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The Grooves of Change: Eastern Europe at the Turn of the Millennium

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The Grooves of Change is the culmination of J. F. Brown’s esteemed career as an analyst of Eastern Europe. He traces events in this diverse and disruption-riddled region from the communist era to the years of transition after the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present. Brown also provides specific analyses of the development of liberal democratic culture in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe—Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the successor states of Yugoslavia.
While acknowledging that the term “Eastern Europe” began to fall into disuse with the end of the cold war, Brown uses it as a framework for discussing the enduring features of the modern history of this region: its basic continuity, the prominence of ethnic and national factors, and its dependence on great powers or combinations of powers outside it. He explains the significance of the growing gulf between East Central Europe and South Eastern Europe, the overall political and economic deprivation and its effect on the people, the urgency of change, and the complex dynamics within Eastern Europe that have defied definitions and generalization. Finally, Brown points to the need for continuing assistance by the United States and the West and suggests what the twenty-first century may bring to this constantly changing part of the world.
Those seeking a clear overview of events in Eastern Europe during the recent psat and the state of these nations now will benefit from this incisive study by J. F. Brown.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“I read this very fine book with pleasure and profit. Let us hope this is not, as he insists, Brown’s last book on Eastern Europe. Both lively and wise, it is a distillation of a lifetime of insights from one of the most brilliant observers of East Central Europe.”—Robert Hutchings, Princeton University

“J. F. Brown’s The Grooves of Change is a lucid, well-written overview of developments in Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. In addition to its sweeping scope, it illuminates the minority problems that have plagued Eastern Europe and have played such an important—and often disruptive—role in East European politics.”—F. Stephen Larrabee, RAND

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822326373
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

J. F. Brown has been a Visiting Professor at Columbia University; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; and American University in Bulgaria. His numerous books include Eastern Europe and Communist Rule, Surge to Freedom, and Hopes and Shadows, all published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

The grooves of change

Eastern Europe at the turn of the millennium
By J. F. Brown

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-2637-X

Chapter One

Coming into Being

The independence of the East European nations stemmed not so much from their own exertions, however considerable, as from the exhaustion and collapse of the empires that ruled them. The maintenance of that independence has depended mainly on the will of others. Its permanence, therefore, could never be taken for granted. That is the basic and continuing lesson of modern East European history.

But we must immediately enter a caveat. When we refer to the independence of nations we mean the independence of those East European nations that became nations-of-state, "majoritarian nations." Thus, we encounter another determining factor in modern East European history: its glut of nations and the relations between them.

In a book published in 1988 I wrote:

Eastern Europe has never been rich in natural resources, but it has always been rich in nations. It covers an area about two-thirds the size of Western Europe. But, whereas Western Europe is more or less exclusively covered by five large nations-the Germanic, French, Hispanic, Anglo-Celtic, and Italian-Eastern Europe has more than fifteen nations jostling within its boundaries. Nor are many of these nations compact units: many have sizable minorities of other nations in their own midst and members of their ownnation enveloped by others. The patchwork quilt has been produced by historical events that still embitter the atmosphere in many parts of the region today, often evoking nationalism in its more virulent forms.

What has characterized the relations of these nations is not unity or cooperation, but the struggle for mastery and survival. Some nations would have preferred being left alone in their former subjection; their older masters were better than the new. The superior status of some was reduced to inferiority overnight. Many states found that their unity under oppression melted away when the oppression was over. The end of the great imperialisms begat little imperialisms. And these little imperialisms often were more virulent than the old.

Another major theme of this book is the distinctiveness between the two parts of Eastern Europe: East Central Europe and South Eastern Europe (the "Balkans"). The two areas, many would argue, are more than distinct: they are so different as to be incomparable-even incompatible. Perhaps. But throughout their history the independent states in both these parts of Eastern Europe have shared similar experiences in state-building and in political and economic development. They have also operated in the same international setting; parts of both regions have been ravaged by the two world wars. All of them for nearly a half-century were pressed into the communist mold. These experiences are still fresh and relevant enough to warrant an overall, if discriminating, perspective. It was the twentieth century that pulled them together. Early in the twenty-first century, the ties that once bound them will drop away.

