The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present

Article excerpt

Piotr S. Wandycz. The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present. London and New York: Routledge, 1993. xv, 330 pp. Notes. Chronological Tables. Bibliography. Index. $21.50, paper.

This is a comparative history of three countries-Bohemia/Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland-from the Middle Ages to the early 1990s. The author, known for his works on diplomatic history and the lands of partitioned Poland, organizes his story around the concept of "East Central Europe," which not only refers to the geographical location of the three countries in question, but also suggests the similarities that resulted among them from their experience of the intellectual and cultural impact of West European currents, such as the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. This unifying historical experience has not only linked them to the West but also made them different from the East, be it Muscovy-Russia or the Ottoman Empire. Such a demarcation allows the author to define the Baltic states and the Balkans as incompatible with the concept of East Central Europe. It also suggests the relationship, if not indebtedness, of the histories of Bohemia/Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland to that of Western Europe.

The book is divided into eight chapters and presents its material in chronological order. The emphasis of Wandycz is clearly on the modern period: he devotes only thirty pages to the period prior to the sixteenth century, The next three chapters cover roughly a century each (from the sixteenth through the eighteenth); the following two deal exclusively with the nineteenth; the penultimate considers the interwar period; and the last covers the postwar era to the present.

Such an uneven distribution of material may be a reflection of the author's own interests. It may also result from an approach that emphasizes the periods that are often considered "formative" for East Central European history, especially the nineteenth century. If the latter is the case, one may ask what is the author's point in emphasizing this apparently "formative" period of the region's history, if he makes no reference to it in his account of the developments taking place throughout the twentieth century. …