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What's in a Region? (Notes on "Central Europe") John-Paul Himka This inquiry into the content of the category "Central Europe" has been stimulated by a discussion held on HABSBURG back in March 2002 (also under the title "What's in a Region?"). At that time I was moved to send out a brief message to the list intended to register dissent from what I perceived to be a general enthusiasm for renaming as "Central Europe" what we used to call "Eastern Europe," or at least much (how much?) of what we used to call "Eastern Europe." THE ORIGINAL OUTBURST My original message, written in a feisty mood on Saturday morning, 16 March, ran like this: "I use the term Eastern Europe unabashedly in my classes. I spend the first lecture trashing East Central Europe and especially the new 'Central Europe,' and the Balkans as categories. Why such an unreconstructed troglodyte? "Coming from Ukrainian history, I find the new 'Central Europe' exclusivist. Now that the Czechs and Slovaks are in that club, the Austrians and Germans want out. Ukrainians want in. Those nasty old knives-sticking-from-the-forehead Balkans have no chance. "What's the new geography? Western Europe, Central Europe and...Eurasia. "Europe has a West, it has a Center, but holy cow! it has no East. Foucault would have loved this geographical gaping wound. "How occidentocentric can one get! In the non-Central European cultures of the Orthodox Slavs the east was sacred: every church was built to face east, one prayed to the east and the bodies of the departed were buried so that at resurrection they would rise facing east. "Among Galician Ukrainians there is an often glorified myth of the region's Central Europeanness (as opposed to the dark East of Donetsk and even Kyiv). This Central Europeanness is meant to evoke the smell of good coffee and the comforting portrait of Old Whiskers himself, Franz Joseph. It means plurality and multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Yet where is that old plurality? What happened to the Germans here in Galicia? to the Poles? to the Jews. Ooops. Something intervened between the coffee houses of the 1890s and 1990s. Something very intolerant. Something very Central European. "Sorry I'm not in the market for Central Europe today." RESPONSE Having delivered myself of this heresy, I anticipated attack from all sides. Instead, however, I received many private messages of support and only a few, very thoughtful responses on the list itself. The most critical of these responses came from a close friend, Franz Szabo, who answered on 19 March with his wonted verve and wit. But really we are not so far apart. Before setting off his polemical fireworks, Franz prefaced his comments by agreeing that Central Europe "has become a much abused and politicized term, and, yes, in the hands of some it has become an 'exclusivist' tool." And he added: "But that is a long way from saying it has no validity at all." Since I didn't say that, and don't think it, I have no need to defend that position, the main objective of Franz's attack. I consider it important, however, to examine the content of concepts, and in this case, the concept of Central Europe. I also believe there are points still to be made about the way we conceptualize and name the terrain we study. RELIGION AND REGION Both Franz Szabo and Peter Wozniak, another contributer to the HABSBURG discussion, raise the question of religion as an organizing principle. In a private communication Peter wondered whether religion should be "the fault line." My answer is this: it is certainly a fault line (as Peter put it in his posting of 21 March), but not _the_ fault line. There are many fault lines, there are many overlapping regions and borders beneath borders in our territory. Using religion as an organizing framework makes sense when examining religious and some cultural questions. For example, the concept of Slavia Ortodossa developed by Ricardo Picchio has proven useful for understanding cultures that employed Old Church Slavonic as a writing vehicle. This is more properly a distinction based on a linguistic practice influenced by religion rather than on a religious division as such. It is analogous in some ways to the concept of Arab culture. Pure religious categories may have some utility to our region, providing we are generous in the definition of what constitutes that region. We might be able to study the reformation regionally, for example, if we include all the German-speaking territories in our region. We can study Orthodox Christendom (icons, religious movements) as a whole, but must be mindful of the Greeks, even when they live in islands and in Asia Minor, and of course the Russians, even when they live east of the Urals. Once we move into purely cultural questions, the religious boundaries within the region can become too confining. For the most part, the renaissance did not affect the Orthodox world. But does it make intellectual sense to study the renaissance in the "Central European" territories of our region, in isolation from developments in other parts of Western Christendom? This could be an interesting ideological project, to be sure, and a stimulating corrective to a narrowly West European perspective, but the problems with it are, I expect, immediately apparent. I also expect that it requires no elaborate demonstration to assert that as time passes, even in our region, the role of specifically religious issues in the historical