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Eastern Europe is a region lying in the Eastern part of Europe. The term is highly context-dependent and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region". A related UN paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct".

One prevailing definition describes Eastern Europe as a cultural (and econo-cultural) entity: the region lying between Central Europe and Western Asia, with main characteristics consisting in Byzantine, Orthodox and limited Ottoman influences. Western advocates of this view include the OECD, the World Bank, and US VP Joe Biden. Another definition, considered outdated by some authors, was created during the Cold War and used more or less synonymously with the term Eastern Bloc, including the countries that historically and geographically belong to Central Europe. A similar definition names the formerly Communist European states outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe. These are also described as the constituents of Central and Eastern Europe.


[[Image:Eastern-Europe-map2.svg|right|thumb|250px|CIA World Factbook classification:


[[Image:Europe subregion map UN geoschme.svg|right|thumb|250px|Regions used for statistical processing purposes by the United Nations Statistics Division (Eastern Europe marked red):


[[Image:Europe (UN divisions Eastern, East Central and Southeastern Europe).PNG|right|thumb|250px|Members of specific Divisions of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names:


Several definitions of Eastern Europe exist today, but they often lack precision or are extremely general. This definitions vary both across cultures and among experts and political scientists, recently becoming more and more imprecise . Usually, the term is understood as a region lying between Central Europe and the Ural Mountainsmarker, or as European countries of the former "Eastern Bloc" - western borders of Western Europe depend on the approach.


The CIA World Factbook describes the following countries as located in:


  • 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: Belarusmarker, Bulgariamarker, Czech Republicmarker, Hungarymarker, Moldovamarker, Polandmarker, Romaniamarker, Russiamarker, Slovakiamarker, Ukrainemarker. 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, United Nations' definition encompasses all the states which were once under the Soviet Unionmarker'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.

  1. Eastern Europe, Northern and Central Asia Division: Armeniamarker, Azerbaijanmarker, Belarusmarker, Bulgariamarker, Georgiamarker, Russian Federationmarker, Ukrainemarker, Kyrgyzstanmarker, Mongoliamarker and Uzbekistanmarker.
  2. East Central and South-East Europe Division:Albaniamarker, Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, Bulgariamarker, Croatiamarker, Cyprusmarker, Czech Republicmarker, Greecemarker, Hungarymarker, Polandmarker, Serbiamarker, Slovakiamarker, Sloveniamarker, Republic of Macedoniamarker, Turkeymarker, Ukrainemarker.
  3. Romano-Hellenic Division: Fourteen countries including Belgiummarker, Cyprusmarker, Francemarker, Greecemarker, Holy See, Italymarker, Luxembourgmarker, Monacomarker, Portugalmarker, Spainmarker, Switzerlandmarker, Romaniamarker, Moldovamarker and Turkeymarker.
  4. Baltic Division: Estoniamarker, Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker

  • 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.


The Ural Mountainsmarker 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.

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 or control. These countries had communist regimes imposed upon them, 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 NATOmarker 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)

Contemporary developments

The fall of the Iron Curtain brought the end of the East-West division in Europe. Even if this geopolitical concept is still in use, reference to European geographic and cultural regions is becoming acknowledged.

The Baltic states

The Baltic states were occupied by the Soviet Unionmarker and are currently EU members. They can be included in definitions of both Eastern Europe (in the former political sense, due to their communist past) and Northern Europe (due to cultural reasons).


To the degree that the countries of the Caucasus region are considered European, they would be Eastern European in the physical geographic sense.

Other former Soviet states

Four other former Soviet republics are considered to be part of Eastern Europe in both political and cultural sense.

Central Europe

Most Central European states had communist governments imposed upon them during the Cold War but are currently EU members. In the post-Iron Curtain era, the label Eastern European is being increasingly regarded as derogatory in a Central European context. "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 political sense, due to their communist past) and as Central European by others (due to economic, historical, religious, and cultural reasons).

