In This Review

A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change
A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change
By Robert Bideleux and Ian Jeffries
Routledge, 1998, 685 pp

This is large thematic history. From Roman and Byzantine times to NATO expansion, Bideleux and Jeffries situate what the Germans call Zwischeneuropa, "the lands that lie between." It is one of their key themes. East-central Europe and the Balkans -- or what lately has been called Eastern Europe, to the impatient disapproval of many from the area -- are neither Western Europe nor the East, but lands between, between Germany and Russia, Turks and Hapsburgs. As such they have fought and suffered the ravages of both sides: "Avars, Huns, Magyars, Bulgars, Mongols and Turks from Asia; German colonists, Venetian traders and Catholic Crusaders from the West." The marauding, however, does not entirely explain the region's tendency to lag behind developments in Western Europe. Nationalist historians, to illustrate a second of their themes, blame the decline and fragmentation of the Balkans on the Ottoman conquest, but by the authors' account both ills were in process beforehand. They do not deny the peoples of Eastern Europe their place in European history, nor that they have been a part of its great movements -- the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment -- but deep beneath these common influences, the course of history has made them different from Western Europe. It has left them with weaker traditions of the rule of law, constitutionally constrained government, and carefully separated public and private domains, and with stronger tendencies toward "illiberal 'ethnic' nationalism." Because these differences long antedate communist tyranny, the magnitude and pain of the adjustments the East Europeans will have to make to become "Western" are far greater than many might hope.