THE CONCEPT OF CENTRAL EUROPE
‘It is time that some scholarly institute of ours . . . decides, in the end, which historical region we live in: Western Europe or Eastern Europe; Central Europe or Central-Eastern Europe; Carpathian Europe or the Danubian area; or elsewhere.’ This irritated outburst highlights the difficulties of determining whether Central Europe exists, and if so, where, even in modern times. Because the concept of Central Europe is a modern rather than a medieval one, it is necessary to look at its origin, meanings and implications in modern history before discussing its relevance to the Middle Ages.
Searching for a definition reveals a multitude of divergent ones. Based on claims of common identity, history or culture, ‘Central Europe’ at its narrowest can include the so-called Visegrád group (initially Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, but since the ‘velvet divorce’, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), but alternatively it can mean these countries and some or all of the following: Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Switzerland, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. The reason for such discrepancy, apart from the historically changing borders of various states, is that the criteria which determine inclusion in ‘Central Europe’ vary widely. They can be cultural, political, socio-economic, historical or a combination of these, and past- or present-oriented.