succeeded.

The interwar period brought new elements to the concept of Central Europe. Before WWI, it embraced mainly German states (Germanymarker, Austriamarker), non-German territories being an area of intended German penetration and domination - German leadership position was to be the natural result of economic dominance. After the war, the Eastern part of Central Europe was placed at the centre of the concept. At that time the scientists took interest in the idea: the International Historical Congress in Brusselsmarker in 1923 was committed to Central Europe, and the 1933 Congress continued the discussions.

Magda Adam, in the Versailles System and Central Europe, published in the Oxford journals: "Today we know that the bane of Central Europe was the Little Entente, military alliance of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia), created in 1921 not for Central Europe's cooperation nor to fight German expansion, but in a wrong perceived notion that a completely powerless Hungary must be kept down".

The avant-garde movements of Central Europe were an essential part of modernism’s evolution, reaching its peak throughout the continent during the 1920s. The Sourcebook of Central European avantgards (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) contains primary documents of the avant-gardes in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia from 1910 to 1930. The manifestos and magazines of Western European radical art circles are well known to Western scholars and are being taught at primary universities of their kind in the western world.

Central Europe behind the Iron Curtain

Following World War II, large parts of Europe that were culturally and historically Western became part of the Eastern bloc. Consequently, the English term Central Europe was increasingly applied only to the westernmost former Warsaw Pact countries (East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary) to specify them as communist states that were culturally tied to Western Europe. This usage continued after the end of the Warsaw Pact when these countries started to undergo transition.

The post-WWII period brought blocking of the research on Central Europe in the Eastern Block countries, as its every result proved the dissimilarity of Central Europe, which was inconsistent with the Sovietmarker doctrine. On the other hand, the topic became popular in Western Europe and the United States, much of the research being carried out by immigrants from Central Europe.. At the end of the communism, publicists and historians in Central Europe, especially anti-communist opposition, came back to their research.

According to Mayers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon, Central Europe is a part of Europe composed by the surface of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, northern marginal regions of Italy and Yugoslavia (northern states- Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia) as well as northeastern France. Sometimes, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are not regarded as Central European.

File:Central Europe (by E. Schenk).PNG|Central Europe, as defined by E. Schenk (1950)File:Central Europe (by A.Mutton).PNG|Central Europe, according to Alice F. A. Mutton in Central Europe. A Regional and Human Geography (1961)File:Central Europe (Mayers Enzyklopaedisches Lexikon).PNG|Central Europe according to Mayers Enzyklopaedisches Lexikon (1980)

Mitteleuropa, the German term

The German term Mitteleuropa (or alternatively its literal translation into English, Middle Europe) is an ambiguous German concept. It is sometimes used in English to refer to an area somewhat larger than most conceptions of 'Central Europe'; it refers to territories under German(ic) cultural hegemony until World War I (encompassing Austria–Hungary and Germany in their antebellum formations. According to Fritz Fischer Mitteleuropa was a scheme in the era of the Reich of 1871-1918marker by which the old imperial elites had allegedly sought to build a system of German economic, military and political domination from the northern seas to the Near East and from the Low Countries through the steppes of Russia to the Caucasus. Professor Fritz Epstein argued the threat of a Slavic "Drang nach Westen" (Western expansion) had been a major factor in the emergence of a Mitteleuropa ideology before the Reich of 1871 ever came into being.

In Germany the connotation is also sometimes linked to the pre-war German provinces east of the Oder-Neisse line which were lost as the result of the World War II, annexed by People's Republic of Poland and the Soviet Unionmarker, and ethnically cleansed of Germans by communist authorities and forces (see expulsion of Germans after World War II) due to Yalta Conferencemarker and Potsdam Conference decisions. In this view Bohemia and Moravia, with its dual Western Slavic and Germanic heritage, combined with the historic element of the "Sudetenland", is a core region illustrating the problems and features of the entire Central European region.

The term Mitteleuropa conjures up negative historical associations, although the Germans have not played an exclusively negative role in the region. Most Central European Jews embraced the enlightened German humanistic culture of the 19th century. German-speaking Jews from turn-of-the-century Viennamarker, Budapestmarker and Praguemarker became representatives of what many consider to be Central European culture at its best, though the Nazi version of "Mitteleuropa" destroyed this kind of culture. Some German speakers are sensitive enough to the pejorative connotations of the term Mitteleuropa to use Zentraleuropa instead. Adolf Hitler was obsessed by the idea of Lebensraum and many non-German Central Europeans identify Mitteleuropa with the instruments he employed to acquire it: war, deportations, genocide.