process decreases and so does the usefulness of religion as an organizing tool. What seems really to be at issue for my respondents is the dividing line between Western and Eastern Christendom. Is this a critical fault line in our part of Europe? On the one hand: yes, obviously. It is the difference between Croats and Serbs, between Poles and Ukrainians, between Slovaks and Rusyns (although in each of these cases, and others I could mention, there are exceptions). The only nation in Europe that has included both Western and Eastern Christians in significant numbers was the Albanians, who are now overwhelmingly Muslim. On the other hand, granting the important cultural differences between nations formed in the two Christian traditions, the crucial question is: what can legitimately be made of these differences? Let me take a relatively harmless and apparently reasonable example of what one might be tempted to ascribe to these differences. One might argue, taking a cue from Max Weber, that the Russians, Ukrainians and Serbs are less entrepreneurial than the Poles, Czechs and Slovenes and that this difference has its roots in a deepseated difference in the outlooks of Western and Eastern Christendom. At first glance this might seem reasonable, but then all sorts of counter-arguments could be advanced: disproportionate role of Jews, Armenians and Germans in entrepreneurial activities on Polish lands; other evident explanations for economic development in Silesia, Bohemia and Slovene lands aside from religious tradition; importance of Russian merchants in the Russian empire; entrepreneurial success of the Greeks, phanariot and other. One could then oppose these objections by a fresh load of counter-arguments, but the argument is framed in terms that do not allow of its settlement. It would have to be abandoned as fruitless, as the whole debate over the Weber thesis proved to be in the historiography of Europe farther west. Ascribing characteristics so deeply formative, so "essential," to religious differences, particularly after the attachment to the religion has long disappeared, is not intellectually helpful. It opens itself to ideological projects with almost metaphysical underpinnings. Moreover, these religions are never so monolithic in historical reality as they can appear in theory. Jews and Muslims also dotted the region. Western Christian populations included Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians. Historically there have been Roman Catholics on territories that today are Greece, Bulgaria and Belarus, and Orthodox on territories that today are Poland, Hungary and Croatia. For most of their existence the great empires of the region -- the Habsburg monarchy, the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire -- had both Catholics and Orthodox among their populations, and they were not cordoned off from one another by unscalable fences. Peter Wozniak in particular noted the element of fuzziness introduced by the Uniates. He refers to the territory that they inhabit as a "transitional region"; Franz Szabo calls it a "grey zone." Yes, it is an interesting region that blurs distinctions, but it's hard even to say exactly where this zone is located, since its boundaries shifted. The territory of the Union was quite different in 1600 than it was in 1650, and again quite different in 1700 and again in 1850. In fact, by 1875 the Union no longer existed in the same eparchies where it had been promulgated in 1596, but instead survived to the south and west of them. However one defines its borders, this is a territory where there was indeed a creative interpenetration of Western and Eastern Christendom. It should serve as a warning against absolutizing religious differences in our region. MATERIAL CULTURE John Czaplicka, in his message of 19 March, emphasized material culture, particularly architecture, as the distinguishing characteristic of Central Europe. Franz Szabo also stressed material culture in its most delectable form, "the culinary empire of the stomach." And in my original posting I also used the extent of coffee-drinking culture as a shorthand. Again, here it is a matter, as Peter Wozniak wrote in his message, of "a number of frameworks," not a "covering model." I'll follow a bit further down the road Czaplicka's point that architecturally Lviv is Europe. If one were to draw a map showing towns with romanesque and renaissance structures, Lviv would be on it. This is one circle, architectural Europe, into which Lviv falls. But there are other circles encompassing it as well. Some are smaller circles within the European circle, e.g., the architecture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, of the Habsburg monarchy (the striking classical and secession structures, the opera house, the railway station) and even of Austrian Poland. Both Kraków and Lviv would be captured by these circles. But Lviv also falls into circles from which Kraków is excluded: post-Byzantine, Ruthenian/Ukrainian, Armenian diaspora. Lviv's position within several frameworks is not so unusual for the region, even if few other cities can quite match its architectural diversity. As to the kingdom of the stomach, we have again the overlapping of circles. Today's Lviv belongs to the beer culture that extends westward into Belgium, but also to the vodka culture that reaches into Vladivostok. It favors what we in Western Canada call perogies, which Poles also eat, over the kind of dumplings that Czechs and Viennese like. One must