What, indeed! Those who live in the Three Seas Region can often be electrified by the topic. A friend of mine, who works as a sales manager for established Polish clothing brands, often falls into the trap of passionately explaining to her clients why Poland is a Central European, and NOT an Eastern European country. Her mission, and that of many proud Central Europeans, is to bring back the Center, erased by the Iron Curtain, from the consciousness of many Western Europeans and people living in other areas of the globe.
Which countries tend to be called Eastern and are Central Europe
Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are among the countries which are most likely to be called Eastern European states but most certainly are not.
According to the Standing Committee on Geographical Names, these countries are of Central European cultural heritage, which is visible to all who care to learn more about the origins of these nations and, better yet, decide to visit.
Understating the importance of the issue is, however, a double-edged sword. Suppose you choose to ignore the fact that Central Europe exists.
In that case, Central Europeans will quickly remind you that, according to the same Committee, Germany is not a Western European country but a Central one. And if there is no Central Europe, then Germany should also be called an Eastern country. And they might just have a point.
Central European time zone: timely check
Let’s briefly mention the Central European Time Zone. It spreads across most of what everyone calls Western Europe, with its Eastern border drawn at Norway, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania. The country on its West is Spain. The tool is, obviously, not perfect as, taken as gospel truth, it would include Sweden and Norway as Central European countries, disregarding their Northernly affiliations, and basically erase Western Europe entirely, labeling it as Central.
It also does exclude the Baltic States, which fall into the Eastern European Time Zone. Being partially a political tool (after all, Portugal, a mainland European country, is on British Standard Time but no one in this world would dare call it a part of the British Isles), the European Time Zone does, however, help to establish that the countries most often classed as Eastern stick to the Central European time, not by coincidence.
Finding Central Europe: Math to the rescue!
If you are still not convinced, then how about putting your trust in math? By the rules of proportion, everything has its center – so does Europe. At least, in theory, it must have one. You might be surprised to learn that there were many claimants of the holders of the Center of Europe title in the past, and even today, new calculations are being made every so often. The discrepancy arises from the fact that one needs the most northern, southern, western, and eastern points of a given parameter to calculate the center.
In the case of a large continent, these points are surprisingly tricky to establish. Doubts about what determines ‘Europe’ arise, fueling questions such as whether Iceland should be counted as still a European country. Or what about the Azores? These are by no means irrelevant disputes but getting into too much detail is a topic for another article.
Let’s just say that the first center of Europe was calculated in 1775 by Polish astronomer Szymon Sobiekrajski. His search took him to the town of Suchowola in Poland, where a monument marks the spot. However, in other calculations, which take into account the Azores and Cyprus, Estonia’s village of Mõnnuste should be the bearer of the center of Europe title. Then again, in 1992, a different calculation put the center of Europe in the village of Tállya in Hungary. There are many more calculations, each of which has its merits. Nevertheless, they all have one thing in common – they place the center of Europe back on the maps and in the areas which are stubbornly called Eastern by the rest of the world.
There is no shame in being Eastern!
It seems fit to mention that there is by no means any shame in being an Eastern European. The axis of the debate seems to strongly revolve around the cultural axis and heritage, which makes the issue important to the countries involved. Historically, the region was torn by many conflicts, strengthening the identities of nations.
Now, after decades of the communist regime, they want to remind the rest of the world about their existence and identity. And that identity is simply more complex than its popular division into East and West. So let us not forget Central Europe and enjoy its well-defined cultural and geographical characteristics. After all, the world can only benefit from having another region waiting to be explored and understood.