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Central Europe: territoriality and spiritual images/Vidurio Europa: teritorialumas ir dvasiniai ivaizdziai.


Metaphors are intellectual tools. In present day research literature one finds such terms as "narrating space", "mapping identities", "the geography of identity", "contradictory mapping of space", "geographic or place-centered dramas of domination", "sovereignty without territoriality", "disappearances and strengthening of borders" which could be characterized as a metaphor. David Harvey underlines that "conceptions of space and time depend equally upon cultural, metaphorical, and intellectual skills" (Harvey 1996: 211). Metaphorical vision starts to be very important and fruitful for analyzing space.

The definition "Central or Middle Europe" stay within this line. Mostly a metaphor does not reflect situations or events adequate but give us something more important: it marks similarity of different cases and give possibility to look at this as something very close. At the same time there exists a danger that passion for one's vision diminishes attention to another researching hypothesis. However all of these metaphors are within the issue of space, territoriality and border. The study of territory and borders constitutes a multidisciplinary research focus. It is studied by political scientists, sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists, geographers, and lawyers. A "territory" in the ethnological sense is understood as the environment of a group (e.g. a pack of wolves, a pack of rats, or a group of nomads) that cannot itself be objectively located, but is constituted by the patterns of interaction through which that group or pack secures a certain stability and location. Similarly the environment of a single person in the psychological sense (his or her social environment, personal living space, or his or her habits) could be seen as a "territory" from which the person acts or returns to. The term "Central Europe" is used as a generic label covering the great diversity of historical legacies and the heterogeneous ethnic and religious composition of an area stretching from Baltic States to the Balkans. Its characteristics are instability, contradictions, constant sense of loss and actualization of historical memory. The best example of Central European complicated mentality and historical memory is expressed in the orthographic variants of the city: Gdansk, Danczig and Danzig; Pomerania, Pommern (German), Pomorze (Polish), Pomorze or Pomorsko (Kashubian); Lviv (Ukrainian), Lvov (Russian) and Lemberg (German); Kaliningrad (Russian), Krolewiec (Polish), Karaliau?ius (Lithuanian), and Konigsberg (German). These different names are not only simply translations from one languages to another. They are marks of belonging to different states and results of remade borders and process of demarcation.

Central Europe as geopolitical and literary definition

There are different geo-political mappings of this region. At the same time there are several different names of this part of Europe: "Middle Europe", "Central Europe" or "Eastern Central Europe" which were used by Marcel Cornis-Pope and brought together previous mappings and cover the territories of former Austro-Hungary, former Eastern Europe, and Baltic States with its entire historical trajectory: as independent states, as former part of Soviet Union and as independent states again (Cornis-Pope 2006). Central Europe appears as a historic space of many generations to live in a unique geo-political experiment. The meaning "Central Europe" goes beyond its geographical definition and has a great political and cultural importance. Today Central Europe is a geopolitical entity, linked, on the one hand, with the European Union (EU) and, on the other hand, with the commonwealth of Independent States.

The new regional identity is mostly understood as comprehension level of the accessory to a certain community by all its including states. The term "regional identity of Central Europe" is included in the scientific circulation. Many authors argue that the most common characteristic of Central Europe are its contradictions in the historical, political, religious and cultural sense. Central Europe is a dynamical historical concept, not a static spatial one. The State of Lithuania, as many other countries in the Eastern-Central Europe partly changed territorial, state, national and religious identity during its history. The identity of minority started to be majority identity and vice versa. The term "episodic occurrences" has become popular in Central Europe. Psychological state of waste of national history, national languages, territories and its symbols brought to attempts to find stability in the common European mentality. Psychological conflict of the Central European inhabitant was grounded on contradiction between spiritual and geopolitical situation. In spiritual sense he/she could belong to the West while in the geopolitical sense to the East. Central Europe, being the border between Slavia Latina and Slavia Orthodoxa, always had the cultural, linguistic and religious parameters.

