EUROPE - A DIVIDED CONTINENT - VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE BOUNDARY LINES THROUGH THE COURSE OF HISTORY -
The problem of the relations between Western and Eastern Europe is an issue that has often occupied the scholars of various fields. Consequently, they tried to approach it from several points of view giving different interpretations and answers. The problem is complicated and we have to take into consideration that it has a different meaning during the different periods of history. The terms West and East are also of a problematic character, as their meaning is relative and their content changes in the course of time. There exists also a variety of factors and criteria that are of decisive importance for defining certain regions of Europe as East and other as West. A lot of questions connected to this issue has been raised by scholars of many disciplines-historians, philosophers, sociologists and political scientists -who tried to give an answer to the following questions: What is Europe? Is Europe a historical unity? What do we mean using the term Eastern or Western Europe? Which are the factors that caused the differentiation between the two parts of Europe'? Which is the character of the relations between these regions, and to which field do they refer?
The views expressed by scholars are not only different, sometimes they are even contradictory. But we can say that there are in general two basic approaches. There are historians who accept the idea of fundamental dualism in Europe seeing it divided into an Eastern and a Western part. Moreover, they use to identify only one part, i.e. the occident, with Europe, and in their opinion only the Western civilization is really European. According to Gonzague de Reynold there are two parts of Europe, of which only the Western is "L'Europe europeenne".1
In the same way, many other writers accept a priori the division of Europe and deal exclusively with the development in the Western part, completely neglecting or ignoring the East.2 However, there are other scholars approaching the subject from a different point of view. They try to point out that in spite of all the differences between the Eastern and Western parts of Europe there exists a historical unity. They firmly believe that both parts of Europe constitute integral parts of one great community of people, sharing the same spiritual ideals and the same cultural tradition. They stress that Eastern Europe is no less European than Western Europe.3
It is also remarkable that many Western scholars didn't show any interest in the history of Eastern Europe, particularly in some very important periods, for instance the period between the 14th and the 16th centuries, and this led them to wrong or oversimplified conceptions about Europe's division into East and West4.
How did this misconceptions of European history come into existence? Which were the factors that contributed to the idea of two ideologically separated worlds in Europe? And when did this differentiation appear for the first time'?
At this point we have to stress, that the above mentioned process of differentiation and separation is a complicated phenomenon that lasted a long period of time. The whole development had an accumulative character, beginning with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 a. C.) and reaching its apogee in the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century.
The Christian world was unified during the last period of the Roman Empire. When this ancient world had come to an end - for which the year 476 a. C. stands marking the sudden death of the Western Empire-a process of gradual alienation and differentiation between the two parts of Europe emerged. This finally led to the conception of two different worlds: the Western or Latin and the Eastern or Greek-orthodox world.
In the beginning the differences between both parts of Europe were of a limited nature. They concerned the language and to a lesser extent the religion. But gradually the differences increased and deepened. After the establishment of the German realms in the West and, especially after the coronation of Charlemagne as Roman Emperor by the Pope in the year 800 a. C., a political division and rivalry between the two worlds -the Byzantine and the West Roman Empire-came into being. This division got a deeper and more definitive character with the official schism between the churches that took place in the year 1054: The Crusades of the year 1204 increased furthemore the opposition between the two worlds. The Byzantines used to consider the Latins as "barbarians" and "hereticals", while the West used to call the Byzantines with contempt "unfaithful and schismatic Greeks”.
However, despite all these differences and the opposition of the two worlds, there were on both sides personalities, especially intellectuals, who were inspired by ecumenical conceptions and believed that the existing antagonism could come to an end through a peaceful solution.5
The appearance of the Ottoman 'Turks in the 14th c. and the fall of Constantinople in 1453 signalized the end of the Eastern Roman Empire. The new political power which established its rule in the area was part of another cultural and religious tradition. This fact as well as the extreme backward socio-economic conditions under which the Christian peoples of the Balkans lived for about four hundred years contributed to their further isolation and separation and cut them off from all the developments taking place in Western Europe.6
The division became more obvious in the following centuries, as Western Europe had to face the new danger coming from the East, the infidel Turks, who threatened its very existence. The opposition of the two worlds is clearly reflected in the clash and antagonism between the two imperial powers of the time: the Ottomans and the Habsburgs, that tried to establish their control over this area.
