Central Europe

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Image:European Regions 16.png 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 has come back into fashion since the end of the Cold War, which had divided Europe politically into East and West, with the Iron Curtain splitting "Central Europe" in half. With exception for a kernel from Poland to Hungary, the understanding of the concept varies considerably from nation to nation, but also from time to time.

The region is usually used to mean:

Sometimes, Croatia and Romania are also considered Central European.

Rather than a physicial entity, Central Europe is a concept of shared history, in opposition to the East represented by the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia, and up to World War I distinguished from the West as the area of relative political conservatism opposing the liberalism of the West and the influences of the French Revolution. Following World War I, and even more so after World War II, the liberal/conservative divide between West and East became obsolete and was replaced by a democratic/authoritarian divide.

In the English language, the concept of Central Europe fell out of usage during Cold War, shadowed by notions of Eastern and Western Europe. It may be seen in historical and cultural contexts, where it denotes areas where Germans settled and mixed with Slavs and Magyars, and where Roma and Jewish minorities made important cultural contributions. This notion has lost much of its relevance due to the Holocaust and the Expulsion of Germans after World War II over the Oder-Neisse line. However, the term is being increasingly used again, with the recent expanses of European Union.Image:Hist central europe.JPG

It is sometimes joked that Central Europe is the part of the continent that is considered Eastern by Western Europeans and Western by Eastern Europeans.

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Between the Alps and the Baltics

Image:Central-europe.png

Geography strongly defines Central Europe's borders to its neighbouring regions to the North and South: namely Northern Europe (or Scandinavia) across the Baltic Sea and the Apennine peninsula (or Italy) across the Alps. The borders to Western Europe and Eastern Europe are geographically a lot more floating and for this reason culture and geographical definitions migrate easier West-East than South-North. To note the Rhine river which runs South-North through Western Germany is a speciality.

This may explain why according to most English-language encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopædia Britannica, the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica and the Columbia Encyclopedia, as well as the CIA World Factbook, the term Central Europe is taken to include:

Alpine countries
(west to east)

Visegrád group
(north to south)

In the article on Europe, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia counts Germany (that then reached east of the Baltic) but not Switzerland to Central Europe; Liechtenstein is not mentioned. In other articles of that encyclopedia, France and Switzerland are included.

The notion of Alpine Countries extending to the Baltic Sea and the North Sea is not uncontroversial. While Germany without any doubt has formerly been considered a Central European land, both by Germans and by others, it has at least for the 19th and 20th century had an identity and self-image as located North of the Alps rather than in the Alps. This holds true even for Bavaria, the most Alpine of the German states, where most people live below the Alps.

Culturally Central-European

Several other countries have regions that retain a Central European character as well, having historically been part of the central European kingdoms and empires such as the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Habsburg monarchy, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Imperial Germany. These are:

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, which effectively neutralized the concept of Central Europe. Following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Cold War, this distinction has again come into use, often to cover those countries that had been Warsaw Pact members but are now members of NATO and the European Union.

During the Cold War, the English term Central Europe was increasingly applied only to the westernmost former Warsaw Pact countries (Poland to 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.

In everyday usage, this is the most common meaning of Central Europe, not least among Central Europeans who wish to distance themselves from "Eastern Europe".

So defined, the following countries are entirely included:

Usually excluded are:

Although Slovenia as a part of Yugoslavia was strictly speaking not a member of the Warsaw Pact, Slovenia's 20th century history has much in common with that of the other Central European countries. East Germany, on the other hand, was from 19491990 a loyal member of the Warsaw Pact, but would now rather be seen as the inheritor of Protestant Prussian culture than of Catholic Central Europe.

The new members of the European Union

After the enlargement of the European Union of 1 May 2004, the term Central Europe is sometimes incorrectly used in a way that means "the new members of EU"— from Estonia to Malta— perhaps in particular by writers who want to avoid the term coined by Donald Rumsfeld, New Europe, which may be perceived to carry too much American ignorance of European matters. Malta and Cyprus, as well as Estonia and Latvia, are sometimes now also included, but as these new members of the EU are clearly more differentiated from most of the western EU members economically it is arguably an inaccurate construction in its own right. It can be also questioned what there is that unites the nations of a region so constructed apart from a less advanced economy. A usage that closer adheres to the common cultural traits, and also the shared experience of post-war Stalinist rule, may be less prone to cause confusion.

Remnants of the Holy Roman Empire

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 and Germany in their interbellum formations but usually excluding the Baltic countries north of East Prussia).

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