Re-Inventing Eastern Europe or Re-Inventing Europe?

  • Abstract:

    The process of imagining Eastern Europe from outside (i.e. from Western Europe), has created an entity that is projected onto certain geopolitical areas that are not necessarily contiguous. Contrary to this position, I address the intellectual and literary imagination of the European margins from within and conclude that the inhabitants of the imagined geopolitical entity of Eastern Europe, to which I also belong, are bound to have more differentiated, even though at times colliding perspectives. I compare essayistic, historical, and fictional works to do justice to the different perspectives in mapping the European continent, and I also posit the questions of cultural and political belonging to the European continent in the context of spatial theory, as elaborated by Irit Rogoff and Edward Soja. The mapping of the European margins from within results in two or three different regions, depending on the point of view and historical period of observation, whose borders between each other and to Europe have been constantly renegotiated: East-Central and Central Europe and the Balkans. East-Central and Central Europe are both cultural regions whose boundaries have been historically argued by historians like Jenö Szücs and George Schöpflin as well as utopias that need to serve as models for a better Europe, as argued by intellectuals like Milan Kundera and Egon Schwarz. The missing element in the cultural mapping of Europe is the culturally insubordinate region of the Balkans. I examine the Balkan region in regard to (Central) Europe and the concept of European identity and propose that cultural multi-belonging, historical disruption, and recurrence of conflicting identities are the ongoing processes which replace the concept of a common identity. I therefore consider the Balkans as Bhabha’s paradigmatic liminal space within Europe that cannot be positioned in the European culturally universalist grid and evaluated from a singular normative stance, yet needs to be re-integrated into rather than rejected from Europe into an uncertain marginalized existence.