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Europe and the East: Historical Ideas of Eastern and Southeast Europe, 1789-1989
Europe was defined in relation and opposition to the ‘East’ in part because it proved difficult until the post-war era of global superpowers to agree what was meant by the ‘West’. Europeans’ points of reference varied according to their political preferences, cultural assumptions, geographical location and historical background, with the ‘East’ denoting Eastern Europe, the USSR, Russia, the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East, India, China or Japan. Spatially, Europe after 1945 seemed to stand at the western tip of the Eurasian land mass. Before 1914, it had often been depicted at the centre of a network of shipping lanes or telegraph cables connecting distant colonies. As territories (or political spaces), changed in scope and nature, bounded by borders rather than the traditional buffer zones of frontiers, the relationship between states in Europe and those outside – or perceived to be outside – altered. Culturally, Mikhail Gorbachev’s notion of a European ‘home’ or Milan Kundera’s distinction between Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s had a long pedigree, connected by their advocates to Christianity or Roman Catholicism, the Enlightenment, literature, European cities, colonization and industrialization. At the same time, many of the world’s religions, historical cultures and civilizations had emerged and developed along the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, and in Asia Minor, Persia, India and China, leaving open questions about their role and vitality. Racially, populations in the East – ‘Slavs’, ‘Arabs’, Indians, Chinese and Japanese – had been allocated an inferior position to white or ‘Caucasian’ Europeans in contemporary hierarchies, which were linked to enlightened or scientific schemes of classification and imperial expansion from the eighteenth century onwards. The purported menace of Russian tsarism or Bolshevism and the spectre of a ‘Yellow Peril’ variously reinforced and cut across such racial hierarchies. Politically, the role of an imagined ‘East’ was transformed by the collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, the establishment of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, the construction of the ‘Middle East’, and the rise of Japan as a Great Power in the early twentieth century and an industrial, export economy from the 1960s onwards. In most of these cases, observers viewed the ‘East’ through the lens of domestic politics, national cultures and ‘European’ history as well as responding directly to events and transformations taking place in different parts of Asia. Many analyses of a ‘great divergence’ (Kenneth Pomeranz) between Europe and Asia were also accompanied by premonitions of invasion or expansion on the part of Eastern states and populations. This volume explores these tensions and contradictions.
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