Eastern Europe

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Eastern Europe
Geographic features of Eastern Europe
Geographic features of Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent. There is no consensus as to the precise area it refers to, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations. There are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region".[1] A related United Nations paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct".[2] One definition describes Eastern Europe as a cultural (and econo-cultural) entity: the region lying in Europe with main characteristics consisting in Byzantine, Orthodox, and some Turco-Islamic influences.[2][3] Another definition was created during the Cold War and used more or less synonymously with the term Eastern Bloc. A similar definition names the formerly communist European states outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe.[3] Historians and social scientists increasingly view such definitions as outdated or relegating,[4][5][6][7][8] but they are still heard in everyday speech and used for statistical purposes.[9][10][11]


Several definitions of Eastern Europe exist today, but they often lack precision or are extremely general. These definitions vary both across cultures and among experts, even political scientists, recently becoming more and more imprecise.[12]


The Ural Mountains, Ural River, and the Caucasus Mountains are the geographical land border of the eastern edge of Europe. In the west, however, the cultural and religious boundaries of "Eastern Europe" are subject to considerable overlap and, most importantly, have undergone historical fluctuations, which make a precise definition of the western boundaries of Eastern Europe and the geographical midpoint of Europe somewhat difficult.

International organisations

UN Statistics Division

Regions used for statistical processing purposes by the United Nations Statistics Division which classifies Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey in Asia:
  Eastern Europe
  • The United Nations Statistics Division developed a selection of geographical regions and groupings of countries and areas, which are or may be used in compilation of statistics. In this collection, the following ten countries were classified as Eastern Europe:[10][13] Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations.[14] The United Nations' definition encompasses most of the states which were once under the Soviet Union's realm of influence and were part of the Warsaw Pact.
  • Other agencies of the United Nations (like UNAIDS,[15] UNHCR,[16][17] ILO,[18] or UNICEF[19]) divide Europe into different regions and variously assign various states to those regions.

European Union

European sub-regions according to EuroVoc


The Multilingual Thesaurus of the European Union[citation needed] provides entries for "23 EU languages" ( Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish) plus Serbian. Of these, those in italics are classified as "Eastern Europe" in this source. Other official pages of the European Union classify some of the above-mentioned countries as strictly Central European (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia).[20][21][22][23][24]

Regions of Europe based on CIA world factbook

Central Intelligence Agency

CIA World Factbook which defines Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey as primarily or entirely in Asia, and Cyprus as in the Middle East:
  Eastern Europe
  Southeastern Europe

CIA defines Eastern Europe as Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia (transcontinental), Turkey (transcontinental) and Ukraine.

Political, military and economic

Political situation in Europe during the Cold War.


One view of the present boundaries of Eastern Europe came into being during the final stages of World War II. The area eventually came to encompass all the European countries which were under Soviet influence. Countries which had communist governments in the postwar era (1945-1989/1992), and neutral countries were classified by the nature of their political regimes.

The Cold War increased the number of reasons for the division of Europe into two parts along the borders of NATO and Warsaw Pact states. (See: the Cold War section).

The economic organisation connecting the countries was the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.


In recent years, after the fall of the USSR, a few political and economic organisations emerged in the region of Eastern Europe, including the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Union State.


A competing view excludes from the definition of Eastern Europe states historically and culturally different, constituting part of the so-called Western world. This could potentially refer to various formerly communist countries of Central Europe and the Baltic states which have different political, religious, cultural, and economic histories from their eastern neighbors (e.g., Russia and Ukraine). (See: Classical antiquity and medieval origins section).


The East–West Schism is the break of communion and theology between what are now the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic, as well as Protestant) churches which began in the 11th century and lasts until this very day. It divided Christianity in Europe, and consequently the world, into Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity.

Contemporary developments

The fall of the Iron Curtain brought the end of the East-West division in Europe,[28] but this geopolitical concept is sometimes still used for quick reference by the media.[29]

Baltic states

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Most sources[citation needed] place the Baltic states in Northern Europe whereas the CIA World Factbook places the region in Eastern Europe.


The Caucasus states are included in definitions of Eastern Europe or histories of Eastern Europe. They are located on or near the border of Europe and Asia. They participate in European Union's Eastern Partnership Program and are members of the Council of Europe which specifies that all three are geographically in Asia but have political and cultural connections to Turkey and Europe; Georgia has sought membership in NATO and EU. The World Factbook and National Geographic Society atlases and the United Nations Statistics Division have always listed and or shown the three states as in Asia.

