>Excuse my French

>A pre-term discussion with SSEES colleagues about timetabling and options morphs into a rather more fundamental and interesting exchange of views about how to study Eastern Europe. What, we wondered, was the proper place of options in langauges like French or Spanish on East European studies degree? Not at all or at least only a very peripheral one if one takes Eastern Europe in the traditional sense as referring to post-communist countries, which are – despite the diverging paths of East Central Europe and the FSU since the fall of communism – bound by history, culture and not dissimilar process of transition. On the other hand, we live in a world where the East/West division of the continent has melted away and is being ever more eroded by lapping waters of EU integration, which may, in fact, be shifting the fundamental dividing line further to the East to the borders with …. Ukraine? Russia? Turkey? Hard to tell. Students are interested in Portguese-Hungarian parallel in economic restructuring or Spanish-Polish experiences of democratization and regionalization – a commonplace enough comparison in academic literatures.

Václav Klaus (who else?) banged the nail squared on the head when opening the new SSEES building last year, by telling the assembled audience that, linguistic kinship and historical geo-politics aside, he didn’t consider himself a Slav and certaintly not an East European. Reprising Masaryk’s discussion of the Problem of Small Nations, which partly prompted the foundation of SSEES in 1915, he didn’t quite suggest a wholesale name change – the School of Wider European Studies, perhaps ? – but the logicof his argument was clear enough. Other academic institutions have, of course, grappled with the same problem: just how Europe does Europe now divides up and just what does ‘our region’ as specialists on post-communist politics tend to call it (or should that be ‘regions’) now consist of. An ESRC research project of the 1990s posed the question directly – One Europe or Several? Despite many interesting and useful pieces of research pon diverse aspects of European politics, economics and society East and West, no very clear answer emerged.

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