Finally, a fourth major theme is continuity. The successive phases of modern East European history-imperial subjection, precarious independence, Soviet communist domination, and now renewed independence-would seem to be so different from one another as to preclude any suggestion of continuity. But, though it is too much to see history as essential continuity regardless of change, it remains true that all change, including revolution, has elements of continuity. In Poland, until recently, citizens' habits, attitudes, even personalities, differed according to whether their forebears had lived in Russian, Austrian, or Prussian Poland during the partitions. Other East European nations show marks of their imperial histories more obviously than the Poles do. Historical and national peculiarities helped to break up the flat standardization of communism. Now, after 1989, communism itself has left some indelible footprints.

Freedom Through Diplomacy

In the Balkans the course of independence lasted a whole century, starting with Serbia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, ending with the independence of Albania in 1912 and finally the creation of Yugoslavia after World War I. In between, Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria became independent. The will to national independence was there, and so were the heroism, the effort, the sacrifice. But it was the decline of the Ottoman empire, beginning in the seventeenth century, that decisively eased the process of independence. And what finally secured it was the diplomatic interplay of the great European powers, the workings of the "balance of power."

Many attempts have been made to define the balance of power, some downright incomprehensible. Bismarck's remains the crispest definition, as befits its most skillful practitioner: "Always try to be one of three in a world of five great powers." The balance of power was a fluid concept, shifting and changing according to circumstance. But it governed international relations for much of modern history, and it was the midwife of Balkan independence.

The Congress of Berlin in June-July 1878 saw the balance of power at its zenith. In March 1877, Russia had brought into being through the Treaty of San Stefano imposed on Turkey not just an independent Bulgaria but a "Greater Bulgaria." It was good for the Bulgarians, obviously, but it also was good for the Russians, greatly enhancing their power in the Balkans. Hence, it upset the balance of power and alarmed Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Germany. Those countries faced down Russia, and the Treaty of San Stefano was revoked; the new Bulgaria was drastically reduced and a certain normalcy was restored. But, as often happened in the workings of the balance of power, where one problem was solved, another emerged. The "Macedonian Question" has now straddled three centuries. It began in earnest toward the end of the nineteenth century, continued throughout the twentieth, and is still unresolved at the beginning of the twenty-first (see chapter 7).

Freedom Through Ideology

World War I marked the end of the nineteenth century and the classic concept of the balance of power. The war itself was the sign and the measure of the demise of the balance of power, which did not immediately die. The mind-set that it had shaped lingered on irrelevantly for many years. After 1945, too, a new East-West balance of power emerged in Europe, but this was a rigid security balance, not a flexible diplomatic one. As the governing principle for international relations in Europe, the balance of power was dead. It had been an effective principle for most of the nineteenth century because it suited the powers that conducted it. It collapsed mainly because it did not suit the ambitions of the newly reunited Germany. Bismarck would have gone on playing the game, but Kaiser Wilhelm II had neither the will nor the wit to.

At the Paris peace treaty meetings in 1919 and 1920, ideology touched down on the European scene in the person of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the doctrine of national self-determination. Wilson's insistence on this principle led to a drastic redrawing of the map of Eastern Europe, which called for the re-creation of Poland, the creation of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, the survival of Albania, and the drastic diminution of Hungary. "Eastern Europe," as it generally was to be known through the rest of the twentieth century, came into being.

