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GEOG 101 – World Regional Geography
Professor: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue
Eastern Europe – Supplementary Notes
A - Geographical Context
B - Political Geography
Geographical Context
■ 1. Redistribution of the Eastern European Map
■ 2. Eastern Europe
Redistribution of the Eastern European Map
■ Context
• Caught in between the powerful countries of the West and
Russia (the Soviet Union for the greater part of the 20th century).
• The region has been unstable for many centuries.
• The nation-state concept that emerged in Western Europe has
not been as strong in Eastern Europe.
• The boundaries of Eastern Europe have been redrawn three
times in the 20th century.
Redistribution of the Eastern European Map
■ Before 1914
• Three powers were dominating Eastern Europe: Germany,
Russia and Austria-Hungary.
• Russia and Germany shared a common border, since Poland did
not exist.
• Poland was actually dismantled in the 18th and 19th centuries.
• Problems between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
• Pressure between Russia and Romania and Bulgaria.
• Pressure between Greece and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).
Redistribution of the Eastern European Map
■ Consequences of WWI (1918)
• The First World War was triggered by the assassination of an
Austro-Hungarian noble in Sarajevo.
• The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled with the creation
of Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
• Poland was re-created and Germany was divided in two.
• Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) became
• Creation of Yugoslavia from Serbia, Montenegro, BosniaHerzegonovia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia.
• Some were part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, others
were independent entities.
Europe Before and After WWI
Redistribution of the Eastern European Map
■ Consequences of WWII (1945)
• The Second World War had important consequences on the
political geography of Eastern Europe.
• Poland was “moved” to the west to the gain of the Soviet Union
and the loss of Germany.
• Germany also lost Koenisburg (Eastern Prussia), which was
integrated to Russia.
• Germany was divided in the Federal Republic (West Germany)
and the Democratic Republic (East Germany).
• The Baltic States were attached to the Soviet Union.
• Czechoslovakia and Rumania lost some territories to the Soviet
Redistribution of the Eastern European Map
■ Consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)
• Germany was re-unified.
• The Baltic States became independent again.
• Czechoslovakia was divided into the Czech Republic and
• Yugoslavia was divided in several smaller countries.
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Western Europe
Eastern Europe
■ North European Plain
• Much of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia lies on the North
European Plain.
• Relatively flat area unfortunately located between Germany and
historic Russia, two of Europe's major contending powers.
• A third, Austria-Hungary, was to the south.
• These four states have frequently been in the path of the armies
of the greater powers.
• Poland:
• Partitioned on four occasions among the major powers and had ceased to
exist as an independent state.
• Recreated after WW I, only to be attacked by Hitler and later subsumed
under Soviet dominance, although nominally independent.
Eastern Europe
■ Baltic states
• Lithuania, the largest, was one of Europe's more powerful states
during the late medieval period.
• Its territory was difficult to defend and it soon lost that status.
• The three regained their independence from the USSR, following
50 years as part of that country.
■ Danubian Plain
• Includes most of Hungary and parts of Austria, Yugoslavia, and
• Relatively easy access route from the east and southeast (the
Ottoman Empire) and the region has been invaded on numerous
Eastern Europe
■ Balkan Peninsula
• Mountainous region.
• Limited technology and transportation infrastructure impeded
communication among the peoples inhabiting the various parts
of the Balkan Peninsula.
• Consequently, cultures (including languages) developed in
isolation from one another despite their relative proximity.
• This situation is common in mountainous areas throughout the
world and retards the formation of nation-states.
• An ethnic mosaic develops with a rich variety, but political
development lagged in this situation.
• Balkanization describes the phenomenon of a fractious, highly
divided political surface.
Eastern Europe
• Unity has generally only been maintained through the imposition
of authoritarian power, often from the outside.
• Thus, at various times, Austria, the Ottoman Turks, the Germans,
and the Soviets controlled much of the region.
• Each time the authoritarian power is reduced or removed, the
natural divisiveness of the region rises to the surface again.
Eastern Europe
■ The Danube
• Like Western Europe, Eastern Europe has a central river of great
importance: the Danube.