remember, though, that history changes material culture, sometimes with the force of the sea. Food provides an excellent example of this. Potatoes came into our region only in the later eighteenth century. Paprika came to prominence in Hungarian cooking only in the nineteenth. Only at the end of the nineteenth did Poles and Ukrainians begin to wrap cabbage around rice. Today in Lviv a young housewife is likely to serve the same kind of appetizers that one also finds in Kyiv and, alas, she probably no longer knows how to make sorrel soup. Today there are three McDonald's restaurants in Lviv. Small Chinese fast-food establishments are ubiquitous now in Warsaw. Food brings out better than old buildings do that material-cultural circles are historically conditioned and caught in a process of continual flux. To attempt to fix boundaries here is to engage in fabrication. SO WHAT'S REALLY IN A REGION? In many ways identifying a region is like identifying a period. On the one hand, it is a mere convenience: a way to divide one book from another, one chapter within a book from another chapter, one lecture from another. On the other hand, it implies something about the story to be told. This is clear even for periodization. It matters whether you begin the history of Ukraine in prehistoric times or in roughly 860 with the emergence of Kyivan Rus' or in the fourteenth century with the division of Rus' lands or in 1798 with the start of the Ukrainian literary movement or in 1917 with the formation of the Ukrainian National Republic or in 1920 with the establishment of the Ukrainian soviet republic or in 1991 with the proclamation of the independence of that republic from the Soviet Union. The chronological parameters into which one places the Serb-Croat or Polish-Ukrainian conflict also matter. The division into regions is also not a value- or narrative-neutral act. Given the multiplicity of possible regional divisions, why does one choose one over the other? Franz Szabo avers that the region he would like to call "Central Europe" just happens to be in the center of Europe as a matter of pure geography. I would give more weight to this argument if I thought Europe were a matter of pure geographical structure. Norman Davies dates the concept of "Europe" as we now understand it to about 1700 and he understands it as a cultural construct. Surely we are not expected to imagine that the Ural Mountains are as natural a continental border as those which divide North from South America, Africa from Asia, Australasia from the rest. In fact, as we know, the placement of that intellectual border at the Urals was a pure convention, also dating from about 1700. Even if Europe were a matter of pure geography, the division into West, Center and East is completely arbitrary. What if we did something equally warranted, and just divided Europe into East and West? That would place Poland and Hungary firmly into Western Europe! (Also Albania and Serbia. I hope that's not a problem.) Franz was joking about this (it's "the crudest geography," he said) and therefore I will not make much of it. "Central Europe" is indeed a matter of geography, but of constructed, human, cultural geography. In a private communication, Franz showed me a paragraph he omitted from his posted remarks, in which he revealed that I myself use the concept of Central Europe. In fact, just a few months ago, as he noted, I had the university delete my courses on nineteenth and twentieth Eastern Europe and replace them with two other courses, one of which was on modern Central Europe. It's true. It's also true that I insisted on having "Central Europe" in quotation marks, because, obviously, I have some problems with the category. But I do use the term "Central Europe," without serious reservations, when I find that it aids understanding in pedagogical situations. When I teach the nineteenth century, I usually make a heuristic division into Western, Central and Eastern Europe. Although it is an oversimplification, one might look at it this way: in Western Europe there was a process of making the nation correspond to state -- the national question was one of integration; in Central Europe (where the Italians and Germans lived) each nation was divided into many states, and the main narrative of these nations' history in the nineteenth century revolved around the process of national unification; and in Eastern Europe many different nations lived within each of several immense, multinational empires (the Habsburg monarchy, the Ottoman empire, Tsarist Russia) and struggled to assert themselves culturally and politically. If the tendency in Central Europe was to coalesce, in Eastern Europe it was to break apart. I find this concept of Central Europe helpful and sensible, but it's not much like other peoples' Central Europe. This is a Central Europe without much political meaning since the end of World War II. Political meaning is what these regionalizations are about. When Franz Szabo asked why I "enlisted Foucault" in my original posting, it was neither, as he suggests, to "automatically legitimize the conclusion" nor to confirm my "self-proclaimed troglodyte status." Rather I brought up Foucault both because he would have loved to analyse the monstrosity which the new mental division of Europe has created but also because he showed us how important it is to examine the organization of the accumulation of discourses we consider to be knowledge and to determine the power relations that constitute that organization. Let