Reading other travel blogs and talking with friends from the UK and Germany I often realize that people have an outdated view on Eastern Europe and where it is located. I give you 9 reasons why you shouldn’t consider Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and a few more countries being part of Eastern Europe.
What are the reasons why I shouldn’t consider Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia “Eastern Europe”
- They don’t like to be called Eastern Europeans: In the opposite, it is considered an insult (look at some of the comments here. Ironically the map in the post got it right, while the text still includes Central European cities in Eastern Europe). In these countries which consider themselves Central European, “Eastern European” often carries the meaning of being uncivilized and poor (and yes, that of course insult those who identify themselves as Eastern European).
- They have deep historic links with areas considered to be Central Europe: Large areas of Poland where part of Germany before the second world war, and Germany back then was clearly a Central European country. Also Hungary and large parts of Slovakia and Czech Republic were parts of the Habsburg Empire, the other Central European power until the first world war of which Austria is representing its heritage nowadays. And those parts which were not under German or Habsburg control in the last 200 years where also orientated towards the West. The historic links are at least a millenium old, at a time where the concept of national states didn’t exist.
- The geographic midpoint of Europe is in Lithuania: Lithuania is a baltic country situated further East than Stockholm and Warsaw, and it is currently viewed as the place where you find the center of Europe.
- The EU is not Europe: Many people from outside Europe make the assumption that the EU is Europe and Europe is the EU. Yes, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia together with some other countries guard the Eastern border of the EU, but further East are more European countries such as Moldowa, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus which are not EU members.
- Vienna is further east than Prague: And not only Vienna. Also two other capitals which are counted to the “Western World” – Stockholm and Helsinki – are further east, even more so. If Helsinki would be moved about 700 miles straight to the South, it would be located in Western Ukraine – and that area was also part of Central Europe before the first world war.
- The East-West divide was a product of the cold war: Before the second world war countries like Czechoslovakia (nowadays two sovereign countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Poland (which back then was situated further East than nowadays) where orientated towards the West for a millenium. Having been forced into a political block dominated by the Soviet Union for 45 years don’t change it, and the cold war as well as the Soviet Union is history for more than 25 years.
- Central European countries don’t use the cyrillic alphabet: The European countries which use the cyrillic alphabet are Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Serbia. The first three countries are clearly Eastern Europe, the latter two are considered being part of South Eastern Europe.
- The architecture is Central European: When you go through the streets of cities like Wroclaw, Budapest, Bratislava and Prague, you will feel the architectural similarity to Vienna, Berlin and even Paris. Yes, there are lots of these concrete housing blocks built in communist times, but this building style is as well prevalent in France, Germany and the UK, to name a few “Western European” countries.
- Slavic is not synonym with Eastern European: Up until the early middle ages Slavic tribes settled as far west as Lübeck, which is a city in Northern Germany and in fact originally founded by Slavic tribes. Lots of cities in East Germany (the area which constituted the communist “German Democratic Republic” until 1990) were founded by Slavic tribes, such as Berlin. Also Hungary is not slavic.
So where are these countries?
The answer: They are in Central Europe, together with Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland! You may also add Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia and Croatia to Central Europe although for me the Baltic States are Northern European, while Slovenia and Croatia are borderline Southern European. Of course there are several definitions of Central Europe. Wikipedia has an extensive article about this topic. There you can see that even the CIA considers the above countries as part of Central Europe.
Why should I care not calling people from these countries “Eastern Europeans”
You might come across as an “ignorant foreigner”. But by acknowledging that you are in Central Europe you show that you know where you are travelling and that you are genuinely interested in the places you visit. It might gain you more sympathies, more smiles, better service and therefore overall a better travel experience.