Are we witnessing a gradual westward cultural shift in Europe? Are we facing a post-modern crisis where identities increasingly overlap and blur? Is the definition of Western Europe the same now as it was in 1945?
An even trickier question is what (or where) is Central Europe? The geographical centre of Europe (not the European Union) is laid claim to by at least five towns, all of which lie in what is conventionally not thought of as Western Europe, but rather Eastern Europe. These towns are: Purnuškės, Lithuania; Polotsk, Belarus; Suchowola, Poland; Rakhiv, Ukraine; and Krahule, Slovakia. Interestingly, these places form an area partly overlapping Poland’s semi-mythical Kresy (more info here). If this is the case then our definitions of Central Europe need to be redefined. Central Europe is Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, and perhaps also Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. To the west of this area, Western Europe begins: Germany, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. However, as we are all aware, calling Serbia a part of Western Europe is odd. There is more to west and east than points on a compass.
The chief problem with defining what is central, east and west is our notions of these terms and the connotations they all carry. Most people think of Western Europe as the UK, France, Germany, Benelux, Spain and Italy. But what about Greece? What of Finland? Most of the territory of Poland, all of the Czech Republic, and the afore-mentioned Serbia lie in Europe’s western half yet most Europeans would not call them ‘western’.
Most recently, communism helped delimit Europe into two halves but with communism gone it can be argued that Europe has shifted west. Russians often claim Poles are westernised traitors to the Slav cause. Poles and Slovaks believe Czechs are no more than Germans speaking a Slavonic language. Perspective is key to our interpretation of east and west. We cannot deny the fact that ‘western’ culture (whatever that means) has permeated the new EU states. Popular urban culture is something familiar to people both in Warsaw and Walsall; you can get a Starbucks in Bucharest and Buckingham, a Big Mac in Bratislava and Bradford and a Burger King Whopper in Burgas and Burnley. The so-called ‘eastern’ countries have increasingly more in common with the ‘western’ ones to such an extent that any discussion of Eastern and Western Europe is little more than academic. So where is this mythical West?