is the region of the European
continent between Western Europe
. There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical
, geographical, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic
, located in Eastern Europe, is both the largest
and most populous country
of Europe; spanning roughly 40% of the continent's total landmass, with over 15% of its total population.
Computer rendering of Eastern Europe
According to the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University, there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region".
A related United Nations
paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct
European regional grouping according to The World Factbook
Eastern Europe here is equivalent to the European part of the former Soviet Union
Several definitions of Eastern Europe exist today but they often lack precision, are too general, or are outdated. These definitions are debated across cultures and among experts, even political scientists
as the term has a wide range of geopolitical
, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic
connotations. It has also been described as a "fuzzy" term, as the idea itself of Eastern Europe is in constant redefinition.
The solidification of the idea of an "Eastern Europe" dates back chiefly to the (French) Enlightenment
There are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region".
A related United Nations
paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct
While the eastern geographical boundaries of Europe are well defined, the boundary between Eastern and Western Europe is not geographical but historical, religious and cultural and is harder to designate.
In the west, however, the historical and cultural
boundaries of "Eastern Europe" are subject to some overlap and, most importantly, have undergone historical fluctuations, which makes a precise definition of the western geographic boundaries of Eastern Europe and the geographical midpoint of Europe
is formed by countries with dominant Orthodox churches, like Armenia
, North Macedonia
, and Ukraine
The Eastern Orthodox Church
has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe
The schism is the break of communion and theology between what are now the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic from the 11th century, as well as from the 16th century also Protestant) churches. This division dominated Europe for centuries, in opposition to the rather short-lived Cold War division of 4 decades.
Religious division in 1054
Since the Great Schism of 1054, Europe has been divided between Roman Catholic
churches in the West, and the Eastern Orthodox Christian
(many times incorrectly labelled "Greek Orthodox") churches in the east. Due to this religious cleavage, Eastern Orthodox countries are often associated with Eastern Europe. A cleavage of this sort is, however, often problematic; for example, Greece
is overwhelmingly Orthodox, but is very rarely included in "Eastern Europe", for a variety of reasons, the most prominent being that Greece's history, for the most part, was more influenced by Mediterranean cultures and contact.
The fall of the Iron Curtain
brought the end of the Cold War east–west division in Europe,
but this geopolitical concept is sometimes still used for quick reference by the media.
Another definition was used during the 40 years of Cold War
between 1947 and 1989, and was more or less synonymous with the terms Eastern Bloc
and Warsaw Pact
. A similar definition names the formerly communist
outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe.
, a multilingual thesaurus
maintained by the Publications Office of the European Union
, has 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 the languages of candidate countries (Albanian
). Of these, those in italics are classified as Central and Eastern Europe
in this source.
Former Soviet states
In some media, "Central Europe" can thus partially overlap with "Eastern Europe" of the Cold War Era. The following countries are labelled Central European by some commentators, though others still consider them to be Eastern European.
Some countries in Southeast Europe can be considered part of Eastern Europe. Some of them can sometimes, albeit rarely, be characterized as belonging to Southern Europe
and some may also be included in Central Europe
In some media, "Southeast Europe" can thus partially overlap with "Eastern Europe" of the Cold War Era. The following countries are labelled Southeast European by some commentators, though others still consider them to be Eastern European.
Classical antiquity and medieval origins
Ancient kingdoms of the region included Orontid Armenia
, Caucasian Albania
(not to be confused with the Iberian Peninsula
in Western Europe
). These kingdoms were, either from the start or later on, incorporated into various Iranian empires, including the Achaemenid Persian
, and Sassanid Persian
Parts of the Balkans
and some more northern areas were ruled by the Achaemenid Persians
as well, including Thrace
, and most of the Black Sea
coastal regions of Romania
, and Russia
Owing to the rivalry between the Parthian Empire
, and later between Byzantium
and the Sassanid Persians
, the Parthians would invade the region several times, although it was never able to hold the area, unlike the Sassanids who controlled most of the Caucasus
during their entire rule.
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. The mainly Greek-speaking
eastern provinces 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 deepened during Late Antiquity
and the Middle Ages
due to a number of events. The Western Roman Empire
collapsed in the 5th century, marking the start of the Early Middle Ages
. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire (mostly labelled as the Byzantine Empire
by subsequent historians) managed to survive and even to thrive for another 1,000 years.
1453 to 1918
The conquest of the Byzantine Empire
, centre 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
vs. Eastern Orthodox
concept in Europe. Armour points out that 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.
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 Southern or Western Europe.
During the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, Eastern Europe enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. This period is also called the east-central European golden age of around 1600.
was a prevalent status of agricultural workers until the 19th century. It resembled slavery in terms of lack of freedom, however the landowners could not buy and sell serfs, who are permanently attached to specific plots of land. The system emerged in the 14th and 15th century, the same time it was declining in Western Europe.
The climax came in the 17th and 18th century. The early 19th century saw its decline, marked especially by the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861. Emancipation meant that the ex-serfs paid for their freedom by with annual cash payments to their former masters for decades. The system varied widely country by country, and was not as standardized as in Western Europe. Historians, until the 20th century, focused on master-serf economic and labor relations, portraying the serfs as slave-like, passive, and isolated. 20th century scholars downplayed the evils and emphasize the complexities.