Often, European literature provides more evidences than sociological, ethnographical and other researches. Such writers as Bachmann, Kundera, Czeslaw Milosz and others in their own poetry and prose give answers to many questions about Central Europe.

The outline of Central European cultural centers is on its borders: Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Vilnius, Ljubljana, Lviv. The cities entered into a territory which boundaries were irrational and at the same time, they were more realistic and historically stipulated. They were the "boundaries of soul". Kundera wrote in the 1970s 'the city of Immanuel Kant, Nicolaus Copernicus, city of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Kafka, city of Bela Bartok; ... how many cities do not belong to Europe but belong to "Great Empires of East"? The European architectonic he describes as "maximum diversity in minimum space". This Kundera's architectonic definition is very close to today's trend of European integration and the slogan of the EU: "United in diversity".

In contrast to the architectonic definition of Europe Kundera defines Russia as "minimum diversity in the maximum space" (therefore, the main spiritual gap is the absence of the right to its own history, from West to East is descending order history). This is reflected in the fact that so many cities during its history had several names, their inhabitants are not moving in geographic space, they are staying in the same city while their state affiliation changes.

Throughout his writings, Kundera opposes the notion of Central Europe, a procommunist concept, to that of Eastern Europe, a concept which replaced Central Europe in the geopolitical vocabulary of Europe after 1945. In his novels he recalls such values as individuality, difference, and plurality, which historically were inherent for Central Europe. At the same time Kundera finds a discourse which is radically different from Eastern Europe. First of all, what distinguishes Central Europe from Eastern Europe emerges from the difference between a political and a cultural understanding of territory. He found that the borders of Eastern Europe coincide with the borders of the communist states only at first glance. Every country of Central Europe has a "variable geometry" (Babeli 1997: 9) (1). Kundera proposes to consider these concepts in terms of a supranational construct: a community of culture and history which borders "are imaginary and must be drawn and redrawn with each new historical situation" (Kundera 1984: 35). Through cultural borders different nations shared their common memories, narratives, and traditions. Kundera proposes to view Central Europe as a cultural concept and as a cultural space which is limited by its cultural borders. Kundera often uses Austrian-Hungarian construct as a space where identity could be plural and emerging from free boundless encounters of various cultures. Charlie Louth perceives the appearance in Vein of two famous poets Bachmann and Paul Celan as a final terminal of their travel to Austro-Hungarian Empire. "When Paul Celan arrived in Vienna late in 1947 he had come, via Bucharest and Budapest, from Czernowitz, once an outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where his parents were part of a German-speaking enclave. Bachmann had then been in Vienna for just over a year, studying philosophy, having come herself from the provincial town of Klagenfurt not far from the Slovenian border" (Louth 2008).

The history of Central Europe has some specific characters and the evidences of common heritage: Central European music, art in the baroque period, Central European modernism in literature, and art in the twentieth century.

The significance of the Central European borders of Europe is currently changing. "The broken border" is one of the most popular metaphors which mean possibility to continue tradition of the common cultural heritage. Borders in the Central Europe are not only symbol of identity in the traditional sense of exclusive sovereignty but also a symbol of cross-border identities. Here sustained cross-border cooperation often contributes to a shared "we" feeling.

Image of Central European territoriality

Territory, or territoriality, has become an increasingly prevalent notion in the discourse of the EU. We note two tendencies in the dialectical process of the borders: "territorialization" and "deterritorialization". The territorialization mostly means the differentiation of space and construction of borders. Deterritorialization may mean removal of control and order away from a land, place and territory that are already established. It is a weakening of ties between culture and place. This means the removal of cultural subjects and objects from a certain location in space and time (2). Space and time can however be regarded as one unit in absolute or relative terms. At the same time both processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are processes which are happening not only on physical territory but on psychological territory as well that designates the status of the relationship between groups or between individuals.

