Identities and Conceptions of Border Area Populations in East-Central and South-East Europe - Thematic Aspects and Questions of an Actual Research Field

By Heller, Wilfried | Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Identities and Conceptions of Border Area Populations in East-Central and South-East Europe - Thematic Aspects and Questions of an Actual Research Field


Heller, Wilfried, Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis


Considerations about the term 'identity'

"We Europeans still do not know much about each other!" complained the Luxemburgian prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker addressing graduates of the 'Europe sciences studies' at the Humboldt University of Berlin on 21st October 2009. The article which will be presented in the following should enlarge the stock of knowledge about European countries. This knowledge is necessary for a careful European integration process. This article shall be destinated to one of those subjects which have not being studied enough until now despite their great significance for Europe.

Identity has been a popular word of the Zeitgeist for more than two decades already. Since the so-called psycho-wave of the 1980s, the needs and wishes of individuals and groups are seen as a reaction to the dominant interest for social structures and systems in the 1960s and 1970s. The identity of groups will be related to families, relationship and personal connections as well as to linguistic, religious and other cultural common grounds, but also to local, regional and national bonds, that is, to ties to areas and states. 'Identity' is to be understood as a feeling or a certainty of belonging to a certain group or area or to be one with this group or area. If this feeling or certainty is related to an area or region it is referred to spatial or regional identity, respectively.

Social and cultural sciences consider identity - defined as the consciousness or the feeling of belonging to a social network or a locality or an area and the feeling of oneness with these - dominantly as result of individual or collective action and no longer as a primordial category. Identity is changeable in principle (see for example Aschauer 1996 and 2000a; Brunnbauer 2002).

After the political change in former socialist countries more attention is paid again - as in the socialist period - to collective identities of ethnic and national character as a reaction to the socialist period or because of the lack of other opportunities of identification (see for example Binder/Niedermüller/Kaschuba 2001).

'Space related identification' is a process during the course of which an individual or a group acquires and shows affiliation to a space or a region. 'Space' or 'region' is understood as follows: 1, an administrative or a physically delimitable section of the surface of the earth; 2, a space of action without such kinds of borders, that is, a space which is determined by the ranges of activities of the people (space of action); 3, a space characterised by the perception of the people (space of perception); this space can vary concerning its size, shape and features (see for example Heller/Aschauer 2004).

Identities in East-Central and South-East Europe as objects of research and their significance for the process of European integration

The population of Europe is characterised by a great variety of identities on different spatial levels, including the national, regional and local levels. This is true especially for East-Central and South-East Europe because on the one hand several cultural areas intersect in this part of the continent, namely, 1, Western Christianity with the European big powers of the Habsburg monarchy and Prussia, 2, Eastern orthodox Christianity with the Byzantine empire and later with Russia as an eastern European hegemonic power, and 3, Islam with the Ottoman empire. On the other hand, East-Central and South-East Europe are marked by a very many recent changes of state borders and by a complicated pattern of migrations. So a lot of territories with specific spatial structures and population have arisen. The political borders of these territories are often of very different duration (see for example the map of Gilfillan 1924). However, the persistence of spatial structures makes it possible to see former cultural and state affiliations even today where state borders have not existed for a long time. …

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