Not a very long time ago, a British lady was considered bigoted by Gordon Brown upon asking 'all these Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?'(1). The zoological word is not a novelty in the cultural invention of Eastern Europe. Maybe, despite her concern with the dangers of immigration for Britain, the lady was right in showing that such a question still awaits for answers in Europe. The ironic aspect however is that a first answer to such a question would point to the fact that the Eastern Europeans come from the Western European imaginary. As Iver Neumann puts it, 'regions are invented by political actors as a political program, they are not simply waiting to be discovered'(2). And, as Larry Wolff skillfully showed, Eastern Europe is an invention emanated initially from the intellectual agendas of the elites of Enlightenment that later found its peak of imaginary separation during the Cold War(3).
The Economist, explicitly considered Eastern Europe to be wrongly labelled and elaborated that 'it was never a very coherent idea and it is becoming a damaging one'(4). The EU enlargement however was expected to make the East/West division obsolete under the veil of a prophesied convergence. That would have finally proven the non-ontological, historically contingent and unhappy nature of the division of Europe and remind Europeans of the wider size of their continent and the inclusive and empowering nature of their values. Yet, more than 20 years after the revolutions in the Central and Eastern European countries, Leon Mark, while arguing that the category of Eastern Europe is outdated and misleading, bitterly asked a still relevant question today: 'will Europe ever give up the need to have an East?'(5)
Eastern Europe was invented as a region and continues to be re-invented from outside and inside. From outside its invention was connected with alterity making processes, and, from inside the region, the Central and Eastern European countries got into a civilizational beauty contest themselves in search of drawing the most western profile: what's Central Europe, what's more Eastern, what's more Ottoman, Balkan, Byzantine, who is the actual kidnapped kid of the West, who can build better credentials by pushing the Easterness to the next border. A wide variety of scholars addressed the western narratives of making the Eastern European 'other' as an outcome of cultural politics of enlightenment, as an effect of EU's need to delineate its borders, as an outcome of its views on security, or as a type of 'orientalism' or post-colonialism. Most of these types of approaches are still useful in analyzing the persistence of a East-West slope 30 years after the revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe. The region is understood now under a process of convergence, socialization and Europeanization that will have as outcomes an 'ever closer union' where the East and the West will fade away as categories. Yet the reality is far from such an outcome while the persistence of categories of alterity making towards the 'East' is not always dismantled simultaneously with the increased diversity of political patterns emerging in the region. The discourses on core/non-core, new Europe/old Europe, pioneers/followers, teachers/pupils, center/periphery, cosmos/chaos are often maintaining significant ground within the arena of European identity narratives often yet not exclusively voiced by the EU.
The 7th Euroacademia International Conference 'Re-Inventing Eastern Europe' aims rather than asserting to make a case and to provide alternative views on the dynamics, persistence and manifestations of the practices of alterity making that take place in Europe and broadly in the mental mappings of the world. It offers an opportunity for scholars, activists and practitioners to locate, discuss and debate the multiple dimensions in which specific narratives of alterity making towards Eastern Europe preserve their salience today in re-furbished and re-fashioned manners. The conference aims to look at the processes of alterity making as puzzles and to address the persistence of the East-West dichotomies simultaneously to assessing the diversity and change within the CEE region 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
(1) See the whole dialogue between Gillian Duffy and Gordon Brown on BBC News online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/electi...
(2) Neumann, Iver. 2001. Regionalism and Democratisation. In Jan Zielonka and Alex Pravda (eds.), Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe, Vol 2 International Dimensions. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 58 – 75, p. 71.
(3) Wolff, Larry. 1994. Inventing Eastern Europe. The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
(4) The Economist, January 7th 2010, http://www.economist.com/node/15213108
(5) Marc, Leon. 2009. What's So Eastern about Eastern Europe? Twenty Years After the Fall of The Berlin Wall. Trowbridge: Oldcastle Books, p.161.