Central Europe is the region lying between the variously and vaguely defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe. In addition, Northern, Southern and Southeastern Europe may variously delimit or overlap into Central Europe. The term and widespread interest in the region itself came back into fashion after the end of the Cold War, which had divided Europe politically into East and West, with the Iron Curtain splitting "Central Europe" in half.
The understanding of the concept of Central Europe is an ongoing source of controversy varying considerably from nation to nation, and also has from time to time. This region is usually considered to include:
Sometimes, the region may extend to include and .
Rarely Northern Serbia, Western Ukraine, Kaliningrad Oblast, Lorraine and Alsace and Northeastern Italy are considered as part of Central Europe.
Rather than a physical entity, Central Europe is a concept of shared history which contrasts with that of the surrounding regions. Immediately to the east and southeast lie regions which had for longer periods been under the Ottoman Empire
and Imperial Russia
, with relics of a strong Hellenic
cultural influence (eg. Cyrillic
descending directly from Greek
). These phenomena collectively established religions such as Eastern Orthodoxy
Catholicism, with Central Europe generally defined as an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic
is also widespread in Central Europe (especially in northern Germany
, eastern Hungary
and central Romania
Up to World War I, it was distinguished from the region immediately to its west as an area of relative political conservatism opposed to the liberalism of France and Great Britain and the influences of the French Revolution.. In the nineteenth century, while France developed into a republic and Britain was a liberal parliamentary monarchy in which the monarch had very little real power, Austria-Hungary and Prussia (later Germany), in contrast, remained conservative monarchies in which the monarch and his court played a central governmental role, while still subject to some influence by religion.
In the English language, the concept of Central Europe largely fell out of usage during Cold War, overshadowed by notions of Eastern and Western Europe. However, the term is increasingly returning to everyday usage again, partly due to the recent expansion of the European Union, but mainly through the attempt by post-Communist governments in former Eastern European lands to create national images distancing themselves from their predecessors. An example is found in one of Europe's trading blocs - CEFTA - which is labelled Central European, and yet only includes nations which were previously Communist ruled. In 1992 the founding members were Czechoslovakia (now two countries in the EU), Poland and Hungary, followed by Slovenia in 1996, Romania in 1997 and Bulgaria in 1999, while its current members include Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Moldova) .
Central Europe: a discussed concept
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
- West-Central and East-Central Europe – this conception, presented in 1950, distinguished two regions in Central Europe: German West-Centre, with imperial tradition of the Reich, and the East-Centre covered by variety of nations from Finland to Greece, placed between great empires of Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union
- Central Europe as a region connected to the Western civilisation for a very long time, including the German-speaking countries (the German Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy), the Kingdom of Hungary, Bohemia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Central Europe understood in this way borders on Russia and the South-Eastern Europe (of Byzantine and Turkish heritage), but the exact frontier of the region is difficult to determine (for example Transylvania, evidently Central European region, is a very important part of Romania) – this concept seems to be the most acceptable one
- Central Europe as the area of cultural heritage of the Habsburg Empire – a concept which is popular in the region of Danube River
- East-Central Europe as the area of cultural heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian historians, in cooperation (since 1990) with Polish historians, insist on the importance of the notion
- A concept underlining the links connecting Ukraine and Belarus with Russia and treating the ancient Russian Empire together with the whole Slavic Orthodox population as one entity – this position is taken by the Russian historiography
- A concept putting an accent on the links with the West, especially from the 19th century and the grand period of liberation and formation of Nation-states – this idea is represented by in the South-Eastern states, which prefer the enlarged concept of the “East Centre” expressing their links with the Western culture
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
) across the Baltic Sea
, the Apennine peninsula
) 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 Rhine
river which runs South-North through Western Germany
is an exception.
Pannonian Plain and Carpathian Basin
Geographically speaking, Carpathian mountains 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: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.
The Central European Flora region stretches from Central France (Massif Central) to Central Romania (Carpathians) and Southern Scandinavia.
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 German term Mitteleuropa (or alternatively its literal translation into English, Middle Europe) 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. In Germany the connotation is also heavily 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 Union, and ethnically cleansed of Germans by communist authorities and forces (see expulsion of Germans after World War II) due to Yalta Conference and Potsdam Conference decisions. In this view Bohemia, with its Western Slavic heritage combined with its historical "Sudetenland", is a core region illustrating the problems and features of the entire Central European region.
- 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: http://www.ece.ceu.hu