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

By Ivan T. Berend | Go to book overview

ultimately indivisible process, called history. To present a broad synthesis is the object of my work.

This volume is therefore rather different from most of the works on nineteenth-century Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the books in this vast literature discuss only a single country. In a small number of works, one can also find brief, mostly descriptive, political histories or presentations, in a “one-country-one-chapter ” format, of the foundation of independent states in the Balkans and the emergence of small-nation nationalism. Other books present histories of the economic development of the area. Too often, however, the relationships and mutual influences of cultural, economic, social, and political trends, which constitute the complexity of the nineteenth-century transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, are not addressed in scholarly literature. My main effort, then, has been to analyze these interrelationships: the impact of “enlightened” romanticism upon political reforms and economic performance; the consequences of partial economic modernization on societal transformation; and the influence of cultural and socioeconomic development on the rise of nationalism and authoritarian political regimes.

Of course, regional history requires generalization, highlighting the basic similarities of the historical path of an entire region. Several historians, however, question this regional generalization. That is, historians sometimes question whether Central and Eastern Europe can be regarded as a unit. They remind us of major national differences within the region. “The core-periphery model is not consistent with the huge diversity within Central and Eastern Europe … the Polish and Hungarian cases were, for example, vastly different from the Bulgarian and the Romanian,” David Good asserts (Good 1997). Certain “considerations call into doubt the appositeness of the category ‘Central and Eastern Europe’ as a unit of historical analysis,” John Connelly says. “Instead of ‘two parts,’ it is perhaps more helpful to conceive of several zones of historical development extending gradually eastward in Europe” (Connelly 1999). It is true that major differences and several “zones” exist within Central and Eastern Europe. The further east a country lies from the river Elbe, the further removed it tends to be from the Western European pattern: Hungary, more than the Czech lands, Romania more than Hungary, and Bulgaria more than Romania.

This book, of course, discusses such differences and dissimilarities among various countries and subregions within Central and Eastern Europe, especially between Central Europe and the Balkans.

Generalization, however, is a useful as well as unavoidable aspect of

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