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Edward Lucas, the Central and Eastern European correspondent of The Economist recently narrated a video on The Economist‘s website, in its multimedia library. (I posted the video earlier click here to view it)
Lucas explained how in his opinion the concept of “Eastern Europe” which is used to describe all of ex-communist Europe is a messy concept that doesn’t make sense and should not be used any more.

This narrated video follows a TED Talk that Lucas gave at the TEDx event in Krakow. (To watch it on YouTube click here) During the talk he explained why calling the whole ex-communist region of Europe as one entity by using the name “Eastern Europe” is wrong, confusing and far from the truth. It is a messy concept that does not make sense. I shared this video via Twitter and other social media websites.

Lucas gave that TED Talk back in December 2011 and now months later he narrated a video with the same message. I noticed it and think that Edward Lucas is trying to make a serious point so I decided to make a post about it in my Blog.

It also concerns me since I’m originally from Slovakia, a country which gets caught in this messy concept as well with many other countries.

Edward Lucas is perfectly right. This concept does not even make sense geographically. If the Czech Republic is in Eastern Europe then why should Austria not be in there too. I know, for example, that French geography tex books divide Europe exactly like that and include Greece in “Western Europe”. That is close to insane.

In the two videos Edward Lucas proposes two new concepts: “Baltic Europe” and “Danube Europe”. These two make perfect sense geographically and culturally.

A term that I believe should be used more often from a geographical point of view is “Central Europe”. Not that there is anything wrong in being from the East or being Eastern European, but calling half the continent Eastern Europe is not correct.

“Central Europe” is ideal to describe Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and perhaps even Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia and Lichtenstein.  However, I do not think that the term “Eastern Europe” should be abandoned completely. I think it is ideal to use it to describe the countries that constitute the territory of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and maybe the 3 Baltic States. The 3 Baltic states, however, would rather be included in “Northern Europe” among countries such as Finland and Sweden or they should be part of what Lucas calls “Baltic Europe”.  Sometimes according to some classifications the Baltic States along with Romania and Croatia also fall into “Central Europe”. To see the various ways of how “Central Europe” is classified view this Wikipedia entry here.

The term “Central Europe” should be used more often in international media. For example we commonly use  “Central European Time” or “CET” to describe the time zone that runs from Spain through most of Europe all the way to the Baltic States, Romania and the former USSR. That concept is also untidy and the time zone itself is confusing, but that is a different topic. I’m not going to get into that.

The ex-communist countries of Europe are far from being homogenous. Yes, they were all communist during almost half of the last century but that is all. Most of them are Slavic, but not all of them. In only some of them is the Eastern Orthodox Cristinatiy the dominant religion . The others are mostly Roman Catholic. ( Not to mention that two of them: Czech Republic and Estonia are among the most atheist countries in the world.) A common misconception abroad is that they all use the Cyrillic alphabet. Most of them actually use the Latin alphabet.

If you watch these two videos (it will not take a lot of your time) you will find out more about this part of Europe and what the countries of this region are like. Most of them are integrating deeper and deeper into the European Union and are also becoming important on the world stage. The recent EURO 2012 tournament for example was held in Poland and Ukraine.

Edward Lucas deserves thanks and  a lot of credit. The website of The Economist where his video is posted is visited daily by millions of people all over the world. Thanks to his video everyone who sees it will hopefully stop using the old concept of “Eastern Europe” and will recognize the ex-communist countries of Europe for what they really are.

Thank You Mr. Lucas

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Last Thursday July 7th I attended a great event here in Washington D. C., organized by The Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institute and the Peterson Institute. The main topic of this event, was Ukraine, its problems of governance and the implications for its Foreign Policy.

One of the speakers was Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and author of many great books. His insight as usual was awesome and full of intelligence. When talking about the difficult relationship that Ukraine has with Russia he mentioned a very interesting fact.

Generally Russia is always considered and considers itself the “older big brother” of Ukraine. Something like Germany was to Austria-Hungary back in the 19th and the early 20th century. Well, Russia definitely is bigger and during the time of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, Russia did control Ukraine. But when one looks back in history he/she will find out that it is actually Ukraine, which is the older (not the bigger of course) brother of Russia. Russia and Ukraine share a lot of common history and culture. This relationship goes back to the 9th century AD to the times of Kievan Rus.

Kievan Rus is where the Eastern Slavic Culture finds its origin. Kiev was the first great city of Eastern Slavs and the Kievan Rus later expanded eastwards to modern day Russia where Moscow was later found. Later throughout the centuries the settlers in the East became a different nation known as Russians.

In brief, modern day Ukraine is where the Russian culture and civilization originated. Historically then, Ukraine is actually Russia’s older brother.

But politically as well. Ukraine is more western than Russia. Ukraine, even today with the administration of Yanukovych has a pretty good democratic record (but far from perfect of course). One should not think of Yanukovych as a super pro-russian president. He does do things which are in the interest of  his country. This does not mean doing stuff that Russia always likes.

Moreover, Ukraine is where the democratic Orange Revolution of 2004/2005 happened. Even Samuel P.Huntington, in his famous work “The Clash of Civilizations”, talks about Ukraine as the place where, as he describes it, the “Western” and the “Orthodox” cultures meet. Ukraine is more western and democratic than Russia, so even politically it is Russia’s older and , in this case, “more responsible” and “more democratic” brother.

Returning back to the event I was writing about in the beginning. Brzezinski also said that Poland is the country (which also happens to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU at the moment) which can help Ukraine the most. Don’t forget that the Euro 2012 Championship will be taking place in Poland and Ukraine. Just the fact that these countries decided back in 2005 to host this championship together is a strong indication of their strong ties. Poland as a EU member might this way help Ukraine become more recognized and more accepted as a European country.

Ukraine should also consider tightening its relations with Turkey with which it does share, according to Brzezinski, some common history. These two countries also have converging interests.

Finally there is the problem of the corruption in Ukraine. Is it a home-grown Ukrainian problem in particular? It might be. But it is rather a legacy of those awful Soviet totalitarian times. It is the legacy of the post-Soviet corruption. It is the cumulative effect from fanatism to self-interest. Many other Central European countries that have problems with corruption have it, among other things, because of the fact that they used to be totalitarian regimes that make the population cynical.

One more thing to take into account. Ukraine now has had over 20 years of independence and democracy. There is a whole new generation of young people who grew up in this new free regime and they will change Ukraine’s image and nature forever. They have a strong sense of national identity which is getting stronger and more consolidated every year.

In the end, if Russia finally gives up Ukraine and decides to abandon this neo-imperialism it might at last become a westernized country that will be European. As Brzezinski puts it: “Russia with Ukraine is an neo-imperial non-european power. Russia without Ukraine is a European power”.

I hope that you all enjoyed reading this and maybe even learnt something new. Thank you for reading.

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