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. The new states included sizeable ethnic minorities, which were to be protected according to the League of Nations
minority protection regime. Throughout Eastern Europe, ethnic Germans constituted by far the largest single ethnic minority.
In some areas, as in the Sudetenland
, regions of Poland
, and in parts of Slovenia
, German speakers constituted the local majority, creating upheaval regarding demands of self-determination.
Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania likewise were independent. Many of the countries were still largely rural, with little industry and only a few urban centres. 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 favour of autocratic, 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
Russia ended its participation in the First World War in March 1918 and lost territory, as the Baltic countries and Poland became independent. 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.
During the final stages of World War II 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.
Throughout Eastern Europe, German-speaking populations
living there since generations were expelled
to the reduced borders of Germany
in what some consider as the largest scale of ethnic cleansing in history.
Regions where Germans had formed the local population majority were re-settled with Polish- and Czech-speakers, forming new Slavic dialects.
Languages in Central and Eastern Europe after 1945
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 5 March 1946, at Westminster College
in Fulton, Missouri
, stressed the geopolitical impact of the "iron curtain":
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
Pre-1989 division between the "West" (grey) and "Eastern Bloc" (orange) superimposed on current borders:
Russia (the former RSFSR
Other countries formerly part of the USSR
Members of the Warsaw Pact
Other former Communist states not aligned with Moscow
Eastern Bloc during the Cold War to 1989
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 of the Soviet Union, but the practical extent of this independence – except in Yugoslavia, Albania, and to some extent Romania – was quite limited.
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 normal 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.
- First and foremost was the Soviet Union (which included the modern-day territories of Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova). Other countries dominated by the Soviet Union were the German Democratic Republic, People's Republic of Poland, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, People's Republic of Hungary, People's Republic of Bulgaria, and Socialist Republic of Romania.
- The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY; formed after World War II and before its later dismemberment) was not a member of the Warsaw Pact. It was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organization created in an attempt to avoid being assigned to either the NATO or Warsaw Pact blocs. The movement was demonstratively independent of both the Soviet Union and the Western bloc for most of the Cold War period, allowing Yugoslavia and its other members to act as a business and political mediator between the blocs.
- The Socialist People's Republic of Albania broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet split, aligning itself instead with China. Albania formally left the Warsaw pact in September 1968 after the suppression of the Prague Spring. When China established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1978, Albania also broke away from China. Albania and especially Yugoslavia were not unanimously appended to the Eastern Bloc, as they were neutral for a large part of the Cold War period.
2004–2013 EU enlargements
existing members new members in 2013Croatia
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 that had been part of the Soviet Union regained their independence (Belarus
, as well as the Baltic States
, and Estonia
). Czechoslovakia peacefully separated
into the Czech Republic
in 1993. Many countries of this region joined the European Union
, namely Bulgaria
, the Czech Republic
, Estonia, Hungary
, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland
. The term "EU11 countries" refer to the Central
, Eastern and Baltic European
member states that accessed in 2004 and after: in 2004 the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and the Slovak Republic; in 2007 Bulgaria, Romania; and in 2013 Croatia.
The economic changes were in harmony with the constitutional reforms: constitutional provisions on public finances
can be identified and, in some countries, a separate chapter deals with public finances. Generally, they soon encountered the following problems: high inflation, high unemployment, low economic growth, and high government debt. By 2000 these economies were stabilized, and between 2004 and 2013 all of them joined the European Union. Most of the constitutions define directly or indirectly the economic system
of the countries parallel to the democratic transition of the 1990s: free-market economy (sometimes complemented with the socially [and ecologically] oriented sector), economic development, or only economic rights are included as a ground for the economy.
In the case of fiscal policy
, the legislative, the executive and other state organs (Budget Council, Economic and Social Council) define and manage the budgeting. The average government debt in the countries is nearly 44%, but the deviation is great because the lowest figure is close to 10% but the highest is 97%. The trend shows that the sovereign debt ratio to GDP in most countries has been rising. Only three countries are affected by high government debt: Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia (over 70% of the GDP), while Slovakia and Poland fulfil the Maastricht requirement but only 10% below the threshold. The contribution to cover the finances for common needs is declared, the principle of just tax
burden-sharing is supplemented sometimes with special aspects. Tax revenues expose typically 15–19 % of the GDP, and rates above 20% only rarely can be found.
The state audit
of the government budget and expenditures is an essential control element in public finances and an important part of the concept of checks and balances. The central banks are independent state institutions, which possess a monopoly on managing and implementing a state's or federation's monetary policy
. Besides monetary policy, some of them even perform the supervision of the financial intermediary system. In the case of a price stability function, the inflation
rate, in the examined area, relatively quickly dropped to below 5% by 2000. In monetary policy the differences are based on the eurozone: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia use the common currency. The economies of this decade – similar to the previous one – show a moderate inflation. As a new phenomenon, a slight negative inflation (deflation) appeared in this decade in several countries (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia), which demonstrates sensitivity regarding international developments. The majority of the constitutions determine the national currency
, legal tender or monetary unit. The local currency exchange rate to the U.S. dollar shows that drastic interventions were not necessary. National wealth or assets
are the property of the state and/or local governments and, as an exclusive property, the management and protection of them aim at serving the public interest.
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