Central Europe after 1918. A short outline
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War Studies University, Faculty of National Security
Online publication date: 2018-06-20
Publication date: 2018-06-30
Security and Defence Quarterly 2018;19(2):13–38
This paper analyses changes in the region’s states, and the evolution of Central Europe’s (CE) position in the international environment. Since forming in 1918, the new CE independent states have remained a focus for neighbouring powers and Western powers. The paper looks at the background for the historical, political, economic, demographic, cultural and geopolitical importance of Central Europe. Th ree essential periods can be distinguished, the first being the post-WW1 period, when after the downfall of Austria-Hungary and the weakening of Germany, Russia and Turkey, a number of independent states emerged. The lack of Western assistance and insufficient mutual cooperation meant that CE countries became subject to aggression from Berlin and Moscow. After WW2, the region was forcefully reintegrated into the Soviet Union – and its states were subjected to political, social, economic and cultural degradation. The downfall of the Soviet Union and democratic transition in the states of Central Europe contributed to the regional economic and security integration. EU membership and close ties to the USA forged significant possibilities for development and becoming a subject of European policy. Historical experiences show that Central Europe has had a significant impact on international security in Europe. The region’s states of increasing signifi cance have the capability potential to forge their own concepts of close regional political and economic cooperation.
The paper develops the lines of expertise in Central Europe after 1945. A short outline commissioned by the Dean of Faculty of National Security to support the US JCS J7 “Central European Plains” (CEP) project. The CEP project is part of the analytical package of studies on the international security environment as part of the general “European Perspective Project” (EPP). The project’s coordinator in the Polish Armed Forces is the Centre for Doctrine and Training. The contributors from Polish side are – apart from the Centre for Doctrine and Training – also representatives of Ministry of National Defence branches and scientific circles. The aims of the undertaking were: analysis of the theses prepared by US JCS J7 on the draft CEP report; presentation of Poland’s national position concerning the threats to the security environment in Central and Eastern Europe. (Chair of Modern History Faculty of National Security War Studies Uniwersity, Warsaw Dariusz Miszewski, PhD ( and: Franciszek Dąbrowski, PhD (f.dabrowski@, Marek Deszczyński, PhD ( Grzegorz Wnętrzak, PhD (
O. Halecki meant that European characteristics would be better defi ned by division into four parts: Western Europe, Central-Western Europe, Central-Eastern Europe and Eastern Europe than into just two parts, Western and Eastern (1918). Central Europe was to contain German countries (Central-Western Europe) and nations based eastwards from Germany (Central-Eastern Europe). To the so-defi ned Central-Eastern Europe belonged all states independent in the interwar period, lying between Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. Halecki considered the region as geographical and historically heterogenous, which might be a basis for two or three federal unions; the Czech point of view – J. Křen meant that Central Europe is in fact limited to the area of Poland, Czech and Slovak republics, Austria and Hungary.
As seen from the North: Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria, Greece. Th ere are four territories in the region controlled by Russia - Kaliningrad district enclave, so called Transistria (an unrecognised state alienated from Moldova in 1991-92, Russian: Pridnestrov’e), parts of Donetsk coal basin, and the Crimean Peninsula (alienated from Ukraine in 2014).
O. Halecki stated that Poland had a key geographical and historical role in the making of Central Europe as separate entity. In the Jagiellonian period, i.e. in 16th C. AD, it was a centre of a federation, and for a short period covered a vast territory almost identical with all of Central Europe. He ranked Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as parts of Central Europe. For Byelorussia and Ukraine Halecki foresaw three perspectives: adherence to Russia, or independence - then those countries would form actual Eastern Europe, or maintain historical ties with Central- Eastern Europe. Th e most important part of Halecki’s considerations was his understanding of European culture with its leading idea of freedom, and specifi cally its balance between freedom and authority as antithetical to anarchy and nihilism: from the very beginning of the European tradition a belief was embedded in it, that freedom must be organised, otherwise it will fall into anarchy. Christianity embraced the idea of human dignity. Th e balance between dignity and authority assumes respect for all of the democratic states and their right to join unions with effi cient common authority; P. Wandycz considered Central-Eastern Europe as Poland, Bohemia and Hungary within their historical boundaries, as a core for the region between the Baltic, Adriatic, Aegean and Black Seas; J. Kłoczowski considered Slavic Europe as a geographical and cultural unit. He distinguished three regions: Central-Eastern Europe, Southern-Eastern Europe and parts of former Kyiv Ruthenia. Th e processes of Westernisation and ‘Byzantifi cation’ were of essential meaning for the division. Kłoczowski pointed out the separate lines of progress in the Slavic-Byzantine circle, consisting of Russia (Moscow) and Ruthenian lands belonging to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland. In the latter ones, the Byzantine world met the Latin world, preparing the creation of separate Byelorussian and Ukrainian nations.
