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Published on Jul 17, 2012
Animated infographic that illustrates the absurdities often applied when the term "Eastern Europe" is used. Which countries are in Eastern Europe? Does Eastern Europe as we knew it exist? Has the extent of Eastern Europe changed since the Cold War?
Europe's divisions are indeed grave. But counting the ex-communist countries as a single category is outdated and damaging
Eastern Europe is a concept dating from the Cold War. Geographically it didn't make much sense even then. Finland and Greece are not really Western, and Prague is west of Vienna.
Nowadays the term doesn't make sense politically or economically either. Even cold war Eastern Europe wasn't a monolith. It included Mavericks like Romania and rebels like Yugoslavia and Albania. Today the whole idea of Eastern Europe is out of date and a bad brand with connotations of poverty , marginalization, and weirdness. Most of the ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe are anything but. Ten of them are in the EU or more or less in the waiting-room. The richest ones are catching up the poorest of the old Western Member States.
Nor of the countries of the former Eastern Europe marginal. All the newish EU members, plus Albania and Croatia, are in NATO too. Eight are in Schengen. Three members of the Euro. Only one country in Europe meets both the euro zone's rules on debt and deficit and NATO's target on defence expenditure; that's Estonia, which wasn't even on the map 21 years ago.
Instead of Eastern Europe we need some new categories. I like Danube Europe based on that rivers catchment area. It shares a lot of history, culture, climate, food and architecture. Then there's Roma Europe, the countries that are home to most of the continent’s most put upon ethnic minority. Then there's “scared of Russia Europe” which is the countries that still regard the Kremlin as just possibly a military threat or at least some kind of security problem. And there are those that just see the commercial opportunities.
But the biggest division of all is between the countries where state and private debt makes the government scared of the financial markets, and those that still have plenty of freedom of action. The big question for the rest of 2012 is whether that grouping, call it solvent Europe, comes out on top or goes down in the chaos to the south and west.
As for Eastern Europe put it in the dustbin of history, better late than never.