Post-Cold War Identity Politics: Northern and Baltic Experiences

By Marko Lehti; David J.Smith | Go to book overview

9

Paradise Regained: The Conceptualization of Europe in the Lithuanian Debate

INGA PAVLOVAITE

If one were asked to locate the centre of Europe on the map, I doubt whether Lithuania would be the most obvious answer. It ought to be. For, according to the French National Geographical Institute, Europe's centre lies just 25 kilometres north of Vilnius, Lithuania's capital. Ever since the institute made this discovery in 1989, the country has proudly celebrated the location, attracting hundreds of tourists to the little hill, and erecting a post-modern international sculpture park to give the place a contemporary atmosphere. The strategy has worked, and today the centre of Europe is one of the most successful tourist spots in Lithuania. But apart from being a sightseeing must, this cultural detail illuminates the interesting question of Lithuania's relationship to Europe. In this chapter I seek to determine what 'Europe' actually means in newly independent Lithuania by discussing how this concept is articulated in the country.

The dominant discourse among the political élite in Lithuania has been consistently Euro-positive since 1990. Moreover, in contrast to western Europe, where integration has been proceeding within an established nation-state framework, Europe has come to play the major role in the process of Lithuanian state formation from 'year zero'. It is noteworthy that in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) context Europe is conceptualized primarily in terms of integration with the European Union (EU). Belonging to the EU-club is supposed to vindicate the processes of state formation in CEE and to have cast away the historical injustices of the communist past. Given the dominance of this discourse, it is all the more important to examine the discursive meanings assigned to Europe and to analyse how this concept is constructed in the applicant countries.

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