Tomek JankowskiJun 3, 2022
Everything You Need to Know about the History (and More) of a Region That Shaped Our World and Still Does
New Europe Books 2021
Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau once gave a press conference while visiting Washington, during which he famously said: "Living next to [the United States] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." For many of the countries in eastern Europe, this must also ring true, except that the elephant hasn’t necessarily been the same bedfellow. At different points, particularly over the last 2 centuries, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, have all caused smaller neighbors to be very nervous––with just cause.
With the current situation in Eastern Europe, as Ukraine and potentially other nations fight for their right to exist, it seems a timely moment to talk to Tomek Jankowski about the recent release of the 2nd edition of his book, Eastern Europe!: Everything You Need to Know about the History (and More) of a Region That Shaped Our World and Still Does, published by Academic Studies Press and New Europe Books. The book is a great hybrid – it can be read all the way through as a fast-paced and easily digestible tour through the history of a region most people in Western Europe and North America don’t know well, or it can be used as a reference text; a reader can dip into it to find answers to questions.
In our far ranging conversation, we discuss the common dynamics and cultural legacies that we can see today as a result of the historical reality that many eastern European countries share. National identity is a complex and contested subject, no more so than in Eastern European where some nations have only existed for short periods of time or, in other cases, national sovereignty has come and gone depending on the era.
In addition to the invasion of Ukraine, first in 2014 and then this year, many other nations that share border with Russia - the Baltic states, Finland, and Moldova – are also feeling increasingly vulnerable. Others, such as Serbia and Hungary, are offering either official or popular support for Russian’s aggression but it is a very contested issue. We discuss the roots of these various reactions.
On the subject of Russia, Jankowski addresses why Putin has repeatedly framed the current war using the language and summoning the ghosts of the Soviet Union’s role in WWII. Even 80 years on. He reminds the listener of Russian sacrifices and losses in that war, explains how they were remembered and understood in the Soviet Union under Stalin, Khrushchev and later leaders, and how they are remembered and understood in Russia today.
Lia Paradis is Professor of History at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. She is the co-host of the Lies Agreed Upon podcast and author of Imperial Culture and the Sudan: Authorship, Identity and the British Empire (IB Tauris, 2020)