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South Eastern Europe

The Economist: Eastern Europe a bogus term

Author: Gabriel Hershman Date: Sun, Jan 10 2010 14 Comments, 7883 Views
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An article in The Economist magazine argues that the term "Eastern Europe" has become meaningless, both as a generic geographic or economic label and seems to imply that the term should be discarded.

The Economist cites the incongruity of countries like Greece being thought of as part of western Europe (in terms of its economic development) when it is dogged by toxic debts, or a country such as the Czech Republic being commonly described as part of Eastern Europe merely because it was a communist-bloc country, ignoring the fact that it is in the middle of Europe.

The Economist also says that the term "Eastern Europe" fails to differentiate between countries like Ukraine and Moldova, which were a formal part of the former Soviet Union, and, for example, Bulgaria, an autonomous state post-WW2, albeit part of the communist bloc.

The writers point out that there is no such thing as an Eastern European model of economic development per se and that Eastern European economies are now far too disparate to be spoken of as part of a common entity. Despite the lack of a homogeneous model, however, The Economist notes that an economic mess in one Eastern European country tends to trigger a crisis of confidence in another country nearby even if there is little cause for alarm. The magazine says that this stems from external preconceptions. For example, fears of a "contagion" stemming from the banking crisis in Latvia raised risk premiums in countries with relatively solid economies, such as Poland and the Czech Republic. This The Economist describes as "a nonsense based on outsiders' perceptions of other outsiders' fears".

The article points out that "the biggest forecast budget deficits in the European Union next year will not be in some basket-cases from the ex-communist 'east' but in Britain and in Greece. The new government in Athens is grappling with a budget deficit of at least 12.7 per cent of GDP and possibly as much as 14.5 per cent."

The publication points out that none of the 10 so-called Eastern European countries that joined the European Union (EU) recently is in such dire straits economically as either Greece or indeed the UK, countries with the biggest budget deficits in the EU. "They include hotshots and slowcoaches, places that feel thoroughly modern and those where the air still bears a rancid tang from past misrule. Slovenia and the Czech Republic, for example, have overhauled living standards in Portugal, the poorest country in the "western" camp. Neither was badly hit by the economic downturn. Some of the ex-communist countries now have better credit ratings than old EU members and can borrow more cheaply."

In terms of corruption, a word frequently used as a barometer of the ability of a country to "modernise" itself (again implying that Eastern European economies are the most backward in this regard) the article points out that Estonia, for example, nominally in Eastern Europe, is generally perceived not to be a particularly corrupt country and compares favourably to founder EU member Italy.

The Economist, however, regardless of labels, concludes its article by noting that Bulgaria and Romania are the "bad boys" of the new intake of EU members, having "become bywords in Brussels for corruption and organised crime respectively". 


  • Anonymous
    Valeri Rating:
    #14 08, 50, Wed, Jan 13 2010

    I mean I welcome every one that's chosen to make BG their home, not country.
    I didn't like how people in the US expected that I'd want to become American just because I spent many years there.
    I don't believe in changing nationalities, just homes....

  • Anonymous
    Valeri Rating:
    #13 08, 26, Wed, Jan 13 2010

    everyone is entitle to an opinion, especially in a free country like BG. No two Bulgarians, agree with each other, it seems, so another stroke in our colorful Balkan tapestry is how it is...
    I welcome every one that's chosen to make BG their country.

  • Anonymous neutral
    #12 05, 43, Wed, Jan 13 2010

    Valeri, perhaps I should have added that I live in Bulgaria for many years now and earn the average salary in Sofia. And I smile. And I enjoy every minute of it. Eastern Europeans need to stop looking towards the west as a big-brother and start fixing the east while maintaining identity. Bulgaria's problems can be fixed without nursing from mother EU.

  • Anonymous
    jed Rating:
    #11 16, 01, Tue, Jan 12 2010

    I entirely agree with Valeri with regard to the north/southishness (as opposed to east/westishness) of Europe (I don't agree with much else they have to say. I'm here because of the "fraction of the cost" but the scenery? I've seen as good or better all over the world) but I am disturbed at the use of any term that tends to separate. It is only a matter of time (the shorter the better)before Bulgaria fully integrates, in more way than one and for the good or otherwise, with the rest of Europe and the, hopefully, next step is world integration. [...]

