The Heritage of Central and Eastern Europe

by Kinga Anna Gajda (Author)
©2023 Edited Collection 240 Pages


The monograph explores the heritage of Central and Eastern Europe, which is particularly important nowadays in the era of globalization, on the one hand, and nationalism, on the other, and the war on the third hand. It can indicate ways to "face" the challenges Europe is currently facing. The research on the heritage issue aims to foster a greater understanding of the various mechanisms of today’s social and political decision-making. This publication is the result of the work of a team of scholars whose research explores the subject of the heritage and who represent countries and cultures belonging to the region. This is, therefore, research done from within according to the Latin principle: "Nihil novi nisi commune consensu" (Nothing new without the common consent). The publication allows defining terms and shows the distinctive features of the culture and value system characteristic of Central and Eastern Europe. It deals with issues related to the commemoration of the region’s heritage and the issue of what is excluded from the heritage, what is forgotten, and what is overlooked.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Figures and Images
  • Tables
  • Introduction
  • Heritage and Identity of Central and Eastern Europe – definition and identification attempt
  • Eastern Europe as a Community of Values
  • Liberty of Republic as Central European Inheritance? The Political Debates over True Freedom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
  • Performing the Victory and ‘Liberation’ – Soviet War Memorials in the Capitals of Central and Eastern Europe
  • Among Homo Sovieticus, “Jammerossi” and Counter-Cosmopolitan: Transformations in East German Ostalgia
  • Lost & Found – The Case of Adopted Post-Industrial German Heritage in the Post-War Poland. Towards New Cultural Functions and Social Participation
  • “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past” Historical Narrative and Nation Building in Hungary
  • Between Resistance and State Violence: The Co-Belonging and Non-Exclusivity of the Pomak Heritage
  • The Republic of Tarnobrzeg– heritage non grata
  • The Central European Legacy of the House of Liechtenstein
  • The “Easternisation” of History and Memory
  • Series Index

Figures and Images


Kinga Anna Gajda


The whole of Eastern Europe is a kind of Pompeii. They fascinate not only those who have lost family sites, but also those who have gained them and are trying to assimilate them

(Schlögel 2005: 280)

There have always been difficulties in explaining what “Europe” is. Its concept is dynamic and has undergone many changes over time. That is why, in his Lettres aux deputes européens (Letters to European Deputies), Denis de Rougemont wrote that it is difficult to place Europe in a single space and time. Of course, Europe seen up close, from the inside, and Europe seen from the periphery are definitely different. It is difficult to define Europe within geographical boundaries. Such an attempt always brings more questions than answers. Can Europe be confined solely to the borders of the continent? If so, would this mean that a quarter of Russia, including Moscow, which is on the European continent, could also be called Europe? Can the Russian Federation’s membership of Europe be decided in this way? In the light of today’s war in Ukraine, deliberately unleashed by the Kremlin, it is difficult to identify Russia with Europe. Should we therefore speak of Europe as an area within the borders of the EU? If so, would this mean that after Brexit, the UK should cease to be called a European state? What if one looks at Europe as European states and their colonies? Can it be argued, then, that the French Antilles belong to European rather than Caribbean culture? These kinds of questions continue; and it is becoming increasingly difficult to answer what Europe is.

In order to define Europe and European identity, it is necessary to look at Europeans and their sense of belonging to a European culture. Above all, Europe is a cultural fact. The idea of Europe is based on values such as freedom, democracy, dignity, equality, the rule of law and human rights. It is said that these values, more than anything else, distinguish Europe from “non-Europe”. They also decide whether one belongs (or not) to the European community. Today, at a time of war between Russia and Ukraine, they are on the one hand what Europe (and beyond) is trying to defend, and on the other a motivation for action.

In the face of the brutality of Russian aggression, the legitimate question of Europe’s borders also recurs. And while many borders cannot be called natural – just as the Berlin Wall was never a natural border and was erected for purely ideological reasons – it is now apparent that some borders have become important again, mainly for security reasons. It also explains why the old division between Western and Eastern Europe has not so much become the focus of many recent discussions, but more visible.

“During the Cold War, Europe was divided by the ‘Iron Curtain’, and today it is symbolically divided along the Bug River by the ‘Velvet Curtain’ as measured by indices and other indicators of the diversity of social, political and economic life” (Pietraś 2019: 1) as well as by cultural differences, perceptions of contemporary world problems. Europe’s rightly criticised internal border shows that there are still major mental differences between different parts of the continent, including differences in the sense of threat. However, the purpose of highlighting these differences is not to eliminate the East or the Centre of Europe from the civilised, progressive and democratic West. Nor is adopting a discourse of exclusion. Rather, the purpose of understanding the two different sensibilities that characterise East and West is to highlight the fact that the internal border that divided Europe after the Second World War has had a long-lasting impact on the entire region that was once behind the Iron Curtain. Indeed, the area is still releasing this burden.