In T. Kisielewski’s approach Central Europe is a cultural and geographical unity. Th is double characteristic is a result of the historical fates of its nations, as a transitional region for the Latin and Byzantine civilisations. Th e core of the geographical range of the term ‘Central Europe’ were Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia. Central Europe was not a closed geographical unit, its range was frequently broadened according to its transitional character. Kisielewski excluded Croatia and the Baltic countries from Central Europe. He assumed, that Central and Western Europe held identical beliefs concerning democracy and human rights. Balkan countries: Romania, Bulgaria, (then) Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece were seen by Kisielewski as belonging to the Southern-Eastern Europe.
Albanians, Armenians, Austrians, Belarusians, Bosnians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Czechs, Estonians, Finns, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Roma, Macedonians, Moldovans, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Ukrainians. Th ere are also Montenegrins (about 340 thousand). Tatar and Jewish populations can be estimated to be about 350 and 200 thousand respectively.
A. Nowak: After the First World War the Western Powers assumed, that Russia must remain part of the world’s peace order, even with the detriment for the rights of the nations neighboring with it; there was no admittance of fact, that ‘small’ states were entitled to run their own policies in defi ance of the great powers; M. J. Chodakiewicz pointed a coniunctural approach of the Western powers towards Intermarium.
M.J. Chodakiewicz saw Intermarium as a project of cooperating nationalisms; the region of coexistence, convergence and collision of many cultures, was historically a steadfast defender of Western civilization despite the long periods of external rule: Intermarium is the furthest eastwards extended part of Central-Eastern Europe. He ranked to the Central-Eastern Europe the territories of former the 1st and 2nd Polish Republics and it’s dependencies like Moldavia (80% of Intermarium area). Chodakiewicz saw Intermarium as eclectic outpost of West, separate from West and East, with the features of both; J. Mieroszewski regretted the fact, that little and medium Central European states after 1918 instead of federating were running the outdated policies of maintaining their sovereignty and independence, and their controversies were used by European powers in their strategic games; He assumed, that small Central- European countries will either federate, or become satellites of Germany or Russia.
M.J. Chodakiewicz: Poland refused in 1939 to participate in the partition of Intermarium alongside with Germany and Soviet Union, and therefore sealed it’s fate.
J. Łaptos assumed, that Sikorski did not limit himself to considering a Polish- Czechoslovak federation only. Sikorski wanted to develop his federalist plans for Europe in cooperation with the then Belgian, Czechoslovak, Greek, Dutch, Yugoslavian, and Norwegian governments-in-exile and the Free French Committee in London); M. Kornat distinguished three non-identical terms: federalism, ‘prometheism’, and ‘Intermarium’. The idea of the federation was a vision of the reconstruction of the multinational state covering the former 1st Republic’s territories. ‘Prometheism’ was an idea for breaking up the Soviet Union into national states. Th e ‘Intermarium’ (Baltic-Adriatic) idea assumed forming a block of states– even without breaking up the Soviet Union – and was formed in 20 already. Th e fulfi lment of the ‘Intermarium’ idea was thwarted by Czechoslovak integration concepts.
Instytut Polski i Muzeum im. gen. Sikorskiego (IPMS), sign. Prezydium Rady Ministrów (PRM) 54, S. Ropp, Report of 10th March 1941 on activities of the Polish Information Center in New York, (est. Eastern Europe’s Future, 21st February 1941), MID, 2242/41/USA, London, 30th April 1941, pp. 13-15, (Report stated that four senior offi cers of American command prepared a report stating that Poland in union with Czechoslovakia would be strong enough to defend against Germany on the river Oder-Lower Silesia line, and against the Soviet Union on the 1921 frontier with the annexation of East Prussia. A union with the Baltic States and Ukraine with the eastern frontier on the Dnepr, Berezina and Daugava rivers line would be seen as more effi cient (‘Great Slavic Federation’). A simultaneous forming of the ‘Latin union’ in the West was also suggested; both unions would balance the infl uence of Germany and Soviet Union); sign. PRM100, S. Ropp, Essential elements of Polish question in America [Zasadnicze elementy sprawy polskiej w Ameryce], 7th June 1943, pp. 170-175; sign. PRM112/2, Note for minister Kwapinski concerning works of British and American governments’ economic experts [Notatka dla ministra Kwapińskiego o pracach brytyjskich i amerykańskich rządowych ekspertów gospodarczych], London 19th August 1943, pp. 262ff ; P. Grudziński: Despite the opinions of the Foreign Offi ce and Eden, Churchill supported the regional federations as well as the need for the political and economic unifi cation of Europe, the so called United States of Europe. In March 1943, Churchill proposed forming a European organisation (Europe’s Council) for peace and security