History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

By Zayarnyuk, Andriy | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2004 | Go to article overview

History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century


Zayarnyuk, Andriy, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Ivan T. Berend. History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. xix, 330 pp. Illustrations. Maps. Tables. Bibliography. Index. $39.95, hardcover.

This synthesis of nineteenth-century Central and Eastern European history by Ivan T. Berend complements his two other works on the history of this region in the twentieth century and thus provides us with the complete authorial vision of the region's modern history. The value of this book is increased by the fact that, in comparison with a few general works dealing with the region in the twentieth century, there had been a definite lack of generalizing narratives about the area's nineteenth century. This wonderfully written book is the first synthetic work on East Central Europe's nineteenth century that has managed equally successfully to integrate social, cultural and political aspects of the region's history.

Since the task of this book was to give the region its proper nineteenth-century history, the author avoids wading into hot discussions on the region's discursive construction and its political implications. Berend does believe that there are some objective features shared by all parts of the region and allowing one to speak about Central Eastern Europe. In his opinion, the countries of this region faced similar economic, social and political problems-all deriving from the developmental lag between them and Western Europe, they designed similar responses to these problems, and they faced similar consequences. Berend's Central and Eastern Europe consists of Austria-Hungary (usually excluding Austria proper), the Balkans (usually excluding Greece), and Poland.

The book starts with an explanation of how the basis for the distinctiveness of the region was laid down in the early modern period. By the beginning of the "long" nineteenth century the region's leading intellectuals were well aware of their own countries' backwardness. Just as for these intellectuals, for Berend the most important distinctive features of the region can be revealed through comparing it with the Western European "core." Every chapter begins with a brief outline of the developments in Western Europe against which trends in Eastern and Central Europe are discerned and measured.

First the author looks at culture. Here the differences between Eastern and Western Europe seem less unbridgeable than in social or political structures. Local thinkers were part of European intellectual life. At the centre of Berend's story is the epoch of Romanticism, which, he believes, in the ease of Central Eastern Europe was conflated with Enlightenment. This particular intellectual blend gave birth to the phenomenon crucial for understanding most of the region's developments throughout the modern period, namely-to nationalism. The author believes that romanticism left its imprint not only on this nationalism but on the totality of the region's mental pattern throughout the whole long nineteenth century.

Nationalism was the intellectual movement guiding political responses in theregion to the challenges of the West. Despite the fact that the author is well aware of difficulties in distinguishing between "good" civic and "bad" ethnic nationalisms, he believes that because of their belatedness and the specific social structure of the region, the local nationalisms differed significantly from the civic and democratic nationalisms of the West. …

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