Central Europe Discourse and Its Political Function


Taking into account the connotations that come with the Eastern Europe image, the efforts of the intellectual and political elite of the region's countries to eliminate this discourse are unsurprising. The Central European discourse, created by Eastern intellectuals in the second half of the XX century, can be interpreted this way. The early existing Central Europe notions in its non-Germanic version (i.e. non-pangermanist concept of Mitteleuropa)[i], developed within the Austro-Slavism movement,[ii] lost its ideological strength with the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Central Europe discourse, on a new understanding of the concept, has its origins in the regions’ intellectuals’ work, which had tried, in the middle of the XX century, to rethink the countries’ place in the European civilization in general. A classic example of this kind of thinking can be a famous article of Milan Kundera's, The Tragedy of Central Europe. The representatives of the Eastern European countries’ intellectual elite created the myth on Central Europe, as the part of the common European cultural and civilizational space that was cut off from the rest of Europe “with the arrival of the Red Army.”[iii] The Eastern Europe dissident movement took this concept, enjoying both material and political and Western media support, primarily from the United States. Furthermore, as A. Miller said, quoting American historian Tony Judt, Kundera was not the first Eastern European immigrant who deplored the fate of Central Europe “trampled by the Bolsheviks”, but his articles showed the mood of many Eastern European intellectuals that was useful to the enemies of the Soviet bloc in the geopolitical situation. In addition, the West had common interests, firstly the United States, to weaken the socialist bloc and its European supporters. There were other interests too, as well as the interaction of interests, trends in the global system and the specific action taken by the world's leading actors.[iv]

The political objective of the Eastern European ruling elite after the fall of the socialist system was the final disposal of the word “oriental”, as it symbolized the communist past, followed by the spreading of "Central European regional identity"[v].  The compromise to the previously adopted region name was the Central and Eastern Europe concept, although the US State Department, for some political reason in 1994 refused it, following instructions that urged the use of the Central Europe definition, instead of the Central and Eastern Europe concept.[vi]

Both the terms Eastern Europe and the Central Europe have mainly political content. Trying to give this geographic content notion, the Czech geopolitical scientist Oskar Krejci, faced with the fact that the region has no natural geographical boundaries, talks mainly about the Central Europe idea.[vii] According to A. Miller, “the political analysts are almost unanimous that an independent political subject called Central Europe doesn’t and didn’t exist. But it is clear that Central Europe exists as an ideological phenomenon.”[viii]

The notion, uncritically considering changes in the regional self-identification of the region’s elite, is reflected in a number of national works, especially those that paid little attention to the understanding of Eastern and Central Europeanness as the ruling discourse. For example, the allocation of this part of Europe, offered by the Russian researcher E. Zadorozhnyuk, where Eastern Europe refers to the former Soviet Union republics, and Central Europe – to “the zone between the Baltic states and the Adriatic, countries of the former socialist countries.”[ix] At the same time, this concept shows the specific changes in the discourse, mainly its extension in a new geographical area.

The Central European image as an integral part of the European whole, created in intellectual circles, is fixed in society, causing the “everyday orientalism” phenomenon. The British sociologist S. Jansen, studying this phenomenon in the capitals of two Balkan countries, Serbian and Croatian, (Everyday Orientalism: Experiences of 'Balkan'/'Europe' in Belgrade and Zagreb)[x] describes how the negative Balkan image is formed, opposing Europe. The Serbs and the Croats themselves started to regard themselves as Europeans, and “defenders of Europe.” At the same time, Croatia was still neutral and the popular “Balkans” term received clear negative connotations, as the Balkans are associated with the Serbs and the Communists, and Croatia clearly follows Europe. A good example of the symbolic European approval in Zagreb was the renaming of the Balkan cinema to the Europe cinema.[xi]

Geographic images and discourses of power directly influence the geopolitics and foreign policy. An important difference between the Central Europe modern way, cultivated in the region, is an understanding of Russia as the significant “other”, important for the creation of their own “other” identity. At the same time, the Russian image is deliberately demonized.[xii] Different local versions of the Central European idea, whether it is Polish Jagiellonian idea or something not as extensive nor claiming expansion to its neighboring countries, characterized by the opposition to Russia, as a result, causes these countries to become a convenient springboard for NATO and the USA. All their comprehension on their exclusiveness hides the Atlanticist aspirations of the elites of these states.[xiii]  The Central European discourse shows its dominance as the anti-Russian and Atlanticist discourse, and thus leads to the domination of the relevant geopolitical orientation in the region.

