The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century
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The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century

Volume 3: Intellectual Horizons

Włodzimierz Borodziej, Ferenc Laczó, Joachim von Puttkamer, Włodzimierz Borodziej, Ferenc Laczó, Joachim von Puttkamer

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eBook - ePub

The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century

Volume 3: Intellectual Horizons

Włodzimierz Borodziej, Ferenc Laczó, Joachim von Puttkamer, Włodzimierz Borodziej, Ferenc Laczó, Joachim von Puttkamer

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About This Book

Intellectual Horizons offers a pioneering, transnational and comparative treatment of key thematic areas in the intellectual and cultural history of Central and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century.

For most of the twentieth century, Central and Eastern European ideas and cultures constituted an integral part of wider European trends. However, the intellectual and cultural history of this diverse region has rarely been incorporated sufficiently into nominally comprehensive histories of Europe. This volume redresses this underrepresentation and provides a more balanced perspective on the recent past of the continent through original, critical overviews of themes ranging from the social and conceptual history of intellectuals and histories of political thought and historiography, to literary, visual and religious cultures, to perceptions and representations of the region in the twentieth century. While structured thematically, individual contributions are organized chronologically. They emphasize, where relevant, generational experiences, agendas and accomplishments, while taking into account the sharp ruptures that characterize the period.

The third in a four-volume set on Central and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century, it is the go-to resource for understanding the intellectual and cultural history of this dynamic region.

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Publisher
Routledge
Year
2020
ISBN
9781000096187

1

Spatial configurations

Regional intellectual imageries in twentieth-century Central and Eastern Europe

Diana Mishkova
This chapter explores supranational geographies, against the backdrop of dramatic developments in twentieth-century European history, produced by several generations of intellectuals in Central and Eastern Europe through consideration of the meaning they assigned to these regional concepts and the cultural-historical (‘civilizational’) self-identification and self-positioning associated with them. Underlying this is an understanding of space and borders as related to the premises of their social production, the ideological underpinnings behind such production and the various forms of interpretation and representation that they embody. Admittedly, such an approach underscores the intimate relation between space on the one hand and the formation of identities and identity politics on the other. Regionalizations in this sense can be described as the lexicalized expression of processes of self-reflection and self-description condensed into spatial terminology, and regions as broad spatial metaphors, semantic markers and ideologemes.
There have been various modes of spatialization: territorial but also cultural-linguistic (such as ‘Slavic Europe’), federalist or pan-ideological (e.g. ‘socialist world’), conceptualizations of liminal spaces (as captured by concepts or metaphors such as the bridge, in-betweenness or cultural synthesis) or central spaces (such as the myths of the middle or centre), as well as discourses of othering through spatialization (orientalism, occidentalism or Balkanism). This chapter takes into account all these forms of spatialization, however, it focuses on the meta-regions of ‘Europe’, the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ as well as the ‘historical regions’ of Eastern Europe: (East) Central Europe, the Balkans/Southeastern Europe and Slavic Europe. Its structure reflects the major turning points in the history of the region, which also signalled major shifts in terms of cultural and geopolitical orientation: the turns of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the interwar years, the post-First World War period and the post-1989 era.
The chronological span this chapter covers is broad enough to warrant a rigorous yet (hopefully) representative selection of authors whose work conveys some sense of the various forms of regionalization and the arguments that have supported them. It does not attempt to create a more or less comprehensive tableau of often highly individualized spatial representations and types of self-identification. For similar reasons, together with inevitable linguistic limitations, we have restricted our coverage of ‘East Central Europe’ mainly to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia. Obviously, such constriction does not do justice to different nations that have traditionally been considered part of the region, such as Albania, Greece and the Baltic countries, while others, such as the German, Ottoman and Russian Empires, are only given consideration to the extent that they proved instrumental in generating (typically rival) spatial visions of their European successor states. The chosen sample of spatial conceptualizations of nations is nevertheless deemed illustrative enough to allow reflection on the way the region itself had previously been conceived and thus helps us to historicize and reflect more on our own usage of spatial terminology.

