Eastern Europe is, by convention, a region defined geographically as that part of Europe covering the eastern part of the continent. Generally this means that it lies between the Ural and Caucasus mountains and the western border of Russia, or alternatively also includes those countries adjacent to Russia's western border. As is also true of continents, regions are only social constructs and should not be understood as physical features defined by abstract, neutral criteria.
The term is often used in the Western countries to refer to all European countries that were previously under communist regimes, the so-called Eastern Bloc. The concept of Eastern Europe was greatly strengthened by the domination of the region by Communism and more specifically the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The idea of an "Iron Curtain" separating Eastern and Western Europe was an extremely common view throughout the Cold War. This strict dualism caused problems, however, as it failed to account for the complexities of the region. For instance, communist countries such as Yugoslavia and Albania refused to be controlled by Moscow, but this division was often ignored by many in the west.
Furthermore, a view that Europe is divided stricly into the West and the East is considered pejorative by the population of the nominally eastern countries, especially since the fall of the Berlin wall and Communism in Europe overall. The Europeans from eastern countries do not classify themselves as "East Europeans" but prefer to include themselves in other groups, associating themselves with Central Europe, with Scandinavia (in Northern Europe) or with Southern Europe. Note that eastern countries that were never under communist influence, such as Finland in the north and Greece in the south, are never considered part of Eastern Europe, while conversely several countries much further to the west but which were under communist influence, are.
As a term, the origins of "Eastern Europe" are fairly recent. For many years Europe was divided on a North-South axis, with the southern Mediterranean states having much in common, and the northern Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea bordering states also having much in common. The term "Eastern Europe" first arose in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was used to describe an area that was falling behind the rest of Europe economically. It was seen as a region where serfdom and reactionary autocratic governments persisted long after those things faded in the west. It was always a very vague notion, however, and many countries in the region did not fit the stereotypical view.
Much of Eastern Europe has ties to both the east and west. While all of the countries were heavily influenced by Roman Catholic or Protestant Christianity and have very close historical and cultural ties to Germany, Italy, France or Scandinavia (e.g. the Hanseatic league in the Baltics), many countries also had relations with the East. Russia was under the control of the Mongols for centuries and inherited political and social conventions from them. Further south the Ottoman Empire and Islam had a very strong influence. The nations of the Balkans as well as Hungary and Romania were all at one time controlled by the Turks.
The countries meant by the term Eastern Europe in the less strict geographical definition were all formerly within the Soviet Union:
Southeastern Europe/Balkan Peninsula
Commonly this definition is expanded to include these other previously communist countries:
In addition to that there'Greece" title ="Greece">Greece and the European part of Turkey but they were not communist.
The previously communist countries of Central Europe are also sometimes included:
- Czech Republic -- part of former Czechoslovakia
- Slovakia -- part of former Czechoslovakia
- Slovenia -- formerly within Yugoslavia
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