At the same time, within the West itself, in the public consciousness with regard to the countries who consider themselves as Central European, as we have noted, the Eastern European discourse is dominated. The Central European discourse, supported by the United States and other Western countries, has turned out to be the trap that has caught the Eastern society. Although it continues to “rule”, separating the countries from Russia and pushing them towards the struggle of the anti-Russian forefront, in the minds of the Europeans and Americans, as shown by the previously mentioned study and what Larry Wolff continues to state, the Eastern European notion is entirely dominated by the typical "discourse of Eastern Europe", with all its connotations of barbarism, savagery and backwardness. Eastern Europe continues to be the younger brother who must be watched and educated. The same thing is noted by the British researcher Thomas Diez. He says that the “Other” image, which is applicable to Europe’s past for a long time after WWII, changed in the early 1990s. During its collision with the Eastern Europe countries, after the dissolution of the socialist bloc, it immediately was found in their geographic incarnation. Overcoming their negatively perceived past is represented for Europe in its eastern parts, again reproducing all the elements of East European discourse and its most important component, the idea of ​​archaic and backward Eastern European countries, designing and reconstructing the image of Eastern Europe as the internal “other”.[xiv]

In one or another form, the West continues to treat Eastern Europe as its colony, whilst the images, which it perceives itself, constitute its alienation from Russia, keeping the state that is called the cordon sanitaire in geopolitics. NATO and the EU’s enlargement in the East, according to another researcher working in the domain, the Canadian with Estonian origin Mérieux Kuus, supported the widespread use of the Orientalist discourse, in which the East European countries are regarded as "insufficiently European", having to constantly learn from the West.[xv]

During the process of creating and using the Eastern Europe image as the “other” image, and its separation from the more civilized Central Europe image, the Eastern Europe image is animated and broadcasted.[xvi] Geographically, it is moving further east, covering the western CIS countries. Today, these countries face the challenge of overcoming their own “backwardness” (or identity?). This transitional geopolitical function of the Eastern Europe discourse can be seen more clearly. The American Center for Transatlantic Relations experts, Daniel Hamilton and Gerhardt Mangott, allocated a special category of the “New Eastern Europe” in the book with the same title.[xvii] This group of countries, according to an expert on Eastern Europe and Eurasia, Angela Stent, consists of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. She notes that they play a role of a buffer zone between Russia and the European Union.[xviii] Thus, the Western expert on the International Relations stresses that the geopolitical use of Eastern Europe actually means the CIS countries. The same geographical region is covered by Polish magazine the New Eastern Europe[xix]. However, the Chief Editor of the Eastern Europe Prospects magazine, A. Malygin, regarding the formation of the New Eastern Europe, lists, in an expanded format including the region or proto-region, not only Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova and the Baltic countries, but, perhaps, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. The main feature, which allows the inclusion of a significant part of the old Eastern Europe in the New Eastern Europe, is the fact that together they constitute the border zone between Russia and the EU. “These countries are close partners for the implementation of borders, infrastructure and other practical cooperation between the post-Soviet states and the European Union spreading to the East. Some of them are actively involved in the political life of their neighbors. Poland did all it could to become the recognized leader of the Eastern policy within the European Union itself,”[xx] said the Russian foreign affairs expert. This option can also be considered as an example of the expanding Eastern Europe discourse to the new countries. Anyway, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova are included in it, which was not observed earlier. Thus, there is an expansion of this geopolitical image, and the sense that it has.

Mérieux Kuus provides a correct estimation of the social and political processes and, first of all, the International Relations sphere on Eastern Europe using the works of the post-colonialism theory of E. Said and his followers. Despite the lack of direct colonial domination of Western powers in the past, today this region is similar to the countries of the "third world" with regard to the Western countries.[xxi] The author does not mention the fact that the post-colonialism term includes research on the neo-colonialism strategies; however, it uses Said’s meteorological tools.