Turn-of-the-century spatial imageries

Fin de siècle visions of Europe and the East–West divide

Even if the East–West divide originated in Western Europe at the time of the Enlightenment, ‘Eastern Europe’ partook heavily in its semantic conceptualization, with the result that Eastern concepts about the West often preceded Western ones. Problems stemming from asymmetrical power relations were not the only reason for this. On the one hand, Europe and the West operated, especially before the First World War, as ‘unmarked concepts’, the contents of which were usually taken for granted and rarely specifically thematized. At the same time, however, the meaning of ‘Europe’ and its later hypostasis ‘the West’, supported and indeed came to constitute an integral component of debates on fundamental issues, such as modernization, (economic, political or social) reform, and above all, national identity. Definitions of Europe functioned primarily as a symbolic means or instrument for (re)defining and (re)constructing the nation, as a yardstick for national self-evaluation and a symbolic counterpoint to identity in which orientalism and occidentalism interacted dialectically. In this sense ‘Europe’, the ‘East’ and the ‘West’, operate as spatial categories of a formative symbolic order and at higher levels of abstraction when compared with categories such as (East) Central Europe, Southeastern Europe or the Slavic world, which were themselves defined with regard to these ‘higher’ concepts.
The nineteenth-century Eastern European conceptualizations of Europe and the West, which transcended or connected national and subnational readings, have had a controversial legacy. Part of this legacy created an image of Europe (and an attendant ‘Occident’) as a normative horizon and a metageographical notion: a metonymy of modernity and civilization or a set of values whose rejection could take place in the geographical West at the same time that ‘the true West could be found wherever [these values] were seriously advocated and defended’.1 Acts of regionalization in this context involved a complex, symbolic, geographical negotiation with the West and the ‘further East’. Essentially this was a process of self-inclusion: Europe was considered to be ‘our home’, or was even created by ‘us’, and the various Eastern European nations performed important European missions (typically antemurale Christianitatis, or ‘bulwark of Christianity’, vis-à-vis ‘Oriental’ Russia and the Turks and/or creating a ‘bridge’ between the East and the West).
In parallel to this, the nineteenth century bequeathed a set of meanings that implied self-exclusion of Eastern Europe. ‘Europe’ often came to be viewed as the cultural ‘other’ and a quasi-colonial threat to Eastern European nations either in the form of destroying national ‘organicity’ or the Great Powers obstructing national independence (or both simultaneously). Occasionally such notions of (Western) Europe also involved self-peripheralization, an ‘exteriority complex’2 and victimhood, in which ‘we’ represented the oriental, incomplete or non-European peoples, defenceless prey for the more powerful. In this configuration, the ‘Slavic world’ – yet another inheritance from the nineteenth century – functioned as a cultural and geopolitical alternative for pursuing a particular liminal ‘space’ that was both included in and maintained a certain distance from Europe.
1 Zoran Milutinović, Getting over Europe: The Construction of Europe in Serbian Culture (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011), 71. Luisa Passerini speaks in this sense of ‘Europe as an Elsewhere’, in Europe in Love, Love in Europe: Imagination and Politics in Britain between the Wars (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999), 11.
2 Wendy Bracewell, ‘The Limits of Europe in East European Travel Writing’, in Under Eastern Eyes: A Comparative Introduction to East European Travel Writing on Europe, eds Wendy Bracewell and Alex Drace-Francis (Budapest: CEU Press, 2008), 112.
In many ways, Jovan Skerlić’s work, perhaps the most influential Serbian intellectual and literary scholar at the turn of the twentieth century, epitomizes this nineteenth-century tradition of conceptualizing Europe and the West, while it also anticipates some expressions of anti-Westernism that will surface in a considerably more radicalized form in the decades after the First World War.3 For Skerlić, Europe – a term he used more frequently than any other Serbian author – was synonymous with modernity, and westernization was the only road to survival for the Serbs. Europe’s intrinsic attributes – energy, initiative, work, democracy, socialism, optimism, rationalism, secularism, education and progress – were value-laden and absolute in the sense that everything he perceived as subverting these values (such as the ‘Byzantine spirit and Russian theology’, and also European Romanticism) was characterized as ‘non-Western’ and of the Orient, degenerative and doomed to death. For Skerlić, the East or the Orient, located in Asia and Russia (save for the Russian socialists), was an illness and an evil that should be fought against. Skerlić’s East, in the words of the Serbian philosopher Vladimir Vujić, was ‘lazy, fatalistic, dirty, indolent, regressive’, a part of the world plagued by ‘darkness, ignorance, slavery, sluggishness and filth’.4 ‘That gummed-up, sleepy, disgusting East is still in and around us’, Skerlić wrote at the beginning of the new century, maintaining:
We are suffocating in this passive, stale, Oriental spirit, and there is only one cure for us: to open wide the door to the West and its ideas, to the West which thinks, which acts, which creates, which lives a full and intensive life, the only life that deserves to be called human.5
Consequently, the war the Balkan countries waged against the Ottoman Empire in 1912 was described as the ‘last act of a magnificent historical drama: the struggle between Europe and Asia, civilization and barbarity’.6 By fully assimilating the West’s basic values, Serbia would become the West; staying with the ‘disgusting East’ would spell not only its stagnation but its death.
On the other hand, the equation of a notion of Europe with a definite set of values conducive to modernity – that had a modern mentalité – made it possible for Skerlić to question the ‘Europeanness’ of Europe and expose her dark side whenever she acted against her own ideals, specifically a Europe of arrogant power, egoism and mercantilism. Recapitulating its policies towards the Balkans in the nineteenth century, he concluded the following:
What is called Europe is actually a cluster of mutually envious, predatory and soulless bullies, who have not been able to agree upon how to share their booty, and who have their own interests in artificially keeping alive this living corpse called Turkey, which is a disgrace and permanent threat to civilization. … Had it depended on the humanity of a Christian and civilized Europe, which masked its selfishness and greed with false claims in the interest of peace, the Balkans would today be one huge graveyard.7
3 The following paragraphs draw largely on Milutinović, Getting over Europe, 59–80.
4 Vladimir Vujić, Sputana i oslobodjena misao [Hampered and liberated thought] (Belgrade: Algoritam...

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