Central Europe Activ

I was bemused in the early 90s when there was a wave of thought in the Czech Republic which tried to prove that the country does not belong historically to Central Europe and it is indeed a Western European country. Now, as the financial and economic crisis takes its heaviest toll in the Central and Eastern European region, a few countries try to get rid of the CEE label that makes their government treasury bonds hard to sell.

Earlier this week Czech economic policymakers tried to convince journalist hard that their country has nothing in common with Hungary, which indeed had a much less disciplined fiscal policy in the last decade. Now I read a Polish blog (via Julien) that Poland is not a CEE country. According to the Polandian, “Austria is as related to Central Europe as it is to China”. Even if you assume that somebody has never visited neither Austria nor China from Poland this is a very funny statement.

I also prefer to draw a line between Central Europe and Eastern Europe, but I think the CEE phrase is still very much useful. The former Habsburg Empire, and countries that are at least in some part used to belong to it are economically, culturally, historically very much tied to each other. This includes of course Austria, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and also Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Poland; but also somewhat Ukraine, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Austrian financial system has an exposure to these countries which amounts to 80% the size of Austrian GDP. Albeit Austria is definitely the core of this region and much richer, the living standards, consumer habits in the other countries are rather similar. In Vienna, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak languages are widely spoken. The former Habsburg group usually votes together in the EU. Oh yes, and Phare was named after Poland and Hungary, and there is the largely defunct but still existing Visegrad Group. (This argument is shared in a different form by Leopolis and Julien Frisch: the CEE bloc is indeed a useful phrase from a political economy point of view).

Probably you could rightly claim that the Baltic Republics with their strong economic, cultural and historic ties to Scandinavia and Russia are different, and modern Poland is indeed a mix of everything, but I think the CEE phrase, as well as Central Europe and Eastern Europe will remain useful in the next few centuries. With a pure re-branding none of these countries will be able to ditch their shared history on and destiny.

Update: Actually Slovakia and Estonia kept out from the new bloc, otherwise the East-West divide in the EU has become manifest in the crisis-summit and probably the lebel more important than ever. Another update: Here is my reformulated post which appeared also on komment.hu, one of the most read Hungarian-language opinion sites.

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  1. I agree with you Daniel. Besides the silly Austria-China thing did the guy writing the Polandian put the “stans” in Eastern Europe? Where is Central Asia then?

    Regarding the same blog post I am quite saddened to find out that some Hungarians continue to repeat the ‘Romania stole Transylvania from Hungary’ mantra. I do understand the Trianon shock suffered by the Hungarian nation but I would expect people to get over it by now and accept the fact that in 1920 the region had a Romanian majority that didn’t want to be part of a Hungarian state. Yes, I am a (friendly) Romanian from Transylvania.

  2. What could I say about the Trianon trauma? It looks that Hungary did not have the opportunity to build a new national identity either (nor did Slovakia or Romania in a way). I think if Romania accepted the fact that it is a multi-ethnic state it would help a lot. I think Romanian and Hungarian nationalisms are fueling each other.

    But I think this is also very hard to understand for Hungarians and Romanians, too. I think the neighboring states are wholly misunderstanding this phenomenon. Most Hungarians with a Trianon nostalgia do not vote nationalist parties, do not expect anything seriously, they are just sad that a country that seemed to be whole and organic has been divided and ever since Hungary does not seem to function well. Also almost all Hungarian families have at least one relative who lives or lived in Transylvania, and were neglected to pray, learn or communicate on their native tongue in their native country.

    I think the best example of the nature of this phenomenon is the Hungarian pentecost in Transylvania. Behind the rhetorical clashes between Hungarian and Romanian nationalists, it did not seem to bother either sides that the biggest Hungarian public gathering takes place every year in Romania. Up to 5-6% of the population of Hungary celebrates peacefully on Romanian sovereign territory each pentecost. It tells me that the situation cannot be that bad!

    However, all public surveys show that Hungarians have an even better perception of Romania for a good series of years, and I think Hungarian nationalism is at an all time low. What seems to substitute for it, and it is a more disgusting thing is racism against the Roma.

  3. In a way Romania is a multi-ethnic state in all but name but nobody wants to take the extra step; so I don’t think Romanian politicians will change the “national state” phrase from the constitution anytime soon. Even if they would I don’t think that would have such a big effect. Hungarian nationalists will continue to cry for Transylvania and other regions and Romanian nationalists will continue to tell Transylvanian Hungarians to go to their country (i.e. Hungary) or, even worse, to the steppes of Asia (“where they came from”) if they don’t like Romania.
    You are right, the two nationalisms are fueling each other and the ethnic type of nationalism tends to be prevalent in this part of Europe.
    However it’s hard for me to understand how a country like pre-World War I Hungary could be called organic, especially from an ethno-nationalistic point of view.
    The relations between the two countries and peoples have definitely evolved for the better in the last decade but often I am reminded just how frail this equilibrium is. Some of the reasons to worry: the main Hungarian party in Romania (UDMR/RMDSz) is now advocating for territorial autonomy of the Székely Land and all Romanian parties oppose the idea; the same party is not governing anymore (it was between 1996-2008) and its criticism of the new government tends to refer to ethnic issues thus provoking reactions on the same line; if Mr Orban gets elected in Hungary more troubles are on their way etc.
    Regarding your last idea I’m afraid the same thing is happening in Romania. Intolerance towards the Roma is increasing worryingly.

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