Now the process of deterritorialization and weakening of importance of territorial belonging are the principal tendency for the EU. It is the possibility of going beyond the form of a nation. Europe in its present phase of history is a new form of post-national construction. According to Etienne Balibar, Europe is a frontier. For him this representation of the border, essential as it is for state institutions, is nonetheless profoundly inadequate for an account of the complexity of real situations, of the topology underlying the sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent mutual relations between the identities that constitute European history. In the Alexander von Humboldt Lecture Balibar in fact discovered and made a list of some general characteristics of European border (Balibar 2004). Most of these characteristics are typical for the Central European border:

--Borderlines have power to attach populations to territories in a stable or regulated manner, to "administrate" the territory through the control of the population;

--Central Europe is multifarious. It is often home to tensions among numerous religious, cultural, linguistic, and political affiliations, numerous readings of history;

--Central Europe has a large part of zones called peripheries, where secular and religious cultures confront one another, where differences in economic prosperity become more pronounced and strained;

--Central Europe is a motley territory of various languages, cultures, and ethnicities across national lines;

--Central European Borders continue to be a "transitional object", and an object of permanent transgression;

--Europe is not only deterritorialized, but also delocalized, put "out of itself", and in the end is deconstructed. It may be part of the imaginary, but less and less of the real.

Central European borderland and its inhabitants

Borderland is the geographical space or zone around a territorial border. The Central European borderlands represent a concentration and crossing of ethnic borders. The borderland is a specific area where historically a particular type of the inhabitant is born which is defined by an accessory to several cultures (Sadowski 1992: 5-6). We can distinguish four types of collective actors, which shape the national identities of the studied borderland: ethnic minorities; national majorities backed by the power of the state in which the minorities live; the "foreigner fatherlands" (Rogers Brubaker) and the international organizations which create certain legal regulations and monitor their realization. In the studies of the national identity of borderlands some theoretical approaches can be distinguished. There is a need to define and to create a new theoretical category--"the cultural nation" (Andrzej Sadowski). National (ethnic) minority can be distinguished in the specific minority situation, most frequently in the context of a dominant majority, as a community, which is less significant, subordinated, and is therefore often discriminated. The neighboring spatial locations and common or at least similar histories justify the hypothesis of the similarity of the transformations of national identities in the post-Soviet countries. Democratic changes result in the fact that the identity ceases to be determined by the inborn conditions and successively becomes the chosen identity. This means that most frequently individuals have to determine their national identity on their own.

Borderlands present an ambiguous status: on the one hand, it is the place where the state reinforces its presence in order to mark its sovereignty and to defend itself against external threats. On the other hand, borderlands develop their own culture, due to their peripheral position in relation to the center, and to the existence of an ethnically mixed population often connected by economic and social ties to populations living beyond the borders (Donnan, Wilson 1999: 4). "Border people may demonstrate ambiguous identities because economic, cultural and linguistic factors pull them in two directions" (Strassoldo 1982). Some researchers argue that these contact zones are not perceived by populations inhabiting them as dividing lines, but rather as resources, and bridges linking them (Rosler, Wendl 1999: 25).

The Lithuanian-Polish-Belarusian borderland is a unique case in EU and in Central Europe. On this small territory it is possible to investigate two opposite, reciprocal processes: disappearances (the Lithuanian-Polish borderland) and strengthening of borders (the Lithuanian-Belarusian and Polish-Belarusian borderland). These contradictory processes of borders are the result of its separation on Schengen and non-Schengen zones. In the case of present day Lithuanian-Polish-Belarusian borderland we could find all border functions which have been named over the course of boundary studies. On this borderland a border is mostly perceived as a "wall", "fence", "lock", "barrier", and at the same time as a "bridge", "opportunity", "wet-nurse". Most of "positive" opinions about boundary functions belong to Lithuanian-Polish border's inhabitants and the opposite "negative" opinions belong to Lithuanian-Belarusian and Polish-Belarusian border's inhabitants whose "feeling of border" as "feeling of a distance" is strong enough.

