Central Europe is a region located in the central part of Europe, often understood not as a static area with fixed borders, but as a vague historical concept. It is variously defined according to geographic, historical, cultural, political or economic criteria; the meaning and perception of the term may depend on historical context, as well as on the nationality and worldview of the person who uses it. "Tell me where Central Europe is", quipped Czech-French political scientist Jacques Rupnik, "and I can tell who you are."
In the late 19th century, Central Europe, or Mitteleuropa in German, was generally understood to mean the German Empire and Austria Hungary. Both were multinational empires extending beyond the current borders of Germany and Austria, but were politically dominated by German-speaking peoples. During World War I, Friedrich Naumann expanded this concept by proposing a union of Mid-European nations led by the Central Powers. Also during that time, Tomáš Masaryk developed an alternative idea of Mid-Europe as a community of oppressed nations living between the Germans and the Russians. It provided the basis for an idea of East Central Europe, a set of newly independent countries – from Finland in the north to Yugoslavia in the south – which emerged after World War I and were used by the Great Powers as a cordon sanitaire between Germany and communist Russia. Following World War II, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain into two opposing blocs – Western and Eastern Europe. The idea of Central Europe, roughly corresponding to the pre-war concept of East Central Europe, came to be used by dissident intellectuals from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland as a way to challenge this established Cold War division. Oskar Halecki distinguished four regions of Europe: Wester, West Central, East Central, and Eastern Europe, where West Central corresponded to the German-speaking Mitteleuropa, while East Central included territories from Poland to the Balkans. Jenő Szűcs suggest a threefold division with an East Central, but no West Central Europe. In 1983, Milan Kundera defined Central Europe as "a piece of the Latin West which has fallen under Russian domination" and "which lies geographically in the center, culturally in the West and politically in the East." After the fall of East European communist regimes in 1989, Central Europe started to be seen as a group of these formerly communist countries which reoriented themselves toward the West, accepted democracy and market economy, and eventually joined the European Union.
- Davies, Norman (1996), Europe: A History, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198201710
- Halecki, Oscar (2000), Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe, Simon Publication, ISBN 096657348X
- Johnson, Lonnie R. (1996), Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195100727
- Naumann, Friedrich (2009), Central Europe: A Translation, BiblioBazaar, ISBN 1103313762
- Wandycz, Piotr Stefan (2001), The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present, Routledge, ISBN 0415254906