Other former Soviet states

Several other former Soviet republics may be considered part of Eastern Europe

Central Europe

The term "Central Europe" is often used by historians to designate former Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, and thus overlapping with "Eastern Europe." The following countries are often labeled Eastern European by some commentators and as Central European by others.[30][31][32]

Southeastern Europe

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Most Southeastern European states did not belong to the Eastern Bloc (save Bulgaria, Romania, and for a short time, Albania) although some of them were represented in the Cominform. Only some of them can be included in the classical former political definition of Eastern Europe. Some can be considered part of Southern Europe.[10] However, most can be characterized as belonging to South-eastern Europe, but some of them may also be included in Central Europe or Eastern Europe.[43]

  •  Albania belongs to Southeastern Europe.
  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  Bulgaria is in the central part of the Balkans; geographically belongs to Southern/Southeastern Europe and sometimes included in the North-Eastern Mediterranean, but can also be included in Eastern Europe in the Cold War.
  •  Cyprus is geographically situated in the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of west Asian mainland, however due to its political, cultural, and historical ties to Europe, it is often regarded as part of Southern, and Southeastern Europe.
  •  Greece is a rather unique case and may be included, variously, in Western,[44] Southeastern[45] or Southern Europe.[46][47]
  •  Macedonia belongs to Southeastern Europe.
  •  Montenegro belongs to Southeastern Europe.
  •  Romania can be included in Eastern Europe in the Cold War context, but is commonly referred to as belonging to Southeastern Europe[48] or Central Europe.[49]
  •  Serbia
  •  Turkey lies partially in Southeastern Europe: only the region known as East Thrace, which constitutes 3% of the country's total land mass, lies west of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus.

Disputed states:


Classical antiquity and medieval origins

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Ancient kingdoms of the region included Orontid Armenia Albania, Colchis and Iberia. These kingdoms were either from the start, or later on incorporated into various Iranian empires, including the Achaemenid Persian, Parthian, and Sassanid Persian Empires.[50] Parts of the Balkans and more northern areas were ruled by the Achaemenid Persians as well, including Thrace, Paeonia, Macedon, and most of the Black Sea coastal regions of Romania, Ukraine, and Russia.[51][52] Owing to the rivalry between Parthian Iran and Rome, and later Byzantium and the Sassanid Persians, the former would invade the region several times, although it was never able to hold the region, unlike the Sassanids who ruled over most of the Caucasus during their entire rule.[53]

The earliest known distinctions between east and west in Europe originate in the history of the Roman Republic. As the Roman domain expanded, a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization. In contrast the western territories largely adopted the Latin language. This cultural and linguistic division was eventually reinforced by the later political east-west division of the Roman Empire. The division between these two spheres was enhanced during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by a number of events. The Western Roman Empire collapsed starting the Early Middle Ages. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire, mostly known as the Byzantine Empire, managed to survive and even to thrive for another 1,000 years. The rise of the Frankish Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism that formally divided Eastern and Western Christianity, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe. Much of Eastern Europe was invaded and occupied by the Mongols.

The conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Frankish empire) led to a change of the importance of Roman Catholic/Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox concept in Europe. Armour points out that the Cyrillic alphabet use is not a strict determinant for Eastern Europe, where from Croatia to Poland and everywhere in between, the Latin alphabet is used.[54] Greece's status as the cradle of Western civilization and an integral part of the Western world in the political, cultural and economic spheres has led to it being nearly always classified as belonging not to Eastern, but to Southern and/or Western Europe.[55]

Interwar years

A major result of the First World War was the breakup of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, as well as partial losses to the German Empire. A surge of ethnic nationalism created a series of new states in Eastern Europe, validated by the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Poland was reconstituted after the partitions of the 1790s had divided it between Germany, Austria, and Russia. New countries included Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine (which was soon absorbed by the Soviet Union), Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Austria and Hungary had much reduced boundaries. Romania, Bulgaria and Albania likewise were independent. All the countries were heavily rural, with little industry and only a few urban centers. Nationalism was the dominant force but most of the countries had ethnic or religious minorities who felt threatened by majority elements. Nearly all became democratic in the 1920s, but all of them (except Czechoslovakia and Finland) gave up democracy during the depression years of the 1930s, in favor of autocratic or strong-man or single party states. The new states were unable to form stable military alliances, and one by one were too weak to stand up against Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, which took them over between 1938 and 1945.