Later, in the 19th c. some nationalistic movements and ideologies, like Pan-germanism, Pan-slavism and also Pan-turanism, deepened the division of Europe through their oversimplified conceptions of history and their rival imperialistic programs.78
In general, the 19th century was a period of great importance for the historical development of Europe, with many consequences for its political future and cultural life. This period is characterized by the national struggles of many European nations, who fought for their national independence, while the Great Powers of that time were trying to extend their empires all over the world. In the field of civilization the enormous technical progress led to an orientation of the people towards materialism. This European generation believed that there was a continuous progress of civilization without showing any interest to find out or to analyze the deeper meaning of this progress.9 For these people Western civilization had apparently reached its apogee and European history could easily be identified with universal history. In this way the term "West" and "Western" took another dimension and a broader meaning compared to the previous time. For the Christian peoples of the Balkans who had succeeded daring the 19th century to expel the Turks and to establish their own national states, Western civilization used to be the model, the prototype for their own political and social organization. The expulsion of all oriental-Islamic elements from their cultural life and the adoption of Western European standards was the main requirement and precondition of their "modernization" and in this way of their admission to the European community of states.10
In the 20th century, however, a revival of the critical consciousness took place again in the West. It was mainly the horrible experience of World War I and II that made it obvious to everybody that the European civilization was going through a crisis. These events made people believe that the world was entering a new period of history.11
At this time theories about the decline of European (=Western) civilization were emerging. As a reaction to the arrogance of the West and the conception of the continuous progress of civilization, these theories tried to interpret history according to natural law. They conceived world history developing in a number of different civilizations, everyone of which goes through a typical and fatal development, similar to that of living organisms: they arise, grow, flourish and finally decease. The most representative thinkers of this time are Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) and Arnold Toynbee ( 1889-1975), who were convinced that European history was no longer world history. They conceived the history of the world or the evolution o mankind as processes going on in a number of different civilizations (8 according to Spengler, and 21 according to Toynbee). Of course, there arc differences between the two scholars concerning the nature and the characteristics of these civilizations. Spengler expressed the pessimistic view that these civilizations were closed systems without any communication between each other. Consequently he predicated the end of Western civilization.12 Toynbee, however, was more optimistic, arguing that these civilizations were not isolated systems. On the contrary, he stated the there will be contacts between them and exactly these contacts are going to form the basis for a common civilization of the future that will be a synthesis of the elements of several civilizations.13
During the 20th century the idea is wide-spread that European civilization is going through a crisis and that Europe had lost its leading position in the world order. The Second World War was of great significance from this aspect and a turning point for thoughts of this kind. It was essentially this war that put an end to the idea of European leadership and the European Age.14 It is difficult, of course, to define the end of this Age exactly, and although we accept that there was also a transitional period in this process, we can hardly say how long did it last.15
The establishment of Communism divided the world in two opposite blocs, West and East, and caused a new division in Europe. This time, however, the dividing line - the Iron Curtain - didn't follow religious and cultural boundaries, but political and ideological. During this period Europe has lost its protagonist role in economics, politics and culture. World politics were conducted and dominated by the two super-powers (the United States and the Soviet Union), who found themselves in an ideological and political confrontation. This Cold War lasted from the end of World War II to the Gorbatchov-Era.
The term "West" has now another meaning; it is no longer limited to Western Europe, but extends beyond the Atlantic ocean.
During the period of the Cold War there were politicians and intellectuals, that were inspired by the vision of a united Europe. A Europe without boundaries in which people could move freely. They considered Communism to be the main obstacle for a united and free continent and they dreamt of a united Europe That would in the remote future extend from the Atlantic to the Ural. But for the time being, i.e. at the end of the 50 ties, there was no other practical possibility, but forming a European Economic Community consisting of only six members. Politicians like French President Charles de Gaulle, or Italian Prime minister de Gasperi, had the vision of a Europe including the whole continent, but they were realistic enough to start with the Community of the six.16
When it had finally come to the end of the Iron Curtain this did not mean the end of the political and ideological divisions of Europe. Most of the post-communist countries dreamt of becoming members of the European Union very soon. But in reality there were a lot of problems and difficulties that prevented the integration of all the Eastern European states into the Union. Only the Visegrad-countries, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, managed to become members of E.U. and NATO, although there is still some disagreement concerning the integration of the agriculture of these countries into the E.U.17
All other post-communist countries did not fulfill the political, economic and social conditions for membership. Instability, backward economic structures, social disorder and sometimes chaotic law systems arc the main obstacles that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future. In addition, historical conflicts on territories and minority problems, that were deep-frozen during the Cold War, came to the surface again threatening peace and security, especially in South-Eastern Europe. But sometimes it is the E.U. herself that follows a policy, which instead of contributing to the unification of Europe, rather favours the isolation and separation of certain European countries. Brussels distinguishes between prosperous states that have an advanced economy and poor countries that live under backward conditions, without the perspective of a better future. Switzerland, for example, is not a member of the E.U., but being a rich country it is practically treated as such. The poor non-member countries are treated in a different way. Namely, they are often confronted with a hostile attitude and have to suffer from many discriminations. For their citizens there is no freedom of movement to the E.U. countries, for which they hardly get a visa, because they are supposed to stay in a E.U. country and ask for asylum.
