Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 23
29 November 1999

Theme: Regional Lumping CENTRAL  EUROPE:
To File the World

Wojtek Kosc

Regional lumping could be called a means of facilitating a more comprehensible map of the world or its particular areas. The human brain is constructed in a way that tends to file detailed information under more general headings. This is the way we remember things and are able to refer them to larger conceptual entities. Once a certain number of items are filed under a heading, we tend to forget the particular elements that constitute the content but remember the heading's general idea. The case with regional lumping is, to an extent, similar to this psychological phenomenon, called systematic forgetting. States are filed according to their geographical, political and/or economic position. We might not be able to recite at once all the EU members, but we do have in mind a map of the whole Union.

Throughout the centuries, the troubled history of Central and Eastern Europe has resulted in different lumping systems. A state could be filed under several different headings, depending on its current situation. Poland, for instance, has, since the 10th century, been put into a number of categories, some of which were applied several at a time. Prior to Christianization, it was a part of the unknown (to the Christian countries at least) pagan world. Then in 966, within a split second - long enough for a bishop to baptize Poland's first ruler, Mieszko I - it became part of the Christian Western world (at least formally). After 1569, it had to be double-labeled, as it united with Lithuania, which until that time had been filed under the quite separate Orthodox world of the East. After the Second World War, together with several other countries, Poland acquired the label of a member of the Communist Bloc; this year, it became a member of NATO.

Other countries of the region (note that the word "region" is also a form of labeling) have had similar experiences. At present, several systems of regional lumping predominate. The three biggest ones are: Central Europe, Eastern Europe (sometimes these two are used together) and the Balkans. A smaller lump is, for example, the group of three Baltic countries. These headings are constructed according to the geographical position of the countries in question; but if one referred to other criteria, one would get different groupings. Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary form the Visegrad Group, are all NATO members and Poland is additionally grouped with France and Germany in the Weimar Triangle. Slovenia is both a Balkan country and an Alpine state (this may seem to be a geographically related type of labeling, but the term "Balkan" is often used for the countries of the former Yugoslavia). Parts of Belarus were once in Poland (Central Europe), but now Belarus lies in Eastern Europe. It may even become a part of Russia. Finally, Russia is partly an East European state and partly an Asiatic one. To enumerate all possible labels, groups and sub-groups would take too much space.

What is the sense of lumping states, then? And will the future bring new lumping systems for Central and Eastern Europe?

The answer to the first question requires a look at history and political science. Historically, states, whatever form they assumed, have always tended to either unite or at least associate with other states. Treaties and unions were signed to serve specific goals. It often happened that once the goals were attained treaties were annulled. Sometimes, social tensions brought about the change of a seemingly stable lumping system - as happened in 1989. It also happened that new groups emerged as a result of the aggressive policy of a state stronger than its neighbors. This is what took place in 1939 and 1945, when most of Central and Eastern Europe became occupied territory or part of the Third Reich and then was filed under the Warsaw Pact.

Politically, unions, treaties and associations are governments' tools of executing the best possible policy for a given state. Becoming lumped is a means of safeguarding the interests of a state as well as its government, which by signing a treaty fulfils one of its basic functions - defending the state from possible harmful external influence or even aggression. The Visegrad countries' progression toward NATO is one example of this.

Also, a state is an entity that influences and is influenced by its surroundings. A particular government may tend to increase this influence, which may result in forming a group of states. Depending on the strength of the states involved, a new formation may have authoritarian features, with one state overshadowing others, or it may have a more partner-like structure.

Answering the second question is easier. Above all, the future has already happened: the old lumping system grouping Central and East European countries under one flag collapsed and is being replaced by a new one, with rather more permanent features. The decomposition of the old system took several subsequent forms - from the toppling of Communism in 1989 to Poland's, the Czech Republic's and Hungary's entry into NATO this spring (with other countries in the queue). The final (at least in the foreseeable future) step will be expansion of the EU. But what then?

Countries outside of the group of six frontrunning candidates will have to wait many years before joining NATO or the EU. And the EU will not expand endlessly. After it takes six new members - which will not happen all that quickly - it will sit back, not too anxious to engage in new experiments. This, in turn, will most probably create a new lumping system for Europe, one that will encompass all of the previous smaller groupings: the EU on one side and the rest on the other, with everything set against off-balance Russia. Whether such a system is needed, one cannot say. More importantly, it will probably last a long time, creating new challenges for Central and Eastern Europe.

Wojtek Kosc, 29 November 1999



This week's theme Regional Lumping

Re-defining East and West

"Baltic States"?

As Bad as
the Balkans

To File the World

Austria's Kidnapped Heritage


Avoiding Polish Trash



Jan Culik:
Czech Impressions

Sam Vaknin:
Macedonia's Image Problem


Czech Prostitution (part 2)

Clinton in Sofia

Slovakia's Hungarians

Czech Higher Education


Flaws in the New Biography of Havel

Book Shop



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