Physical geography

Between the Alps and the Baltics

Geography strongly defines Central Europe's borders with its neighbouring regions to the North and South, namely Northern Europe (or Scandinavia) across the Baltic Seamarker, the Apennine peninsula (or Italymarker) across the Alps and the Balkan peninsula across the Soča-Krka-Sava-Danube line. The borders to Western Europe and Eastern Europe are geographically less defined and for this reason the cultural and historical boundaries migrate more easily West-East than South-North. The Rhinemarker river which runs South-North through Western Germanymarker is an exception.

Pannonian Plain and Carpathian Mountains

Geographically speaking, Carpathian mountainsmarker divide the European Plain in two sections: the Central Europe's Pannonian Plain in the west, and the East European Plain, which lie eastward of the Carpathians. Southwards, the Pannonian Plain is bounded by the rivers Sava and Danube- and their respective floodplains. This area mostly corresponds to the borders of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The Pannonian Plain extends into the following countries: Austriamarker, Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, Croatiamarker, Hungarymarker, Romaniamarker, Serbiamarker, Slovakiamarker, Sloveniamarker and Ukrainemarker.

Dinaric Alps

As southeastern division of the Eastern Alpsmarker, the Dinaric Alps extend for 650 kilometres along the coast of the Adriatic Seamarker (northwest-southeast), from the Julian Alpsmarker in the northwest down to the Šar-Korab massif, where the mountain direction changes to north-south. According to the Freie Universitaet Berlin this mountain chain is classified as South Central European.
The European floristic regions


The Central European Flora region stretches from Central Francemarker (Massif Central) to Central Romaniamarker (Carpathiansmarker) and Southern Scandinavia.

See also


  12. Jerzy Kłoczowski, Actualité des grandes traditions de la cohabitation et du dialogue des cultures en Europe du Centre-Est, in: L'héritage historique de la Res Publica de Plusieurs Nations, Lublin 2004, pp. 29–30
  13. Oskar Halecki, The Limits and Divisions of European History, Sheed & Ward: London and New York 1950, chapter VII
  14. Tiersky, p. 472
  15. Katzenstein, p. 6
  16. Katzenstein, p. 4
  17. "Central Europe: enemies, neighbors, friends", by Lonnie R. Johnson, Oxford University Press, 1996
  18. Johnson, p.4
  19. Johnson, p. 4
  20. Johnson, p. 4
  21. Johnson, p. 4
  22. Johnson, p. 6
  23. Johnson, p.11-12
  25. Source: Geographisches Handbuch zu Andrees Handatlas, vierte Auflage, Bielefeld und Leipzig, Velhagen und Klasing, 1902.
  26. S. Philipps, Mitteleuropa – Origins and pertinence of a political concept,
  27. A. Podraza, Europa Środkowa jako region historyczny, 17th Congress of Polish Historians, Jagiellonian University 2004
  28. Joseph Franz Maria Partsch, Clementina Black, Halford John Mackinder, Central Europe, New York 1903
  29. F. Naumann, Mitteleuropa, Berlin: Reimer, 1915
  30. Regions and Eastern Europe Regionalism - Central Versus Eastern Europe
  31. , and [1]; Géographie universelle (1927), edited by Paul Vidal de la Blache and Lucien Gallois)
  32. S. Philipps, Mitteleuropa – Origins and pertinence of a political concept, p. 6
  35. One of the main representatives was Oscar Halecki and his book The limits and divisions of European history, London and New York 1950
  36. A. Podraza, Europa Środkowa jako region historyczny, 17th Congress of Polish Historians, Jagiellonian University 2004
  37. Band 16, Bibliographisches Institut Mannheim/Wien/Zürich, Lexikon Verlag 1980
  38. Erich Schenk, Mitteleuropa. Düsseldorf, 1950
  39. Johnson, p. 165
  40. Hayes, p. 16
  41. Hayes, p. 17
  42. Johnson, p. 7
  43. Johnson, p. 170
  47. Wolfgang Frey and Rainer Lösch; Lehrbuch der Geobotanik. Pflanze und Vegetation in Raum und Zeit. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, München 2004


Further reading

  • Jacques Rupnik, "In Search of Central Europe: Ten Years Later", in Gardner, Hall, with Schaeffer, Elinore & Kobtzeff, Oleg, (ed.), Central and South-central Europe in Transition, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2000 (translated form French by Oleg Kobtzeff)
  • Article 'Mapping Central Europe' in hidden europe, 5, pp. 14–15 (November 2005)
  • A journal in three languages (English, German, French) dealing with the region:

External links

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