is, to state the obvious
, the eastern part of
the continent of Europe
. The eastern geographic boundary of Europe is
generally agreed to be at the Ural Mountains
, but delimiting the
dividing line between East and West Europe has always been an exercise
, not geography
Cold War Era
During the Cold War
, there was an unambiguous
divide -- the Iron Curtain
-- between the capitalist
s, who were West
, and the communist
who were East
. Eastern Europe thus consisted of:
Countries like Finland
, while geographically
to the east of many of these, were not communist so they were considered
a part of Western Europe. With the exception of Turkey, which is
mostly in Asia
anyway, there was very little gray area in between.
The collapse of the Soviet Union
threw these neat categories (and
the countries themselves) into disarray. Some ten years later
the area has fractured into at least three separate regions, only
one of which is universally still called Eastern Europe.
These days, the better developed ex-communist countries -- now clearly
marked as future members of the European Union -- prefer to be
called Central Europe:
For obvious geographic reasons, Austria is also often included in
this group, but nobody calls it Eastern Europe. The German
Democratic Republic was swallowed by Germany and is now firmly a
part of Western Europe, although a slowly fading distinction between
Wessis and Ossis remains.
It may not be entirely coincidental that these countries are largely Roman Catholic, not Orthodox.
The three former Soviet republic
s bordering the Baltic Sea
which are also well on their way to the EU, are
now commonly known by the obvious moniker the Baltics
. More northeastern
than central, they remain more likely to be lumped into
Eastern Europe, but Estonia
in particular much prefers to belong
to Northern Europe
The odd man out is the last of these, the Russian
enclave wedged between Lithuania
. Geographically it's Baltic alright, but politically and economically it remains firmly Russian.
Eastern Europe, Version 2
And it is thus the leftover detritus
that is stuck with the label
would tend to place Croatia
in the Central block, but politically it will remain East
until it joins the EU -- which won't happen for some time.
Ex-Yugoslav politicians are now floating the term Southeastern Europe
as a sunnier alternative to the Balkan
s, but this has yet to take off elsewhere.
Some other former Soviet republics, notably Georgia and Kazakhstan,
are also arguably in geographical Europe -- but they are rarely
considered a part of Eastern Europe per se.
It remains to be seen how this nomenclature
will change if
, and perhaps even Turkey
, some day join
; the label Central Europe
seems improbable, but then
again, that label would have seemed downright impossible for
the eastern half of Czechoslovakia
less than 15 years ago. Odds
are some handy terms will be developed for "EU" and "not-EU".
Rand McNally's Europe atlas (1988)
shallot's handy listing in Europe (and /msg'd commentary)