Taking into the account the current presentation on the East, Central, Eastern and Central Europe as political and geographical images, each corresponding to their discursive practices, which, however, in combination perform single geopolitical functions (country formation of both categories: anti-Russian bloc, dependent on Atlanticist West sanitary cordon), combines these images, due to their functional pointedness, giving them the generalized name of the Eastern Europe discourse or the Eastern European discourse, defining it as the combination of political and geographical images projected on the territory of the cordon sanitaire between continental Europe and Russia, which has one of resulting geopolitical function. In this case, in this study, Eastern Europe must be understood as not just a region, a territorial unity, composed of heterogeneous elements and having the integrity properties, but first of all as the geopolitical region, which projected the discourse that defined exactly how the existing integrity is recognized and what sense it has.

Now this function is to maintain the cordon sanitaire’s integrity, the Russia perception as the "Other", and the geographical space extension of the existing political and geographic images. Eastern Europe, as a region that is projected by a specific discourse, has no clear, established limits; its boundaries are dynamic. An alternative to the current state can be the further expansion of territorial image and its discourses and governmental practices in the CIS western flank countries or the reformation of Eastern Europe’s image, the removal or reformulation of East European discourse, or a new image creation of Eastern Europe, which would correspond to the new ideological and geopolitical project, based on the peoples special features of this geographical area.

[i] The most famous Central European Idea, arranged on Germany, was the Mitteleuropa conception of Friedrich Naumann, See Naumann F. Mitteleuropa. 2007

[ii] See. Drulak P. Czech geopolitics: Struggling for survival URL: www.ceeisaconf.ut.ee/orb.aw/class=file/action=preview/id.../drulák.doc

[iii] Kola A. Central Europe concept in Milan Kundera, Yurii Andrukhovych and Andrzej Stasiuk works // Europe: Magazine of the polish institution of the International Relations.  2002. Ed. 2. #2 (2). P. 131-154 

[iv] Miller A. Central Europe topic: History, Modern Discourse and Russia place in them // Regionalization post-soviet Europe. Moscow. 2001. P. 33-65

[v] Kobrinskaya I. Russia and Central Eastern Europe after the Cold Was. Мoscow. 1997. P. 14.

[vi] Same

[vii] Krejčí O. Geopolitics of the Central European region: the view from Prague and Bratislava. Prague, 2005. P. 65.

[viii] Miller A. Central Europe topic: History, Modern Discourse and Russia place in them // Regionalization post-soviet Europe. Moscow. 2001. P. 33-65

[ix] Zadorozhnyuk E. New Regional Identities in Europe / West Europe Countries in the Research of New Identity. Moscow. 2006. P. 15

[x] Jansen S. Everyday Orientalism: Experiences of 'Balkan'/'Europe' in Belgrade and Zagreb. 2005 p. 119-126

[xi] Same

[xii] Neumann I. Uses of the Other. The 'East' in European Identity Formation. 2004. P. 192-214

[xiii] Miller A. Central Europe topic: History, Modern Discourse and Russia place in them // Regionalization post-soviet Europe. Moscow. 2001. P. 33-65

[xiv] Diez T. Europe's Others and the Return of Geopolitics // Cambridge Review of International Affairs. Vol. 17. Number 2, July 2004. P. 319-335.

[xv] Kuus M. Europe's eastern expansion and the reinscription of otherness in East-Central Europe // Progress in Human Geography 28,4 (2004). P. 472-489.

[xvi] Ibid. P. 479.

[xvii] Hamilton D., Mangott G. The New Eastern Europe: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova. Baltimore, Maryland: Center for Transatlantic Relations, 2007.

[xviii] Stent A. The Lands In Between: The New Eastern Europe in the Twenty-First Century / Hamilton D., Mangott G. The New Eastern Europe: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova. Baltimore, Maryland: Center for Transatlantic Relations, 2007. С. 3.

[xix] See Burnetko K. New Eastern Europe or Mutual Perception place URL: http://www.novpol.ru/index.php?id=1354 (07.08.2011, address date)

[xx] Malygin A. New Eastern Europe and Russian Strategic InterestsURL: http://www.mgimo.ru/gpf-yaroslavl/210341.phtml  (07.08.2011, address date)

[xxi] Kuus M. Op. cit. P.  482-484.