The existence of this clearly political boundary explains why, in the 1990s, countries such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and others were seen as different from those in Western Europe. It also explains why the term “Eastern Europe” was used to collectively describe a region that in reality consisted of different countries, ethnicities, languages and histories. Not all of them even wanted to use the term “Eastern” to describe themselves. The definition and boundaries of Central and Eastern Europe can still be debated. However, no matter where the border runs, there are strong geographical patterns in the way people view religion, national identity, minorities and key social issues. As Milan Kundera writes, Central and Eastern Europe is a culture, a destiny (Kundera 1984). The following book provides a wide spectrum of authors from different fields of the humanities and social science who attempt to explain and define the Central and Eastern Heritage understood as a cultural phenomenon.

This publication is the result of the work of a team of scholars whose research explores the subject of Central and Eastern European heritage in its broadest sense and who represent countries and cultures belonging to the region. This is therefore research done from within according to the principle taken from the original Latin title of a 1505 act adopted by the Polish Sejm (parliament), meeting in the royal castle at Radom: Nihil novi nisi commune consensu (“Nothing new without the common consent”). Scholars decided to focus on the heritage of Central and Eastern Europe because of the uniqueness of this region. Extraordinary of this part of Europe – as Tomasz Stryjek (2013) writes – lies in the fact that it creates exceptional conditions for showing the multicultural and transnational dimension of the past. Therefore, it is worth considering what the heritage of Central and Eastern Europe really is and to what extent the heritage of Central and Eastern Europe is at the same time European heritage, or how it shapes it. Scholars truly believe that especially nowadays it is important to strengthen the research concerning the heritage of Central and Eastern Europe, common European values, and the way of promoting and defending them, to ask a question where is the border of Europe and what does it mean. It is very important especially in the time of the war between Ukraine and Russia. The research on the issue of heritage aims to foster a greater understanding of the various mechanisms of today’s social and political decision-making. According to the authors, reflection on the common social and cultural past of Central and Eastern Europe (not necessarily the obvious one-post-socialist) in the era of globalization, on the one hand, and nationalism, on the other, and war on the third hand, requires deeper reflection. It can indicate ways to “face” the challenges Europe is currently facing.

The publication is divided into three parts: the first allows defining terms, coining nomenclature and showing the distinctive features of the culture and value system characteristic of Central and Eastern Europe. The second part deals with issues related to the commemoration of the region’s heritage – showing how complex and multi-layered this heritage is and how its memory is constructed or transformed. The third and final section deals with what is excluded from the heritage, what is forgotten and what is overlooked.

The publication opens with the text Another Europe…. but Europe. Central Europe in the European architecture by Ladislav Cabada, in which the author focuses on the issue of auto- and heterostereotypes about Central Europe, referring to terms such as the semi-peripherality of this part of Europe. From the jumble of many definitions and elements describing the peculiarities of Central and Eastern Europe, he pulls out those that allow him to describe the new Central and Eastern Europe (ECE), i.e. the post-communist, new democracies established after 1989. A similar issue is addressed in the following text Eastern Europe as a community of values by Kinga Anna Gajda, who uses the term Eastern Europe to describe the post-communist part of Europe. She claims that Eastern European states can be defined as those which, after the Second World War, became part of the Soviet bloc or were dependent on it and which after the collapse of the Soviet Union entered the path of modernisation and attempted to democratise their cultures. Both authors argue in their texts that the Russian aggression in Ukraine has allowed for a new perspective on Central and Eastern Europe that redefines the question of easternness, defines the identity and cultural dimensions of Central and Eastern Europe and not only questions the boundaries between European macro-regions, but also redefines the political culture and values on which identity, including that of the region, is built. The authors, analysing the present day through the prism of Political (Cabada) and Cultural Studies (Gajda), agree that the promotion of European values towards the issue of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia’s violation of international law and Eastern European openness and hospitality towards Ukrainian war refugees have become important indicators of the Europeanisation of Central/Eastern/European nations. Furthermore, they stress that Western Europe has to accept that the European identity is much more complicated for the new member states and that the EU is not an institution identical to Europe. In the third text Jan Květina, referring to historical foundations and philosophical thought, identifies the specific Central and Eastern European concept of freedom in political discourse, taking the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a case study. Analysing the political discourse of Polish thinkers, he points to a peculiar link between the concept of freedom and republican constitutional thought. He also points out that in order to fully describe the historical patterns of approaches to freedom and republic in Central and Eastern Europe, it is necessary to take into account stereotypes regarding the interpretation of the West-East dichotomy and to redefine the “big -isms”, such as liberalism or republicanism, which are often wrongly fitted into the wrong historical contexts. And he notes that instead of clinging to misinterpretations dividing Europe into Western progressivism and Eastern “barbarism” or using anachronistic labels such as democracy, liberalism or oligarchy to read the statements of early modern thinkers, an attempt should be made to identify a specific “Central European” (i.e. Polish, Czech and Hungarian) discourse of political values in the modern period. Such an attempt, according to the author, leads to a broadening or enrichment of the research perspective to include the very unique case of state monarchy in non-Western European settings and to verify the classical models that represent the historical European tradition of thinking about “good politics”.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (September)
heritgage Central Europe Eastern Europe memory exclusion commemoration of the region's heritage
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 240 pp., 6 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Kinga Anna Gajda (Author)

Kinga Anna Gajda is an Associate Professor and adjunct faculty member at the Institute of European Studies, Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Her research interests focus on Central and Eastern Europe, Cultural Heritage and Memory Studies, and Museums.


Title: The Heritage of Central and Eastern Europe
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242 pages