Eastern Europe, name of the eastern parts of Europe. The area is not clearly demarcated geographically, and which countries are part of Eastern Europe are constantly changing in daily use.
Historically, three periods can be identified with a relatively stable understanding of which areas are considered Eastern Europe, from the medieval Orthodox Catholic church split, the Enlightenment era of civilization, and the Cold War’s political blanket. Today, the concept is changing, and the western border of Eastern Europe is being drawn ever further east. Now based on countryaah.com, Eastern Europe includes Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Belarus, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Moldova.
The first clear division of Europe into a western and an eastern part can be traced back to the great schism between Orthodox and Catholic Christianity which was formalized in 1054. The divide spread northward from the Mediterranean with the Christianization of the rest of Europe in the early and high Middle Ages, and can be said to have been made permanent by the Catholic Christianity of the North and the Orthodox Christianity of present-day Russia around the turn of the millennium.
Eastern Europe, defined as the Orthodox Christianity or in a more expanded sense as the part of Europe with Slavic-speaking population, was important in Tsarist Russia and in Panslavism in the 19th century.
However, Eastern Europe as a term is more recent and became common during the Enlightenment period in the early 18th century. As with the concept of Christianity, the Eastern European concept of Enlightenment was more culturally conditioned than purely geographical.
For the geographers of the Enlightenment, it signaled the degree of civilization. Eastern Europe was a step between civilized Europe and “barbaric” Asia. The idea of a barbaric Europe was far from new. Ever since Roman times, Southern Europe had been regarded as civilized and Northern Europe (especially the Nordic, Baltic and present Russia ) as wild and civilized.
Eastern Europe as a concept emerged as a result of a change in European attitudes towards Northern Europe during this period, which was gradually considered to be more civilized than before, and Russia, which was not. This change was actively driven by Scandinavian intellectuals and German Germanic. Swedes were particularly keen to build this new divide. A book by the Swedish officer Philip Johan von Strahlenberg from 1730 was among the first to use the term Eastern Europe. The Swedish historian Johann Thunmann, in a book from 1774, built on this understanding of East and West as based on form: according to him, the spirit of the Enlightenment prevailed in Western Europe, while Eastern Europe was still wild, unplowed intellectual earth waiting to be cultivated.
The Berlin Wall, built in 1961, symbolized during the Cold War the distinction between Eastern and Western Europe. The wall was opened at the end of the Cold War in 1989–1990. Here, West Germans look through a hole in the wall to the East German since January 5, 1990.
At the heart of this cultural-geographical division was the Enlightenment era’s belief in history as a one-way march toward higher and higher levels of civilization, in which the western parts of Europe led. The world could be divided into civilized peoples in Europe, barbaric peoples like Chinese and Indians, and wanted peoples as indigenous people in America or Australia. In this world view, Eastern Europe was seen as the underdeveloped Europe, the link between civilization and freedom in the west and barbarism and despotism in the east. This image of Eastern Europe was reinforced by the security- political landscape in Europe after the Napoleonic wars, in which Russia took on the role of a conservative, anti-revolutionary “policeman”, for example by helping Austria to revolt during theliberal revolutions in 1848–1849.
This conceptualization was reinforced by the nations that bordered Russia. For example, there was a strong trend in Polish nationalist historical writing in the late 1800s, which pointed to the country’s role as a bulwark against barbarian hordes from the east, such as Mongols, Turks and Russians. This line of thinking was taken a step further in German nationalism, where barbaric Eastern Europe was not seen as a threat but as an expansion field, an unpopulated field for German civilization, for ” Lebensraum “.
The Cold War
The end of the Second World War put an end to the German “Drang nach Osten”. The Soviet Union had won a crushing victory over Nazi Germany and created a belt of satellite states that stretched all the way from Russia’s borders to central Germany. Eastern Europe now became synonymous with the communist countries in Europe, the countries east of Churchill’s iron curtain that stretched from Stettin to Trieste.
The Cold War Eastern Europe shows the extent to which the concept was geographically flexible but relatively stable as a cultural construct. The eastern barbarians who threatened western freedom had now moved from Russia to the center of Germany and the border with Italy, but the cultural understanding of a division between a despotic and free east and a free and civilized Western Europe remained almost unchanged.
During the Cold War, the countries that were part of the Warsaw Pact were counted on Eastern Europe. Soviet stamp from 1975 with the flags of the countries that were part of the Warsaw Pact. On the left side Bulgaria, Hungary and East Germany, on the right side Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Romania, at the bottom of Poland.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain
The end of the Cold War has seen a relatively rapid retreat of Eastern Europe as a geographical concept. The Cold War’s two-part divide of Europe along the Cold War dividing lines is now mostly used by older people in former Western Europe and North America. The boundary of what is considered Eastern Europe in general use has extended eastward, and now extends largely to only European Russia and Russian-friendly former Soviet states.
There are several reasons for this movement eastward. With the fall of communism, it was undoubtedly natural that Russian vassal states in Europe turned away, not only from Russia, but from being geographically categorized with them. This has undoubtedly been reinforced by the EU and NATO’s eastward expansion. But the geographical retreat of Eastern Europe as a term can probably also be seen in the context of the cultural baggage of the term from its origins in the Enlightenment era.
Eastern Europe, unlike other geographical divisions of Europe, such as Northern Europe, Southern Europe and Western Europe, has to a very small extent been a self-concept. It came from Western European thinkers, and was used to draw a line between a culturally and intellectually leading Europe and a less advanced East. That elites in former Eastern Bloc countries have spent a lot of effort and time changing their group identities is therefore understandable. Residents and authorities in these countries now prefer to belong to a redefined Central Europe or, for the Baltic countries, Northern Europe.
Definitions in use today
However, the term Eastern Europe is still used to a lesser extent in some international surveys. The UN Statistics Division still uses a definition of Eastern Europe that is almost identical to the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. Many other international organizations, such as the OECD and the EU, use the same classification as the UN, but call the area of Central and Eastern Europe instead. The CIA World Factbook calls only former Soviet states in Europe Eastern Europe, and uses the terms Central Europe and Southeast Europe for the rest.