The new Wilsonian ideology, however, came and went. Wilson's policy was repudiated by the U.S. Congress, and the United States returned to isolationism, refusing to guard and smooth the wheels it had set in motion. In the meantime, two new ideologies, lethal threats to Wilsonianism and to democracy, had appeared on the European scene: communism and fascism. Soviet communism primarily threatened Russia's internal order. But, behind it, Russian imperialism threatened the new Eastern Europe. Italian fascism was imperialist-inspired, while German fascism was racist, imperialist, revanchist, and vengeful. Eastern Europe was also threatened by the machinations of two of its own states: Hungary and Bulgaria, "losers" at the Paris peace settlements and lackeys first of Italy, then of Germany. These ambitions, combinations, and machinations led to the destruction of interwar Eastern Europe and to World War II.

Still, for nearly twenty years, this new Eastern Europe survived. Geographically, Poland was its largest state. The Polish state had been destroyed in the second half of the eighteenth century, partitioned by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. But the Polish nation, though losing its freedom, never lost its will or its coherence. World War I gave it the opportunity to again move toward freedom, and the Treaty of Versailles brought the Polish state back to life.

The most spectacular, but eventually unsuccessful, state creations after World War I were Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, both daringly multinational. They were not the direct creations of the Paris treaties; they were inspired and conceived locally. But it was Wilsonianism that secured them. The original inspiration for them came from the nineteenth-century Romantic notion that ethnic and linguistic similarities could override cultural and historical differences and secure multinational states. This turned out to be a destructive myth. Wilsonianism was also to founder on the complexities of European history and on the depths of ethnic prejudice. A prolonged period of peace might have secured the success of the new East European order. But a prolonged period of peace could have been ensured only by what the United States in 1920 was not ready to give: a strong presence in, and commitment to, Europe. Britain and France could not secure the new principles that the United States had pressed in the peace settlements. They were too weak; and they were less than enthusiastic about these principles, anyway. Indirectly, they even encouraged the forces that destroyed them.

Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were cases of self-determination vulgarized and gone wrong. In 1921, more than 5 million Czechs lived in Czechoslovakia along with slightly less than 3 million Slovaks. More than 3 million Germans (slightly outnumbering the Slovaks), more than 700,000 Hungarians, and nearly 500,000 Ruthenians (Ukrainians) made up the rest of the population. These figures reflected a dangerous lack of ethnic balance, even when only measured in raw numbers. Officially, Czechs and Slovaks were lumped together as "Czechoslovaks," a presumptuous Czech insistence that symbolized their scant regard for Slovak sensitivities. (Westerners routinely referred to "Czechoslovaks" as "Czechs.") Thus, 9 million "Czechoslovaks" resided in a country of slightly more than 13.5 million-hardly a commanding majority for an alleged majoritarian nation, especially when most Slovaks saw themselves as anything but majoritarian. In multinational states, however, numbers were by no means everything. History and attitudes counted for more. The Germans in Czechoslovakia had been the master nation in Bohemia and Moravia under the Habsburgs, and, almost without exception, they bristled rebelliously over the postwar dispensation. The Hungarians, too, had been masters, the historic "owners," of Slovakia, and they were just as adamant in their rejection of the new order. Wide discrepancies also existed in the civilizational level between the nations in the new Czechoslovakia. Germans, generally, were at the highest level, and many Czechs were up to the German level; certainly, Czechs were higher than most Hungarians. Slovaks were the next lowest in order, and Ruthenians pooled at the bottom. Interspersed among these nations were more than 300,000 Jews. In the Czech provinces, Jews certainly stood at the highest civilizational level; farther to the east, however, they often were just as poor as their fellow citizens, although usually better educated and more "savvy."