    Read the full comment Let us break down these damn barriers that inhibit humans from travelling their globe with impunity.

  • Anonymous
    Valeri Rating:
    #10 09, 44, Tue, Jan 12 2010

    "Bulgaria, Please Stop becoming Westernized! Stay "EAST"!"

    So that you can enjoy the landscape for a fraction of the cost? I don't think so.
    In fact, then we should examine the definition of "West" as well. From my point of view, I've watch with horror how the more westernize we become, the more eastern we act - only very lately have I noticed better street manners and occasional courtesy, that's almost forgotten.

    East and West are artificial terms, the real ones are North and South. The Czechs aren't that different [...]

    Read the full comment from the Germans and only Spain or Italy can rival BG when it comes to street garbage, traffic chaos, low productivity, accompanied by great cafe life and flashy babes everywhere (well except Spain for the babes)... So it's just different in the south. I believe the US has some of that as well.

  • Anonymous
    Adam American Rating:
    #9 08, 51, Tue, Jan 12 2010

    I've been claiming this for a while now. Eastern Europe has a certain je ne se qua that simply cannot be felt in 'the west'. In this sense, 'east and west' have become labels for this rather than geographical directions. What then defines "eastern Europe?" For one; a lot of under-taught history and beautiful landscape for a fraction of the travelling cost as "the west". Eastern Europe is tomatoes that are still grown in gardens as well as villages with smoking chimneys. Bulgaria, Please Stop becoming Westernized! Stay "EAST"! But I'm afraid it is too late. EU, here we come. [...]

    Read the full comment

  • Anonymous
    Valeri Rating:
    #8 22, 58, Mon, Jan 11 2010

    Not to be confusing:
    "Autonomous" in the political context is a term reserved to suggest an entity possessing a large degree of self-government, within a larger political structure - state.

    Whereas it is true that BG and others didn't have complete independence from Moscow, the same can certainly be said for Western Germany's relationship with Washington, yet "the Economist" wouldn't dream of labeling Germany "autonomous".
    The Warsaw Pact was technically an alliance, not a state, therefor the term "autonomous" is inappropriate.

  • Anonymous
    Valeri Rating:
    #7 20, 37, Mon, Jan 11 2010

    "..Bulgaria, an autonomous state post-WW2, albeit part of the communist bloc."

    Where did they get this? As much as Italy was "autonomous" from the US.
    Both on the losing side of WWII, both occupied by one of the winners, both basically forced into post war military alliances, NATO - Warsaw Pact. On both - eastern and western losers of the war were imposed the political systems of their respective occupiers - there is a parallel here and only a British publication could be so one sided, in saying that we were [...]

    Read the full comment "autonomous" without even thinking that that would imply that Germany is autonomous too...

  • Anonymous
    Rumy Rating:
    #6 19, 50, Mon, Jan 11 2010

    In a way it is meaningless but not in this context, in way it is not, but the Economist needs to leave this to the experts, i.e. the Eastern European think-tanks and journalists. Secondly, the author of the article needs to quote the issue of the Economsit, so we actually read what it says.

  • Anonymous
    Nuseibeh-bg Rating:
    #5 08, 43, Mon, Jan 11 2010

    hahahah, Eastern Europe = Slavic countries, so who are the western Europeans? The Celtic or the Latin, or maybe the Scandinavians, this term was a part of US propaganda to segregate Europe. well, I don’t blame Americans for their limited knowledge in EU enlargement policy and other EU ethnic related issues. Your Iron curtain was demolished in 1989. There is not Eastern Europe or Western Europe, there is a free EUROPE. (United in diversity)

  • Anonymous1Mon, Jan 11 2010

    This comment has been removed by the moderator because it contained

  • Anonymous
    kras Rating:
    #3 01, 49, Mon, Jan 11 2010

    John, only some countries from the so called Eastern Europe are Slavic. Others like Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are NOT Slavic !

  • Anonymous
    John Rating:
    #2 23, 29, Sun, Jan 10 2010

    Eastern Europe = slavic countries

  • Anonymous
    Epaminondas Rating:
    #1 17, 49, Sun, Jan 10 2010

    Strikes me as a very fair assessment all round ! In particular, the Czech Republic and Slovenia should be freed from the "Eastern European" nametag hanging round their necks, and very probably Poland and Hungary too.

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