World War II and the onset of the Cold War

Pre-1989 division between the "West" (grey) and "Eastern Bloc" (orange) superimposed on current borders:
  Russia (the former RSFSR) (dark orange)
  Other countries formerly part of the USSR (medium orange)
  Members of the Warsaw Pact (light orange)
  Other former Communist states not aligned with Moscow (lightest orange)

Russia, defeated in the First World War, lost territory as the Baltics and Poland made good their independence. The region was the main battlefield in the Second World War (1939–45), with German and Soviet armies sweeping back and forth, with millions of Jews killed by the Nazis, and millions of others killed by disease, starvation, and military action, or executed after being deemed as politically dangerous.[56] During the final stages of WWII the future of Eastern Europe was decided by the overwhelming power of the Soviet Red Army, as it swept the Germans aside. It did not reach Yugoslavia and Albania however. Finland was free but forced to be neutral in the upcoming Cold War. The region fell to Soviet control and Communist governments were imposed. Yugoslavia and Albania had their own Communist regimes. The Eastern Bloc with the onset of the Cold War in 1947 was mostly behind the Western European countries in economic rebuilding and progress. Winston Churchill, in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address of March 5, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, stressed the geopolitical impact of the "iron curtain":

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From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Sofia.

The political borders of Eastern Europe were largely defined by the Cold War from the end of World War II to 1989. The Iron Curtain separated the members of the Warsaw Pact (in red) from the European members of NATO (in blue). Dark grey indicates members of the Non-Aligned Movement and light grey indicates other neutral countries.

Eastern Bloc during the Cold War to 1989

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The Soviet secret police, the NKVD, working in collaboration with local communists, created secret police forces using leadership trained in Moscow. As soon as the Red Army had expelled the Germans, this new secret police arrived to arrest political enemies according to prepared lists. The national Communists then took power in a normally gradualist manner, backed by the Soviets in many, but not all, cases. They took control of the Interior Ministries, which controlled the local police. They confiscated and redistributed farmland. Next the Soviets and their agents took control of the mass media, especially radio, as well as the education system. Third the communists seized control of or replaced the organizations of civil society, such as church groups, sports, youth groups, trade unions, farmers organizations, and civic organizations. Finally they engaged in large scale ethnic cleansing, moving ethnic minorities far away, often with high loss of life. After a year or two, the communists took control of private businesses and monitored the media and churches. For a while, cooperative non-Communist parties were tolerated. The communists had a natural reservoir of popularity in that they had destroyed Hitler and the Nazi invaders. Their goal was to guarantee long-term working-class solidarity.[57][58] Eastern Europe after 1945 usually meant all the European countries liberated and then occupied by the Soviet army. It included the German Democratic Republic (also known as East Germany), formed by the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. All the countries in Eastern Europe adopted communist modes of control. These countries were officially independent from the Soviet Union, but the practical extent of this independence – except in Yugoslavia, Albania, and to some extent Romania – was quite limited. Under pressure from Stalin these nations rejected grants from the American Marshall plan. Instead they participated in the Molotov Plan which later evolved into the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). When NATO was created in 1949, most countries of Eastern Europe became members of the opposing Warsaw Pact, forming a geopolitical concept that became known as the Eastern Bloc.

Following the disappearance of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the political situation changed and some of the former members of the Warsaw Pact gradually joined NATO.

Since 1989

2004-2007 EU enlargements — Cold War Iron Curtain
  existing members
  new members in 2004

 Czech Republic
  existing members
  new members in 2007

  US-led NATO
  USSR-led Warsaw Pact
(dissolved in 1990/1991)
Bulgaria Bulgaria
Czech Republic Czechoslovakia
East Germany East Germany
Hungary Hungary
Poland Poland
Romania Romania

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the political landscape of the Eastern Bloc, and indeed the world, changed. In the German reunification, the Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the German Democratic Republic in 1990. In 1991, COMECON, the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union were dissolved. Many European nations which had been part of the Soviet Union regained their independence (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, as well as the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia). Czechoslovakia peacefully separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Many countries of this region joined the European Union, namely Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

See also

European geography:


  1. "The Balkans", Global Perspectives: A Remote Sensing and World Issues Site. Wheeling Jesuit University/Center for Educational Technologies, 1999–2002.
  2. 2.0 2.1 A Subdivision of Europe into Larger Regions by Cultural Criteria prepared by Peter Jordan, the framework of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (StAGN), Vienna, Austria, 2006
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.This definition is fulfilled by Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  4. "The geopolitical conditions (...) are now a thing of the past, and some specialists today think that Eastern Europe has outlived its usefulness as a phrase."Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  5. The Economist: Eastern Europe a bogus term – South Eastern Europe – The Sofia Echo
  6. "One very common, but now outdated, definition of Eastern Europe was the Soviet-dominated communist countries of Europe."http://www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/balkans/BKdef.html
  7. "Too much writing on the region has – consciously or unconsciously – clung to an outdated image of 'Eastern Europe', desperately trying to patch together political and social developments from Budapest to Bukhara or Tallinn to Tashkent without acknowledging that this Cold War frame of reference is coming apart at the seams. Central Europe Review: Re-Viewing Central Europe By Sean Hanley, Kazi Stastna and Andrew Stroehlein, 1999
  8. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  9. [1]. Eurovoc.europa.eu. Retrieved on 2015-03-04.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 United Nations Statistics Division- Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49)
  11. Population Division, DESA, United Nations: World Population Ageing 1950-2050
  12. Drake, Miriam A. (2005) Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, CRC Press
  13. Population Division, DESA, United Nations: World Population Ageing 1950-2050
  14. United Nations Statistics Division- Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49)
  15. Eastern Europe and Central Asia
  16. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e45bb01.html
  17. Eastern Europe
  18. Europe and Central Asia
  19. UNICEF – Information by country – CEE/CIS and Baltic States
  20. http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/hungary/index_en.htm
  21. http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/czechrepublic/index_en.htm
  22. http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/poland/index_en.htm
  23. http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/slovakia/index_en.htm
  24. http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/slovenia/index_en.htm
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  28. V. Martynov, The End of East-West Division But Not the End of History, UN Chronicle, 2000 (available online)
  29. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  30. Wallace, W. The Transformation of Western Europe London, Pinter, 1990
  31. Huntington, Samuel The Clash of Civilizations Simon & Schuster, 1996
  32. Johnson, Lonnie Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbours, Friends Oxford University Press, USA, 2001
  33. Lonnie Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, Oxford University Pres
  34. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  38. United Nations
  39. Michael Hayes. Road memories: aspects of migrant history (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007)
  40. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  41. United States. Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily report: East Europe
  42. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  43. Bideleux and Jeffries (1998) A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change
  44. inter alia, Peter John, Local Governance in Western Europe, 2001
  45. Greek Ministry of Tourism Travel Guide, General Information
  46. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  47. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  48. Energy Statistics for the U.S. Government
  49. NATO 2004 information on the invited countries
  50. Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts, pp. 292-294. Peeters Bvba ISBN 90-429-1318-5.
  51. The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth,ISBN 0-19-860641-9,"page 1515,"The Thracians were subdued by the Persians by 516"
  52. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  53. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  54. Armour, Ian D. 2013. A History of Eastern Europe 1740–1918: Empires, Nations and Modernisation. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 23. ISBN 978-1849664882
  55. See, inter alia, Norman Davies, Europe: a History, 2010, Eve Johansson, Official Publications of Western Europe, Volume 1, 1984, Thomas Greer and Gavin Lewis, A Brief History of the Western World, 2004
  56. Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2011) excerpt and text search
  57. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  58. Also Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 introduction, pp xxix–xxxi online at Amazon.com

Further reading

  • Greater bloc coming in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
  • Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 (2012) excerpt and text search
  • Berend, Ivan T. Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II (2001) excerpt and text search, covers 1900–1939
  • Frucht, Richard, ed. Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe: From the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism (2000)
  • Gal, Susan and Gail Kligman, The Politics of Gender After Socialism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
  • Ghodsee, Kristen R.. Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • Ghodsee, Kristen R.. Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism, Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Held, Joseph, ed. The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (1993) excerpt and text search
  • Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans, Vol. 1: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1983) excerpt and text search; History of the Balkans, Vol. 2: Twentieth Century (1983) excerpt and text search
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. OCLC 317650570, 50016270 and 163149563
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Ramet, Sabrina P. Eastern Europe: Politics, Culture, and Society Since 1939 (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Roskin, Michael G. The Rebirth of East Europe (4th ed. 2001); 204pp
  • Simons, Thomas W. Eastern Europe in the Postwar World (1991) excerpt and text search
  • Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Swain, Geoffrey and Nigel Swain, Eastern Europe Since 1945 (3rd ed. 2003) excerpt and text search
  • Verdery, Katherine. What Was Socialism and What Comes Next? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • Walters, E. Garrison. The Other Europe: Eastern Europe to 1945 (1988) 430pp; country-by-country coverage
  • Wolchik, Sharon L. and Jane L. Curry, eds. Central and East European Politics: From Communism to Democracy (2nd ed. 2010), 432pp ecerpt and text search

External links