Yugoslavia was to be an even more damaging case of multinational failure. At first, the Yugoslav concept was not welcomed by the Serbs, who subsequently accepted it as the best option available. The Serbs' basic aim was to have "all Serbs under one roof," a twentieth-century update of Ilya Garassanin's nacertanije idea. They were now determined to twist the Yugoslav idea in the interests of Serbia; Yugoslavia would become, in fact, an extension of Serbia. But, even without the Serb Herrenvolk complex, this hastily cobbled Yugoslavia would have been difficult to contain. Slovenia and Croatia both insisted on being considered "Central European." Then came the Yugoslav "others": the Macedonians, most of whom had little national consciousness and found themselves in "South Serbia"; the Albanians, shut out of the new Albanian state and becoming ever more numerous in both Serb Kosovo and Serb Macedonia; and then the Turks, Vlachs, Gypsies, and many others. The Bosnian Muslims turned out to be the most crucial of all these others. After being slighted, or even discounted, for most of the twentieth century, they seared into the European conscience at the end of it.

The Ethnic Dimension

For every problem solved by the World War I settlements in Eastern Europe, another was made; for every injustice removed, a new injustice was created. This ominous confusion came about because of the ubiquity and intractability of the "ethnic dimension." (See chapters 6 and 7.) The coerciveness of former empires had served as a bridle on ethnic tensions, but once Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman empire, and tsarist Russia collapsed, the bridle was gone. Similarly, after 1989, when the Soviet empire and the communist system collapsed, the bridle that had been reset after 1945 was removed again, and historic tensions revived. The ethnic dimension had never really disappeared, but now it was back with no restraints.

Ethnic problems were by no means confined to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Romania, the big winner of the Paris peace treaties, had acquired Transylvania, which had a large and proud Hungarian community, and South Dobrudja, with a large Bulgarian populace. Bulgaria still had a very large Turkish community despite the Turkish exodus after virtual independence in 1878. The new Poland had more than 5 million Ukrainians, about 3 million Jews, and at least 2 million Germans. Even Hungary still had a relatively large minority of Slovaks, many of them in various stages of Magyarization.

Different types of national minorities also abounded. Among the most significant and most problematical were the contiguous minorities, those living adjacent to the frontiers of a state ruled by members of their own nation. Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ruthenia, Yugoslavia, and Romania fell into this category, although in Transylvania, just to complicate matters, a large swath of Romanians, the new majoritarian nation, lived still closer to the new frontier with Hungary. In Bulgaria, more than half the Turkish minority lived adjacent to Turkey in the southeastern part of the country. The Kosovo Albanians (Kosovars) and most of the Macedonian Albanians lived next to Albania, where a large Greek minority lived adjacent to the border with Greece. Nor was the situation less acute in East Central Europe. Most of Poland's Ukrainian and Belorussian minorities lived next door to the Soviet Union, which had established "self-governing republics" in Ukraine and Belorussia. Large numbers of Lithuania's Polish minority fronted onto Poland.

Germans made up a huge minority in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, probably about 10 million in all. Many in Czechoslovakia and Poland lived adjacent to, or very near, Germany, but most resided in Yugoslavia, Romania, and Hungary as well as in the Soviet Union. By and large, the Germans were decent and constructive citizens until many of them succumbed to the temptations of Nazism after 1933.

Other characteristics of minorities were just as meaningful as adjacency or nonadjacency. Two of them, closely linked, require a brief discussion.


Some ethnic groupings had suddenly become minorities after generations, even centuries, of supremacy; often they once had dominated the very nations that now lorded it over them. These included Germans, Hungarians, Turks, Bosnians, and Albanian Muslims. Others had always been minorities-some tolerated, but most exploited, oppressed, and victimized. These included Jews, Vlachs, and Gypsies. In addition, some tiny minorities had no historical role except to be subjugated or ignored.


Excerpted from The grooves of change by J. F. Brown Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps
1 Coming into Being 1
2 Communist Rule: La Longue Duree 28
3 Economics 1945-2000: Behemoth 60
4 Democracy: Stumbling Forward 73
5 Country Profiles: Facing the Future 107
6 The First Yugoslav War: Serbs, Bosnians, Croats 144
7 Kosovo: The Clash of Two Nationalisms 162
8 Key Minorities and Key Questions 200
9 Looking Outward and Inward 215
10 The Last Word: Urgency 241
Notes 245
Index 265
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