This borderland' national minorities feel strong connection with the country of inhabitation and "foreigner motherland". Lithuanians on the Polish borderland and Poles on the Lithuanian, Belarusians in Lithuania and Poland are multi-level identity carriers.

Several researchers underline that a positive attribute of Central Europe is multiculturalism. "Multiculturalism" or "multicultural society" mean for most of them existence of numerous ethnic, national and religious minorities with own cultures, languages and religions. Goran Therborn looks at the time of modernity as the only time of fruitful coexistence of different cultures which were segregated (Therborn 1997). Permanent changes of state borders, populations, and particularly the borderland is a unique phenomenon with many national variables; reservations can be divided into national majority and minority. Variables include historic transformation, in which national majority has been involved, not for the fact of moving in geographical space, but only because of state' borders changing. Alternately, majority becomes a minority in the same geographic area. The only constant phenomenon in the region remains the national minorities, whose historical motherland is traditionally not close to state borders and who are outsiders in an ethnic and religious sense. In the history of borderlands, they had always special status so that they always need a protectorate of majority, specific rights and privileges. The presence of these national and religious minorities did not threaten the state where they lived. Their activities mostly are trade, crafts (Jews), defense (Caraites, Tatars). In Lithuanian history we would find more historical facts about conflict between neighboring ethnic groups than between the national majority and minorities.

Change of state borders and proximity to heterogeneity mean that the culture of ethnic groups has developed more rapidly and with greater effort than in a homogeneous society. On the other hand, the processes of interaction of cultures, their overlapping and enrichment of the spiritual life of Central Europe make this territory a space of creative tension.

The concept of national and religious minority denotes a certain group of people constituting a minor part of a country's population in view of their nationality and religion. The criteria defining this concept are the following: the self-identification as separate group, different ethnic origin and possession of a separate language, culture, tradition and religious affiliation. Self-consciousness of a national minority is formed under the influence of the following factors: ethnical and cultural-religious differentiation, the presence of a different linguistic group, and a state in which the stated national group constitutes the majority. The level of its development depends on the historically formed stage of assimilation and tendencies of tolerance in the given society. The national homogeneity of society as we know does not always imply the religious one, and vice versa--the religious homogeneity does not always imply the national one. For example, Lithuanian population includes Catholic Poles and Protestant Lithuanians.

As Leonidas Donskis writes about Tomas Venclova, which is also appropriate to others, "easily and naturally migrates between Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, and Jewish sensibilities bridging these cultures and identities" (Donskis 2011). The process of culture interaction was very influential for the Central European literature. Numerous Joseph Roth and Bachmann heroes are "Others" in the family, community and region.

Spiritual image of Central European tolerance

The situation on the borderland is close to D. Emily Hicks explanation about effect of "a holographic plate" which possible to use as a symbolic image of borders narratives. This "holographic plate" of their identity shows us common situation of everyday life on the border in many parts of Central Europe where inhabitants demonstrate possibility to be more adaptive and more tolerant and flexible to changing geopolitical situations. This situation is named by Cornis-Pope as "the flow of hybrid cultural messages" (Cornis-Pope 2006).

The national, ethnic and religious tolerance in Central Europe acquired specific forms and partly destroyed the standard European stereotypes about prerequisites of tolerance, conditions and forms. Jay Newman argues that religious minorities often are tolerated only as long as their actions and beliefs do not come into conflict with the major institutions of the dominant societal group (Newman 1982). In the Central European countries tolerance was mostly the concept that means nothing more than reconciliation with the need to have someone who is a bearer of a different ethnic group ideas, beliefs and behaviors. It basically does not include such elements as acceptance, openness and complementarily. Tolerance we defined as a policy of patient forbearance in the presence of something that is disliked or disapproved. Limits of tolerance are wide and flexible, ranging from indifferent neglect of "otherness" and outsiders to the urge to support and protect them. In the historical sense, tolerance means to concede to a lesser evil in order to avoid a bigger one, i.e. it always means the priority of one's own values and simultaneously tolerance towards those who are different and often treated as inferior.

