One would think that the answer to this question is obvious, since it is common knowledge that Belarus does belong to Central Europe.
It is true save for one paradox – in West Europe all Central European countries are regarded as East European ones. In other words, only those countries belong to Central Europe which see themselves as such since Central Europe is not about geography, it is rather about an intellectual concept of breaking free from the East.
This is well evinced by the confusion one encounters when studying Central Europe. For instance, at the Centre for East European Studies (SEW UW), where I had the honor to study, the major in ‘Central Europe’ covered such countries as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania with the latter getting onto the list thanks to Transylvania, which historically has been part of Central Europe.
At the same time Romania is studied within the course ‘The Balkans’. Instead, Ukraine was left out both in the courses ‘Central Europe’ and ‘The Balkans’ despite the country’s territories in Central Europe (those stretching over to the Zbruch river) and quasi-Balkan regions (Bessarabia and partly Bukovyna and Zakarpattia).
Moreover, Slovenia and Croatia, which both consider themselves Central European, have never been part of the discourse on Central Europe. They have always been studied in the context of the Balkans in spite of these countries having belonged to the Habsburg Empire for much longer than to Yugoslavia.
Austria got the short straw in this regard, since the country belongs to West Europe but most experts regard it as a Central European country in view of its Habsburg past. I will say this once again – it is not about geography. Prague is located more to the West than Vienna. However, the Czech Republic is a Central (or East) European country, whereas Austria belongs to West Europe.
Thus one would have to admit that the concept of Central Europe is first and foremost an intellectual project launched in the second half of the 20th century by such intellectuals as Kundera, Miłosz, Konrad, Havel and others.
In the strict sense Central Europe comprises the countries of the Visegrád Group. In the enlarged sense this region also covers all the countries that are located between Germany and Russia (the region of Intermarium located along the line that follows from Adriatic parts of Slovenia over to the Baltic part of Estonia and the Black Sea regions of Ukraine).
As a matter of fact, this is what Central Europe would have to look like in geographical terms, given that the continent ends in the Urals.
I apologize for such a long introduction, which I needed in order to explain that a country puts itself on the (imaginary) map of Central Europe at its own will.
For a citizen of Portugal or England such countries as Poland or Hungary belong to East Europe, and not to Central Europe. The same goes for Ukraine. Put it another way, Hungarians and Poles will be considered to be part of Central Europe only if they regard themselves as such.
The concept of Central Europe is fostered by the fact that it sets the stage for breaking free from the East (in this case – Russia). Tentatively speaking, but for the work of Ukrainian intellectuals and writers of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, we would not have had the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity, since during three decades of Ukraine’s independence our intellectual elite has been coining the myth of Ukraine fundamentally belonging to Europe. They have been robbing the East of Ukraine, which implies the country’s transition through Europe’s centre.
It is thanks to the concept of belonging to Central Europe that the vast majority of Ukrainians were ready to painfully cut ties with Russia and the ‘Russian world’. The revolution in Belarus has not borne fruit in view of the fact that its citizens lack this very concept.
Leaders of Belarusian opposition claim that their protest is not aimed at Russia, but that its object is Lukashenko. They say that their revolution doesn’t imply any pro-European goals. In my view, this is a fundamental mistake that has paralyzed the entire protests.
In order to reconquer their true country, the Belarusians (this goes first and foremost for their intellectual elite) should find again their country on the map of Central Europe and reinvent the concept of their nation.
It is orientation on the European model when Belarus was part of Poland, reestablishment of the country’s connection with a multi-century democratic tradition of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, use of a forgotten potential of the self-governing Magdeburg rights for towns can pave the way for cutting ties with Russia and gaining a real independence.
In this regard, the answer to the question at the beginning of the article ‘Does Belarus belong to Central Europe?’ is a resounding ‘No’. However, the country has no other choice but to become a Central European country so as to escape from a complete dissolution in the quagmire of the Russian East.
Andriy Lyubka, exclusively for InfoPost.Media
photo credit Hari Krishnan
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