At the same time the E.U. citizens show almost no interest of travelling to the backward countries of Eastern Europe. Consequently, contacts and communication between these two parts of Europe are very rare, and this contributes again to the alienation and isolation of these two worlds.
It may sound ironical and contradictory, but it is often said by Western European politicians that the post-communist societies have to find their way to Europe. The European Union is also talking about bringing the states of Eastern Europe nearer to the Union, however, under certain preconditions; and a basic factor among these is the "modernization" of these states through a series of transformations.
But it is important to clarify at this point, what is meant by "modernization".
Because it is obvious that these states belong to Europe, Europe is the centre of their life. They also have their own concept of development, their own version of "modernity". The problem is that these societies suffer from inherited backwardness and the typical structures that were created during Communism. In this way the are considered to be old-fashioned and even anachronistic compared to Western European standards.
The basic requirement of the European Union for the integration of these countries is: they have to organize their political, economic and law systems corresponding to the E.U. standards. This means that they simply have to adopt the kind of modernity, which is "normal" in the Western sense. In this aspect they have to give effective solutions in a short time for political problems, which in Western Europe have already been settled a long time ago.18
Another concept that contributes to the division of Europe is the idea that the E.U. constitutes a "Wertegemeinschaft" (Community of common values), and this means that every country that does not share these values, belongs somehow to an outer and hostile world.19 On the other hand, every component of Western civilization within the Union is positive and acceptable, while the negative elements are to be found in certain post-communist countries of Eastern Europe. In a specific way these countries are the backyard of Europe, underdeveloped, and, above all, with the wrong values.
The post-communist countries are more or less in a transition period. In the less-advanced a process of transformation has only begun and some elements of democracy and market economy are established. But this means that still a lot of obstacles has to be overcome. An important factor of "democratization" seemed to be free elections. Especially, in American political thinking this is the very source of freedom and democracy. But in reality, in most of the countries the new freedom meant liberty of action for unscrupulous nationalistic demagogues. These people won the elections in almost all the Yugoslav successor states and established a political system that has very little to do with freedom and democracy in the Western sense of the world. The worst thing was that these politicians now have not only the power, but democratic legitimization for all their actions.
A result of all this is that the E:U. is disappointed with the development in several post-communist countries that don't seem to deserve support and don't have the perspective of real democratization. As concrete examples countries like Croatia, F. R. Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also Albania, Rumania and Bulgaria can be mentioned. Of course, Rumania and Bulgaria are better off being associated E. U. members, but they only have a long-term perspective of becoming full members.20
The countries themselves are disappointed and sometimes think they have been excluded from E.U. for religious reasons, because they are of orthodox and not catholic faith. It is interesting to note that Turkey uses the same argument saying that the real reason for its non-admission to the E.U. lies in its Islamic faith and civilization.
Somewhat alarming is the fact that the E.U. itself is full of contradictions and divisions. During the recent war in former Yugoslavia all this came to surface. 1991 was not only the year in which the bloody war in Croatia began, it was also the year in which the common foreign policy of the E.C. countries was supposed to begin. But it was exactly the war in Croatia and later in Bosnia that caused a split in the European Community and jeopardized the idea of a common E.C. foreign policy. The ineffectiveness and inability of Brussels to bring to an end the war in Yugoslavia, raised several doubts about the future of the European Community. Now it became obvious that the E.C. was unable to solve a serious problem in the heart of Europe. Instead it had to ask the U.S.A. for help and to accept the leading role of Washington in European affairs.21
Talking of divisions in Europe we have to mention the fact that the E.U. itself is going through a process of classification into first- and second-rate members. First class members will be the ones that fulfill the Maastricht-Criteria. Second class members the ones that don't. But there will be also a third class of states to which belong the associated members of the E.U. The fourth class includes the hopeless cases, i.e. the non-member countries that have almost no perspective of joining the E.U. These are the successor-states of socialist Yugoslavia-with the exception of Slovenia- and Albania.
This gives a rather depressing picture of Europe. Once, when the principles of the Helsinki CSCE - Conference were adopted, the politicians had the vision of a Europe in which the free circulation of people, ideas and goods would be possible. Today, after the collapse of Communism and the end of East-West confrontation, we are still far away of a Europe of this kind. So, if we have a look on Europe from the ancient times up to now, that this has always been a divided continent. But the lines of division have changed through the centuries; first there was the antagonism between Byzantium and Rome, later the Turkish Empire and Habsburg and then the East-West confrontation. Today there are, unfortunately, new dividing lines on another basis: the level of economic development, the cultural level and the "wrong" or "right" religion.