South-eastern 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. Due to cultural diversity of the region, affiliation of individual countries may be difficult. All of these states except Bulgaria, Romania and usually Slovenia 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.
  • belongs to South-eastern Europe.
  • may be included in South-eastern Europe and Southern Europe
  • can be included in Eastern Europe in the Cold War context, but is commonly known to belong to South-eastern Europe.
  • may be included in South-eastern Europe and Central Europe.
  • belongs to the Middle East, but because of its historical Hellenic ties with Europe, it may be included into South-eastern Europe or Southern Europe.
  • or Hellas may be included in South-eastern and Southern Europe, but the country does not form part of Eastern Europe in the geopolitical sense nor in the colloquial sense.
  • belongs to South-eastern Europe.
  • belongs to South-eastern Europe.
  • can be included in Eastern Europe in the Cold War context, but is commonly referred to as belonging to South-eastern Europe or Central Europe.
  • may be included in South-eastern Europe and Central Europe.
  • is commonly referred to as Central European, but may less commonly be referred to as South-eastern European because of its status within the former Yugoslaviamarker.


Classical antiquity and medieval origins

Europe divided by religion
[[Image:Slavic europe.svg|thumb|250px|right|

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 the 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 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 Conferencemarker, between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, the President of the United Statesmarker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Unionmarker, 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 Collegemarker in Fulton, Missourimarker:

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.

Eastern Bloc

Eastern Europe was mainly composed of all the European countries liberated and then occupied by the Soviet army. It included the German Democratic Republicmarker, widely 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. In some matters they were little more than client-state of the Soviet Union.

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 Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (short: Comecon). As NATOmarker was created, most countries of Eastern Europe, became members of the opposing Warsaw Pact, forming a geopolitical concept that became known as Eastern Bloc.

  • The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker (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.

  • Albaniamarker 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 Statesmarker 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.

Since 1989

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.

Many European nations which had been part of the Soviet Union regained their independence (Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker, Estoniamarker, Ukrainemarker, Belarusmarker).

Czechoslovakiamarker peacefully separated into the Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker in 1993.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker (SFRY) fell apart, creating new nations: Sloveniamarker, Croatiamarker, Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker (FRY)and Macedoniamarker (see Breakup of Yugoslavia). FRY was later renamed to Serbia and Montenegro and, in 2006, it broke up into these two countries. Kosovomarker declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Many countries of this region joined the European Union, namely the Czech Republicmarker, Estoniamarker, Hungarymarker, Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker, Polandmarker, Slovakiamarker, Sloveniamarker, Bulgariamarker, and Romaniamarker. Three other states, Croatiamarker, Macedoniamarker, and Turkeymarker are currently negotiating membership in the EU. As of July 2009, Sweden holds the EU presidency.

See also

External links

References and notes

  4. "Intergovernmental agencies like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the World Bank therefore distinguish in practice between "Central Europe" -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia -- and "Eastern Europe". There seems to be a historical constant here: these Central European states are behind the West but still ahead of the East and of the Southeast." Lonnie Johnson: Central Europe: Enemies, neighbors, friends, Oxford University Press US, 1996; pp.11-12.
  5. "In Eastern Europe, countries still struggle to fulfill the promise of a strong democracy, or a vibrant market economy. Who to look to better than you? Who to look to better than Central European countries that 20 years ago acted with such courage and resolve, and over the last 20 years, have made such sustainable progress?"
  6. "One very common, but now outdated, definition of Eastern Europe was the Soviet-dominated communist countries of Europe."
  7. "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."
  8. "The term 'Eastern Europe' is ambiguous and in many ways outdated." Sten Berglund, Joakim Ekman, Frank H. Aarebrot: The handbook of political change in Eastern Europe, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2004, p.2.
  9. Drake, Miriam A. (2005) Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, CRC Press
  10. The CIA World Factbook
  11. In the geography section Estonia is described as located in Eastern Europe, but in the economy section as Central European
  12. United Nations Statistics Division- Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49)
  13. World Population Prospects Population Database
  14. United Nations Statistics Division- Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49)
  15. United Nations Statistics Division - Geographical Names and Information Systems
  16. United Nations Statistics Division - Geographical Names and Information Systems
  17. including Canada
  22. V. Martynov, The End of East-West Division But Not the End of History, UN Chronicle, 2000 ( available online
  24. The European Travel Commission - association of National Tourism Organisations, Regions of Europe
  25. Wallace, W. The Transformation of Western Europe London, Pinter, 1990
  26. Huntington, Samuel The Clash of Civilizations" Simon & Shuster 1996
  28. Johnson, Lonnie Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbours, Friends Oxford University Press, USA, 2001
  30. Bideleux and Jeffries (1998) A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change
  31. Greek Ministry of Tourism Travel Guide, General Information
  32. Energy Statistics for the U.S. Government
  33. NATO 2004 information on the invited countries
  34. The European Travel Commission, association of National Tourism Organisations, Central Europe

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