• Begins not very far from where the Rhine begins, in Switzerland.
• Serves 9 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary,
Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldavia and Ukraine).
• Linking Eastern and Western Europe.
• Serves most of the great cities of Eastern Europe, such as
Vienna (Austria), Budapest (Hungary) and Belgrade
• Strong potential for power generation and transportation,
although this potential has not been realized.
Political Geography
■ 1. The Devolution of Eastern Europe
■ 2. Eastern European Multiethnic States
The Devolution of Eastern Europe
■ Definition
• Disintegration of the nation-state as the result of reviving
• The USA's Civil War (1860-65) is an example of devolution.
• Economic and cultural differences.
• Strong regional identity led to its attempt to withdraw from the union.
• Multi-ethnic states are more prone to devolutionary activity than
are homogeneous states.
• Yugoslavia exemplifies a multi-ethnic state where this is currently
The Devolution of Eastern Europe
■ The formation of Yugoslavia
• Political entity only date back to the Treaty of Versailles that
officially ended WW I.
• Carved up the former Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires
into several of the states existing in the region today.
• Formerly independent Serbia and Montenegro were joined with
Slovenia, Croatia, part of Macedonia, Bosnia, and other
territories to form a new state.
• This was largely an effort to thwart future Balkanization of the
peninsula that might lead to more wars.
The Devolution of Eastern Europe
■ Spatial divisions in Yugoslavia
• Along ethnic lines occurred at major sub-national levels and
there was far less mixing of ethnic groups.
• Each group had fairly well-defined territorial limits within which it
is dominant.
• The authoritarian regime contributed to these divisions through
the creation of formal republics within the Yugoslavian union.
• Rather than help create a sense of national unity, the individual
republics (6) fostered a sub-national sense of ethnic identity.
• Led to the devolutionary pressures that eventually tore the
country apart.
The Devolution of Eastern Europe
■ Devolution
• After WW II, Yugoslavia was under authoritarian Communist rule,
led by Marshal Tito.
• Following his death, leadership rotated among members of a
council with representation from the major ethnic groups of that
nation of minorities.
• The weakening of the authoritarian regime allowed ethnic
rivalries and animosity, long suppressed, to rise to the surface.
• The current strife in the former Yugoslavia exemplifies this
• The Serbians, whose republic includes the former national
capital of Belgrade, are seen by the other minorities as having
dominated many aspects of the national government.
The Devolution of Eastern Europe
• Other groups began agitating for greater autonomy or outright
• Independence was declared by Slovenia and Croatia during the
summer of 1991 and by Macedonia in December of that year.
• Yugoslavia has a rebel province: the Kosovo.
• The breakup of the former Yugoslavia has brought Europe its
greatest conflict since WW II.
• The EU has sought to be a mediating party but has met with
limited success.
Eastern European Multiethnic States
■ Czechoslovakia
• Was also artificially created out of the ashes of WW I.
• Three main ethnic groups:
• Slovaks in the east.
• Moravians in the center.
• Bohemians in the west.
• When created, it also had about 3 million Germans in a region
called the Sudetenland.
• Used by Hitler as justification for his takeover of Czechoslovakia
in early 1939.
• The former Czechoslovakia averted tensions by a peaceful
division of the country in 1993.
Eastern European Multiethnic States
■ Bulgaria
• Became independent from the Ottoman Turks in the late 1800s.
• Within its boundaries large minorities of Turks and Macedonians
continue to live.
• The declaration of independence by the Yugoslav Macedonian
Republic has caused concern.
• Bulgaria's and Greece's Macedonian populations will want to join
an independent Macedonian state.
• Concern also exists that either Bulgaria or Greece or both will
claim the Macedonian Republic to add to its own territory.
Eastern European Multiethnic States
■ Romania
• Nearly two million ethnic Hungarians, a legacy of AustroHungarian Empire days.
• Badly treated under the former authoritarian regime.
• Political feud between Hungary and Romania in addition to
significant migration of Hungarians from Romania.
■ Baltic States
• Large Russian minorities within their small populations.