matters. Th e proposed Council would hold executive, lawmaking and jurisdiction powers, and would unite the European free states (maintaining national traditions and sovereignty). Th e council’s armed forces – consisting of national and international units – should be ready for immediate action. Th e Council’s members would be great powers, states, unions of states – federations and confederations. Churchill intended to reconcile the interests of great powers and lesser states. In Roosevelt’s opinion, the regional federations in Europe allied with UK would not guarantee the maintaining of peace, and would contribute to rivalry with the Soviet Union; S. Łukasiewicz: During the visit of S. Welles, US Deputy Secretary of State, to Paris in the spring of 1940, minister. Zaleski passed to him the Polish government’s memo concerning the European war; the memo mentioned the future new and free Europe, organised as a federation to guarantee a lasting peace. After the US entry into the war, American authorities formed a special committee to study the matters of the future order in Europe, and in its parts; a federation of the Low Countries, a northern union – Scandinavia, Polish- Czechoslovak federation, Greek-Yugoslavian confederation, East-European organisation, Danube confederation, and Bulgarian-Yugoslavian union; A. Kastory: Anthony Eden in October 1942 submitted to Churchill the so called Four Powers Plan,which foresaw the domination of the allied powers in the post-war world. Th e plan assumed breaking the Intermarium by recognising the Soviet frontiers of 1941; J. Łaptos: Americans were analysing the effi ciency of the regional federations on economic grounds and reconciling controversies among the states, but they did not assume basing the matters of peace and security in Europe on such organisations; T. Lane and M. Wolański: Polish and European federalists in USA were hoping for the support of the US government for the federalist plans for the reconstruction of Europe, following American federal ideas. However, the American national interest prevailed over ideology.
M.J. Chodakiewicz: Years 1939-1947 were for Intermarium the time of Hobbes’ ‘war of all against all’ resulting in millions of casualties – and its engines were Berlin and Moscow.
Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich we Wrocławiu, Papiery Klaudiusza Hrabyka, sygn. 16314/II, K. Hrabyk, Co to jest Międzymorze, pp. 9-13, (In a keynote published in the 1951 book Za waszą wolność i naszą, edited by the National Committee of Americans of Polish Descent, Klaudiusz Hrabyk, a Polish journalist and politician described the Intermarium as a Central European region between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. Hrabyk stated that in the interest of international security and balance of power in Europe, this region must not be controlled by any external power. In his opinion, only the unifi cation (for example as a confederation) of the region’s nations would secure their political, economic, cultural and national independence from Germany and USSR/Russia. In spite of national, religious, language and historical diff erences, those nations shared the tradition of state relationships, political and cultural affi liations, and common threats to national existence).
M.J. Chodakiewicz: Central European Initiative (1989) was the fi rst platform of cooperation of the states from the post-Soviet area with their Western neighbors. It’s longterm aim was integration with European Union. Th e GUAM group – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova – should be also mentioned.
In 2013 the major Russian minority populations lived in Ukraine (6-7 million people), Belarus (800 thousand - 1 million), Latvia (600 thousand), Estonia (300 thousand), Lithuania (200 thousand) and Moldova (200 thousand). Minor groups of Russians live in Finland, Poland and Czech Republic.
National census (2001) – Autonomic Republic of Crimea: Russians 1180,4 thousand (58,3%), Ukrainians 492,2 thousand. (24,3%), Crimean Tatars 243,4 thousand (12%), Belorussians 29,2 thousand. (1,4%), Tatars 11 thousand (0,5%), Armenians 8,7 thousand (0,4%), Jews 4,5 thousand (0,2%), Poles 3,8 thousand (0,2%), Moldovans 3,7 thousand (0,2%), Azerbaijanis 3,7 thousand (0,2%), in State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. [12.04.2017]
Russia’s response for the EU – Western Balkan summit was an announcement of the Russian ambassador in Skopje, Oleg Shcherbak, that Russia’s aim in Balkan countries is containment of access to EU and NATO of Macedonia (FYROM), Bosna and Herzegovina and Serbia. As far as it concerns Bosna and Herzegovina, Russia will encourage it’s part, Serbian Republic, to break the actual union (cf. Górzyński 2017).
Milewski: interview with British general, Sir Richard Shirreff ; former commander in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe – SACEUR 2011-2014. Sir Richard Shirref in his book 2017: War with Russia. An urgent warning from senior military command stated: Russia has practice in destroying of state’s integrity from within by manipulating of public opinion, raising of ethnic conflicts and cyberwarfare.
R. Krawczyk distances himself from the project, considering historical, cultural and religious diff erences between Trimarium states. Th e interests of those countries were seen as connected to EU rather than region.