3) S. F. Dvornik, Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXme siecle, Paris 1926. Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe, London 1932. Oskar Helecki. The Limits and Divisions of European History, London-New York 1950. B. Papulia",Osteuropa-ein Gebiet von Kulturkonvergenz", Balkan Studies 2212,Thessaloniki 1981, 205.
6) After the Turkish occupation of the Byzantine Empire there were some intellectuals, particularly Italian humanists, who showed an interest and sympathy for the Byzantine Greeks, but these were quite a few. In general, the Western world was indifferent, as far as the fate of the Byzantine world was concerned. It is not without meaning that many scholars, and among them many byzantinologists, studying European history did not take into consideration the influence and the contribution of the Byzantine civilization. In the focus of their interest was only the West; with one exception: the ancient Greek civilization and its influence on the Western Renaissance. See ibid., 28.
7) See the views of various prominent
historians about the character of the Ottoman Empire: H. Pirenne, A History of
Europe from the Invasions to the Sixteenth century, New York, 1939, 49698, who
considered the Ottoman conquest of the Balkan peninsula as a major catastrophe
for Europe and the basic factor for the differentiation of this part of Europe
from the rest of the continent.
8) About the conceptions of the Slavophiles in Russia and Russian Panslavism see:Michael Boro Petrovich, The Emergence of Russian Panslavism 1865-1870, New York-London, Columbia Univ. Press, 1966. See also: Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism, New York 1944 and by the same author: Panslavism. Its History and Ideology, New York 1960. O. Helecki, Limits and Divisions, 87 ff.
9) Carlton J. H. Haycs, A Generation of Materialism 1871-1900, New York 1941. Sidney B. Fay, "The Idea of Progress", American Historical Review, 52 (1947) 244. A. Toynbee, The Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century in England, London 1884. O. Halecki, Limits and Divisions, 49-50.
10) Chirot D., The Origins of Backwardness in Eastern Europe. Economics and Politics from the Middle Ages Until the Eady Twentieth Century, Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1989, About the conception of modernization and the ideological dilemmas in South-eastern Europe from the end of the 18th c. to the ultimate decade of the 20th c., see Paschalis Kitromilides, "Modernization as an Ideological Dilemma in South-eastern Europe: from National Revival to Liberal Reconstruction", In: Hellenic Foundation for Defence and Foreign Policy, The South-east European Year Book 1992, Athens 1993, 75-81.
12) Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, vols. I-II, Munchen, 1919-1920. Cf. Das Fischer Lexikon, Philosophic (ed. by Alwin Diemer-No Frenzel), Frankfurt am Main-Hamburg 1969 (first edition 1958), 92-93 and 129.
13) Arnold J. Toynbce, A Study of History, vols. 1-12, London-New York-Toronto, Oxford Univ. Press, 1934-1939. In his opinion religion is a basic clement of a given culture and he believes that the Christian religion can be renewed and profit from other cultures. See his work: Das Christentum and die Religionen der Welt, Gueterslon 1959. Alfred Weber was also convinced that civilizations are born and die like biological organisms, but he firmly believed in the general progress taking place in the historical evolution.
14) See for instance: Pitirim A.
Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age, New York 1941.Eric Fischer, The Passing of the
European Age. A Study of the Transfer of Western Civilization and its Renewal
on Other Continents, Cambridge, Mass. 1943.Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism,
New York 1944.
15) The long period of wars, violence and rivalries which started with the French Revolution (1789) and continued in the following times, reaching its climax in the 20th century, had for sure a negative influence on European humanistic tradition and destroyed its internal unity and caused the disintegration of the idea of Europe as a historical community. See G. de Reynold, L'Europe tragique, Paris 1935. Cf. Halecki, Limits and Divisions, 53.
17) Sanjin Dragojevic, The Developmental
Dilemmas of the Central and Eastern European Countries, in: The Cultural Identity
of Central Europe, (ed. by Nada Svob-Dokic), Zagreb 1997, 125-132.
19) Eric von Breska u. Martin Brusis, Gesellschaft and Kultur, in: Bertelsmann Stiftung Forschungsgruppe Europa (ed.), Kosten, Nutzen and Chancen der Osterweiterung fuer die Europaeische Union. Guetersloh 1998, 69-79.
20) Heinz Timmermann,
Die Staaten Osteuropas and die Europaeische Integration, in: Bundesinstitut fuer
Ostwissenschaftliche Studies (ed.), Aulbruch im Osten Europas, Chancen fuer Demokratie
and Marktwirtschaft nach dem Zerfall des Kommunismus, Kocln 1996, 268-277.