Ever since my move to Lithuania a few months ago, I feel like I am in Eastern Europe. In fact, discovering Eastern Europe was one of the main reasons behind my move east (I should point out that I am from Germany), but whenever I mention this to Lithuanians, they are visibly insulted and correct me that I am not in Eastern but in Central Europe. I had always been tempted to ask “If this is not Eastern Europe, what is?” until I was informed that possibly Ukraine and definitely Armenia and Georgia are Eastern Europe, but not this Baltic country. I then apologise for the unintended insult, try not to repeat it and feel ashamed about having been so EU-centred when speaking of Europe.
Later, usually on my way home from the pub, I always wondered – thus far to no avail – why people are insulted by the term “East” but most probably wouldn’t be insulted by being called “Western”. Then I began to work out objective factors for what is Eastern Europe and what is not. I am sorry to say that after applying these objective factors, Lithuanian is part of Eastern Europe. I know this means that I will lose the few friends I have made here so far, but I am not one to hide my true conviction just to make people feel cosy or happy.
Let’s look at the facts, one by one:
On a somewhat ball-shaped planet, East and West are of course completely arbitrary concepts, as Christopher Columbus had to discover. Looking at parts of Europe from within Europe however, there is clearly an East, a West, a North and a South and of course a centre. Looking at a topographical map of Europe, it becomes obvious that it was indeed rather close-minded of me to equate Europe with the EU.
If we accept that the eastern geographical boundary of Europe are the Ural Mountains, this continent is actually a surprisingly large chunk of land.
According to one calculation, the geographical midpoint of Europe is actually in Lithuania. With that in mind, it would be hard to argue that Lithuania is anything but in Central Europe. But first, there are several geographical midpoints all over the continent, depending on the method of calculation. Second, all of this reasoning relies on counting a large part of Russia and Kazakhstan as Europe, which I find highly dubious given that the much larger parts of these countries are in Asia. If we are in the business of drawing clear-cut lines, like Sykes-Picot, Mason-Dixon or this article, we can’t allow a country to attend two parties. Good bye, Russia. And without Russia, it is very hard to argue that Lithuania is not in Eastern Europe. In fact, it is so far east that it is in danger of falling off into the abyss which already swallowed Napoleon’s Army and large parts of the Wehrmacht (albeit too late, unfortunately).
History & Politics
This brings us to history and politics. My interest in world affairs began to develop surprisingly soon after my birth (yes, I was the kid who read the newspaper while other children played in the sandbox) and my political socialization thus began in the 1970s and 1980s. It has been heavily influenced by the Cold War, which sounds like such a negative term (and for those in Asia, Africa and Latin America it was indeed not cold at all, but a rather lethal affair) but which many spies, political scientists, writers of thrillers and arms dealers miss for its clarity: there was East and there was West, with a clear line, dramatizingly dubbed “the Iron Curtain”.
The antagonism between NATO and Warsaw Pact, between free market economies and communism, between freedom and repression admittedly continues to influence my image of Europe. To me, history and politics are more important than rivers or mountains or other unelected boundaries. Therefore, any country that was part of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact will always remain Eastern Europe.
(Some of you will try to be a smartass and point out that my own country, Germany, would be West and East according to this definition. I will retort that if East and West fuse together in one country, this means that this country is the only one which is really Central Europe.)
Lithuania is within the Eastern European Time Zone, which is one hour ahead of the Central European Time Zone. The name says it all. If you want to be part of Central Europe, don’t make me wait an extra hour every evening to watch Tagesschau.
Language offers the most incontrovertible evidence yet that Lithuania is part of Eastern Europe. Any language that has letters that look like č, š and ž (and sound accordingly) is definitely Eastern European.
(Central Europe is identified by ä, ö and ü, Western Europe by á, è and ô.)
Lastly, and most authoritatively, Lithuania is included in the “Eastern Europe” guidebooks of most publishers, for example the Lonely Planet guidebook for Eastern Europe.