me put it another way, this time enlisting Edward Said. Said recently gave the Jan Patocka Memorial Lecture at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. Let me quote him at some length, even though he does not specifically mention "Central Europe": "In this day, and almost universally, phrases such as 'the free market,' 'privatization,' 'less government' and others like them have become the orthodoxy of globalization, its counterfeit universals. They are staples of the dominant discourse, designed to create consent and tacit approval. From that nexus emanate such ideological confections as 'the West,' the 'clash of civilizations,' 'traditional values' and 'identity'....All these are deployed not as they sometimes seem to be -- as instigations for debate -- but quite the opposite, to stifle, pre-empt and crush dissent whenever the false universals face resistance or questioning." I believe that "Central Europe" as we use it today in our field is largely just such an ideological confection. Concepts are historically situated and they have a different charge in different historical situations. It is hard to find intellectual objections to a region termed "the lands of partitioned Poland" as such. In 1974, when Piotr Wandycz published a book under that title, one could not imagine serious Polish pretensions to territories then located in the Lithuanian, Belarusian and Ukrainian soviet republics. Moreover, the book modestly covered the period 1795-1918, before the restoration of a Polish state. Appearing at this juncture, and limited to this period, the book did not have much of a political charge. Had a similar book appeared in the interwar period, when Vilnius was bitterly contested by independent Lithuania and the Ukrainian minority in restored Poland was seeking independence, it would have had a completely different charge. It would have been an intervention in conflictual situations. The idea of Central Europe generates too much heat and enthusiasm for it to be a neutral category of analysis. I remember the AAASS convention in St. Louis in November 1999. Paul R. Magocsi announced that he would prepare a new edition of his historical atlas of East Central Europe, but that he would now just call it Central Europe, without any East. The audience broke into the kind of applause that used to enliven the old East European party congresses. I was bewildered. Obviously, something was behind this that I had hitherto missed. It was not just Professor Magocsi and the AAASS attendees, however, who were changing the way we perceive and name the divisions of Europe. In 1994 the US State Department banished "Eastern Europe" from the lexicon of the department's Europe bureau. The region would now be "Central Europe." Undoubtedly the State Department was merely responding to the latest scientific findings. (No. I am not saying "Da liegt der Hund begraben." The State Department's move is only one of many moves in a repositioning and reconfiguration of power relations in the wake of the collapse of the USSR.) In my original message I had written about "Central Europe" that now that the Czechs and Slovaks are included, the Austrians and Germans want to leave it. Franz Szabo, who I know doesn't like to see Austrians and Germans lumped together, made a point in his response of saying that the Austrians are more favorably inclined to view themselves as part of a Central Europe that includes Czechs and Hungarians than the Germans are. Two points in response. First: there are powerful men in Austria who think otherwise. I heard Erhard Busek speak on "Central Europe and the European Union" in Kraków this past July. He made no bones about it: Austria was linked by a thousand threads with "Central Europe," but Austria is not Central Europe, it is Western Europe. Second: Austria aspires to a leadership role in a Central European block that does not include Germany. This is not the "Central Europe" of Lonnie Johnson's interesting historical interpretation, which doesn't let the Germans out, but it is instead a specific, concrete project. "Central Europe" is a good project for Austria, and it may even be good for "Central Europe," but this reconfiguration of region is going on within a larger context. The other side of the creation of "Central Europe" is the lopping off from the old Eastern Europe of its eastern portions, now included in "The Former Soviet Union" or "Eurasia," and of its southern portions, now "Southeastern Europe" or, more frequently, "The Balkans." "Central Europe" is also a category of exclusion. The way "Central Europe" functions in Lviv is symptomatic of its usage as a concept of realignment and exclusion. As Andriy Zayarnyuk has shown, disappointment in the realities of Ukrainian independence has led some intellectuals in Lviv to argue that Galicia is part of Central Europe and should be integrated in it, but that the rest of Ukraine is not. Finally, let me return to the image of the scholars cheering when they have learned that the word "East" has been removed from their historical atlas. What's wrong with the word "East"? Is it "Asia"? Is it "Orient"? Are these categories returning? Are "Europe" and "the West" forming a tight phalanx? drawing lines between civilizations? choosing who's "in" and who's "out"? Is this perhaps what "Central Europe" is really about? [Pt. II will follow.] Copyright HABSBURG and John-Paul Himka, 2002. All rights reserved. Electronic redistribution within H-Net is permitted with full attribution.