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Regions and Eastern Europe Regionalism

Regions And Nations, Regionalism And Nationalism In Modern Europe, Central Versus Eastern Europe, The Future Of Eastern Europe

It would be difficult to find two people today—even two historians or political scientists—who would completely agree on the meaning of the phrase Eastern Europe. Unlike such phrases as Great Britain, the former Yugoslavia, or the Baltic states, Eastern Europe varies widely in what it denotes. The variation occurs in part because what the phrase denotes has changed frequently over time, and in part because in any given era it has carried a multitude of different meanings depending on a host of factors, from the intellectual context to the political orientation or ethnic identity of the speaker. Finally, it occurs because Eastern Europe refers not to an accepted geopolitical reality (like the collection of territories, with recognized boundaries, that used to be included in an entity called "Yugoslavia") but rather to a region. Regions, which enjoy no formally, legally recognized geopolitical status, are notoriously slippery in their definitions. Eastern Europe serves as an excellent illustration of the dynamics of the concepts of regions and regionalism.

During the Cold War period, the phrase Eastern Europe was commonly used in political discussions to refer specifically to Yugoslavia plus the Warsaw Pact countries (that is, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania), excluding the Soviet Union. But in the years since World War II, it has also been used variously to refer to all of Europe east of East Germany, excluding the Soviet Union, Scandinavia, and Greece; to all of Europe east of East Germany, including Russia but excluding Greece; and to a number of other collections of nations and territories. In Jewish studies, Eastern Europe can mean (among other things) Hungary and the primarily Slavic-speaking areas between, but not including, modern-day Germany and the former Soviet Union (roughly corresponding to what is today Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary); it can mean those same territories plus modern-day Russia; it can mean those same territories, modern-day Russia, and such territories of the former Soviet Union as once held significant Jewish populations (Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova); and it can mean various other combinations of territories without Russia.

The broadest definition of Eastern Europe may well be the one that the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College, London, uses to describe the region to which its activities are devoted. That institution's Web site includes this definition: "all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from Finland in the north to the Balkans in the south [inclusive], and from Germany and Austria in the west to Russia in the east [inclusive]."

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