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The historical evolution of Eastern Europe as a region

  • Iván T. Berend (a1)

Abstract

What is Eastern Europe? There are geographical and political interpretations of the term. “Eastern Europe,” the territory east from the river Elbe, is first of all a historical category, for the region has evolved over thousands of years. Eastern Europe was already displaying specific traits as early as the very beginning of medieval European development in the 5th to 8th centuries. After the discovery of America and the merging Atlantic trade, Eastern Europe was left on the “periphery” of the modern world system, lagging behind Western Europe until the 18th century. The “double revolution” of the late 18th century–the Industrial Revolution in England and the socio-political revolution in France–posed many challenges to Eastern Europe. The region met these challenges with a series of reforms based on an imitative strategy of catchup. In the aftermath of World War I, Eastern Europe developed new patterns of reactions, prompted by backwardness and its belated start, by the hindrances and problems of economic, social, and national development, by the presence of numerous and only partly assimilated national-religious minorities. As a result of power relations within the world system, however, a specifically East European socialist model came to fruition following World War II. Political Eastern Europe became almost identical with historical Eastern Europe.

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