In Central Europe, tolerance is not only policy or legislation but also and mostly an emotional state of a person. It is formed under the influence of social processes, as well as under individual experience. Central Europe is the space of different and special kind of tolerance. Milosz said: "I feel great affinity with Singer (Isaac Bashevis) because we both come from religious backgrounds, I from Roman Catholicism and he from Judaism. Constantly, we deal with similar metaphysical problems" (Milosz, Gardels 1985).

Particularly Central European borderland which represents a concentration and crossing in rather small territory of several ethnic, cultural and religious borders is the territory of permanent simultaneous involvement in neighbors' cultures, knowledge of several neighbors' languages, openness to cultural diversity, perception of otherness as a norm of daily life, higher than in another territory level of tolerance. In the essay entitled "Biographical Matters", Bachmann describes the crossing of the border from one culture into another (Bachmann 1978). Bachmann looks at her native space through the language and culture, rather than in terms of nationhood. Strange sounding words of other languages were part of her childhood experience. Often, throughout her stories, we are reminded of the bilingual space of the valley of Gail near the border with Slovenia. She wrote: "At home we always said that once it's over we'll go back to Lipica, we have to visit our aunt in Brunn, what could have possibly become of our relatives in Czernowitz, the air in Friuli is better than here, when you grow up you have to go to Vienna and Prague, when you grow up <...>" (Bachmann 1990: 62). This wonderful world of childhood memories was destroyed by beginning of the Second World War. As David Bronsen added in the 1970's, "the greatest loss for North-East Europe during the Second World War and the aftermath period is the loss of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism" which were soul and premise of cultural and religious tolerance in the Central Europe (Bronsen 1974: 126).

Central European literary nostalgia

The feelings of nostalgia and innumerable flashbacks in time are typical for Central European literature. For Bachmann, Gunter Grass, Milosz, and Roth nostalgia becomes a predominant aspect of the narratives. Bachmann wrote her stories based on personal history and the nation history. For her as for many writers (not only Austrian, but in general for Central European) a widespread feeling of nostalgia and of loss are understandable. Her creations are a rare case of deep penetration in the Central European history and soul. All of the above-mentioned features of borderland are found in her stories. Her works are a literary example that should be analyzed from geographic, geopolitical and multi-cultural and multi-lingual perspective. She examined the legacy of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy at its disintegration as the multicultural and multi-lingual environment. She grew up in this atmosphere. Similarly to Milosz who has named himself one of the last citizens of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in spiritual sense Bachmann was probably the last citizen of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bachmann celebrated the multi-national past as a great value. As a child, she spent many summers in Dreilandereck at the intersection of Austria, Slovenia, and Italy. Memories of those summers were among the most cherished recollections in Bachmann's life.

We could find close personal and non-personal relationship between Bachmann, Heinrich Boll, Grass, Milosz and Kundera who continued the Central European cultural literary tradition. This generation was inspired by the literary tradition established by Robert Musil, Roth, Hermann Broch and Kafka. The cultural, historical and geographic space where their characters live, struggle, love and die are Central Europe. For all of them a typical specific style of writing is style of fiction, interlaced with philosophical digression. These writers had close spiritual and intellectual, and sometimes intimate connections. However these connections are not only personal relations but though common ideas and views about Habsburg myth, Austrian House, the foundation of the Central European cultural heritage, nation state, war and violence, tolerance and prejudice.

The idea of "kitsch" is very important for most Central European intellectuals. Usually it is defined as a form of aesthetic manifestation expressing pretentious sentimentality that hinges on vulgarity. From aesthetic view, it is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value. Kitsch for the mentioned writes has different senses. For Broch it is "the evil within the value-system of art, and if true art is 'good', kitsch is 'evil'". For Kundera it is closely linked with totalitarianism. For him, communist kitsch is based on "the categorical agreement with being" (Kundera 1991: 248). For Bachmann, kitsch has not only aesthetic or political sense; but it is also very close to interpersonal relations, to stereotypes and cliches about different aspects of life, such as history, politics, culture, public and private everyday life and events.

