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The Routledge Companion to Central and Eastern Europe since 1919

by: Adrian Webb
published by: Routledge
pp: 385
ISBN: 0-203-92817-2
price: £19.99

Book's frontpage

Dividing history into periods is notoriously artificial, but by any historical standard, 1919 marked a new beginning in central and eastern Europe. Politically, it had been largely divided for at least two centuries, and in many areas for much longer, between the competing empires of Austria, Germany, Russia and Turkey. In 1917, however, the Russian Empire had been defeated by Germany. That German victory was overtaken the following year by the defeat of Austria–Hungary, Germany and Turkey, which marked the end of the First World War in November 1918. This defeat of all the imperial powers created a vacuum unparallelled before or since in which the political system could be completely reordered in accordance with the nationality principle. Poland and Lithuania returned to the map of Europe as sovereign states. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia appeared for the first time, Estonia and Latvia for the first time as independent entities. Further east, Georgia and the Ukraine briefly enjoyed autonomy.

If the timescale of this book is easy to justify, its geographical limits are very much harder. This is to no small degree because the terms ‘Central’ and particularly ‘Eastern’ Europe have been used to describe subjective perceptions rather than objective geographical realities. Before 1919, Central Europe was broadly understood as the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled from Vienna, and Eastern Europe as the territory of the Russian Empire ruled from Saint Petersburg. The Balkans, comprising the independent states of Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia, together with substantial tracts of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires, formed a third grouping. The new and enlarged states established in 1919 sought to give themselves a more western orientation, but their ambitions enjoyed a mixed response. For their German-speaking neighbours, most of them remained essentially subordinate, colonial peoples, and under Hitler, they could be swept aside in the creation of a new German Lebensraum in the east stretching far into what had become the Ukrainian and Caucasian Republics of the Soviet Union. For the British and the French, Eastern Europe comprised the states between Germany and the Soviet Union, whose prime interest, particularly for the French, was their presumed role as allies in the event of another German attack in the west. Embarassing as it may be to recall now, they were identified primarily with romantic revolutionaries, Ruritanian monarchs with colourful mistresses, and ‘being troublesome’. Chamberlain was merely being truthful when he declared that ‘Czechoslovakia is a far away country of which we know nothing’. After 1945, ‘Eastern Europe’ was the term adopted virtually universally to describe the Soviet bloc until its demise in 1990. The term, however, normally excluded the Soviet Union itself. It also ignored the anomaly that Prague is west of Vienna. This new ‘Eastern Europe’ was again as much a theatre as a real place, with Berlin at centre stage. Few of its governments recognised any responsibility for national actions taken during the Second World War. Even the Austrians, who had contributed Hitler, had been the victims of Nazism. It was now the scene of the struggle between east
and west, between good and evil, between light and darkness, between Communism and democracy: the assessment depending on the standpoint of the speaker. It was appreciated only slowly that the bloc was far from monolithic.

Its dissolution in 1990 permitted the restoration of a more diversified image. Some  definitions became easier, others harder. German unification effectively moved East Germany from ‘East’ to ‘West’. The ‘Visegrad’ group of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland emerged as the nucleus of a new ‘Central Europe’, associated in varying degrees with both Austria and the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. ‘Eastern Europe’ came increasingly to mean the Balkans, really south-eastern Europe, while Eastern Europe in the geographical sense implicitly meant the states which had emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and which, with the exception of the Baltic states, are now grouped in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In order to give this book some coherence against such shifting sands, it has been  decided to focus on an ‘Eastern Europe’ defined as the 1945–90 Soviet bloc, including Albania and also Yugoslavia with whose history it was intimately involved, together with the Baltic States, Moldova and Ukraine during their periods of independence, in view of their increased western orientation. (Readers particularly interested in East Germany are referred to the present author’s Companion to Germany since 1945.) That focus is complemented by considerable attention to Austria whose history between 1919 and 1938, and to some extent since 1990, is an integral part of the history of central and eastern Europe. Reference to Greece is restricted to the limited number of occasions when it directly affected developments in its northern neighbours. That is not to imply that Greece is unimportant, merely that its inclusion would introduce so many considerations particular to itself, notably Cyprus and tension with Turkey, that this book might become unwieldy.
Other countries now independent but formerly part of the Soviet Union are largely  excluded in view of their very different history. It is appreciated that their exclusion  creates some anomalies, but history is never tidy, and they are accordingly covered in outline in section 4.3 in an attempt to meet this difficulty.


Table of contents

Introductory note: the scope of this book

Geographical equivalents

Politically inspired name changes

Personal names

A brief guide to pronunciation


The reordering of Europe
The background to 1919
1.2 Versailles, the establishment of the new order and its consequences
1.3 The concept and history of nationalism in eastern Europe
Authoritarianism, fascism and the problem of national minorities from 1919 to 1939
1.6 The liberal tradition
1.8 Titoism
Politics since 1990

Historical chronology of key events
Key events before Versailles
2.2 Key events from Versailles to the outbreak of the Second World War
Key events during the Second World War
2.4 Key events between the end of the Second World War and the death of Stalin
Key events during the Communist period 1953–89
2.6 Key events since the fall of Communism Central and eastern Europe excluding Yugoslavia
2.7 The disintegration of Yugoslavia and its aftermath
Thematic chronologies
The rise of authoritarianism 1919–39
3.2 Anti-Semitism: character, scale and scope
3.3 Wartime administration, collaboration, government and resistance
3.4 Post-war retribution and revenge
3.5 Communism
3.5.1 The post-war consolidation of Communist power
3.5.2 The purges and the show trials
3.5.3 The struggle between church and state
3.5.4 Orthodoxy and reform 1953–90
3.5.5 The reformed Communist Parties since 1990
3.6 Foreign affairs
3.6.1 Regional agreements and alliances 1919–39
3.6.2 Wartime allegiances
3.6.3 The Communist period
3.6.4 Regional relations and relations with East and West since 1990
The nation states
4.2 States and regions of central and eastern Europe: origins, characteristics and particularisms
4.3 The countries of ‘further’ eastern Europe
4.4 The impact of the EU, NATO and Russia since 1990

Special topics
The economy
5.1.1 The economy 1919–39
5.1.2 The impact of the Second World War
5.1.3 Post-war reconstruction under Communist rule
5.1.4 The impact of 1990
5.1.5 The economy: recent developments
5.1.6 Comparative GDP
5.2 The environment
5.2.1 The Communist legacy
5.2.2 The impact of 1990
5.3 Human statistics
5.3.1 Population statistics
5.3.2 Ethnic minorities
5.3.3 War losses
5.3.4 The post-war migrations
5.3.5 Life expectancy in years (2003)
5.4 Culture
5.4.1 Cosmopolitanism and cultural nationalism
5.4.2 The Arts under Fascism and Communism
5.4.3 Post-war rebuilding of the national heritage
5.4.4 Linguistic politics

Office holders
6.1.1 Heads of State
6.1.2 Heads of government (prime ministers/premiers, unless otherwise indicated)
6.1.3 Heads of the Communist Party Politburo
6.2 Communist Party membership statistics
6.3 Major assassinations, suicides and political executions
6.4 Biographies

Glossary of specialist terms






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