Bachmann grew up in Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia (Austrian region) where multiculturalism was everyday reality. In her writing, Bachmann often returned to her native region. Most Bachmann stories are about the Carinthian borderland where Austria, Italy, and Slovenia meet. This border created the community of the Windish people, who were Slovenes, assimilated in the Austrian borderlands. As Ruxandra Mandoiu wrote in her doctoral thesis, "the life on the border had shaped their language, customs, and traditions so that what started as the meeting of Slovenes and Austrians was transformed into the birth of a third community, the product of a contact zone" (Mandoiu 2009: 220). Bachmann many times underlined that there existed "one more border" in her life-border between three languages: German, Slovenian and Italian.

Bachmann's image of locality is very individual and narrow. In the story "Malina" it is a small space between houses number 6 and 9 in the Hungary Street (in Germain Ungargasse) in the third district of Vienna. For Bachmann, Hungary Street is "my country" (in Germain mein Ungargassenland) as she calls it "the only country which I must keep secure, which I defend, for which I tremble, for which I fight" (Bachmann 1990: 11).

The gender aspect is important for Central European literature. As Stephanie Bird wrote: "Not surprisingly, Malina, written in 1967-70, has become one of the major works of the women's writing canon" (Bird 2003). Mostly the gender of author is not incorporated into their works. It is worth noting that the ability of an author to get reflexive distance from his or her experience is well-known and widely used method. The dreams of Tereza from Kundera story "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and Bachmann's unnamed woman personage in "Malina" are very similar nightmares in which images are very close to concentration camp reality. The gender injustice is associated for them with different kind of totalitarian power. Bird using a feminist theory analyzes these conditions of life when woman obviously represents a victim of partners, parents, community and symbolizes victimhood as such. The manifestation of national identity is displayed through individual and female level of interaction. From our view both Bachmann and Kundera give us a possibility to situate Central European image of gender relations ideologically and geographically.

Such writers and famous figures of European culture as Bachmann, Kundera and Celan were never identified with one single national culture, with one single national identity. They felt the generality of Central and Western European culture and struggled against the provincialism and artificial spiritual borders. Perhaps for this reason they are best analysts and bards of Central Europe.

Concluding remarks

The term "Central Europe" is used as a generic label covering the great diversity of historical legacies and the heterogeneous ethnic and religious composition. At the same time we underline such characteristics as instability, contradictions, constant sense of loss and actualization of historical memory.

We offer to look at the Central European literary nostalgia as a possibility to situate Central European culture and spirituality geographically and territorially. Metaphorical vision starts to be very important and fruitful for analyzing space, territory and borders. Change of state borders and creation of new borderlands enriches the spiritual life of Central Europe; make this territory a space of creative tension.

The process of culture interaction was very influential for the Central European literature. Sometime Central European literature provides more evidences than sociological, ethnographical and other researches. Such writers as Bachmann, Kundera, Milosz and others in their own poetry and prose give answers to many questions about Central Europe. In their own works they speak of some of the fundamental concerns and issues of our age: state, borders, nationalism, war and totalitarianism.

Such famous figures of European culture as Bachmann, Kundera and Celan were never identified with one single national culture, with one single national identity.


Received 6 April 2012; accepted 23 July 2012


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Basia Nikiforova

Lithuanian Culture Research Institute, Department of Contemporary Philosophy, Saltoniskiu st. 58, LT-08105 Vilnius, Lithuania


(1) "Variable-geometry" is the term which mostly used to describe the idea of a method of differentiated integration which acknowledges that there are irreconcilable differences within the integration structure. It allows for a permanent separation between a group of EU Member States and a number of less developed integration units.

(2) The deterritorialization as definition in the end of the 90's began to be linked not only with physical space but also with virtual and cyberspace, internet connection, satellite TV, home employment and distance learning among others (Batty, Barr 1994).
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