Central and Eastern Europe

The countries of CEE can be singled out from the rest of Europe given their historical and developmental trajectory. As part of multinational empires these states came into existence in the aftermath of the First World War. Following the Second World War decided by the victorious powers they were consigned into the Soviet sphere of influence. Behind the ‘iron curtain’ they stayed, till the winds of change initiated by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union signaled the unravelling of the socialist system in these countries and ultimately ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself. The countries which  form part of this region are widely debated. 

The geographical limits of the area as one scholar observed is hard to set as the terms ‘Central’ and ‘Eastern’ are used to ‘describe subjective perceptions rather than objective geographical realities.’ Post 1945 ‘Eastern Europe’ referred to all those countries which were under the rubric of Soviet bloc but not part of the Soviet Union – Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Moldova. The constituent units of former Yugoslavia – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia referred to as the Balkans are also part of Eastern Europe. The East/West divide is also commonly understood as representing a binary of the developed (West) and the laggard(East). In the post Cold war period of systemic transitions many of these countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have tried hard to shake off such labels by identifying themselves as Central Europe, Prague after all lies west of Vienna.

For EU integration the end of the Cold War was significant. With the collapse of the socialist system, countries of the region intent on joining the European Union and the NATO embarked on systemic transformation at multiple levels – political, economic and social. The message was clear – the days of old unnatural divisions in Europe was a thing of the past. 2004 was the European Union’s ‘big bang enlargement’ with all four Central European countries becoming members of the EU along with Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007 and Croatia in 2013. Accession talks with Albania, Moldova, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia are on but progress has been slow. In the 2019 EU summit President Macron  vetoed  accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. 

In 1991 Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia came together as the Visegrád Four and are today actively using this platform to coordinate and develop common positions on various developments at the European level. EU membership has benefitted these countries, as they registered steady economic growth to be ranked as high-income countries by the World Bank. Poland has the largest economy among post-socialist EU member states. It has between 1992-2019, had an uninterrupted pace of high growth averaging 4.2% per annum to become the sixth largest economy in the European Union on the purchasing power parity basis and is steadily catching up with Western Europe. The resilience of the Polish economy was demonstrated during the financial crisis of 2008/09 when it was the only EU country, which avoided recession. Together, the V4 would be the 5th largest economy in Europe and the 12th largest in the world, worth over US$1 trillion, which is over one-third of India’s size, and offers a consumer market of 64 million inhabitants, which is 12.5 percent of the EU’s total. These Central European economies are also the fastest growing in the bloc.

What is evident over the last few years is the effect the ‘big bang’ and subsequent enlargements have had on EU’s policy implementation and working. During the refugee crisis of 2015 the V4 became a key site of transit for the refugees moving to countries like Austria, Germany, Sweden. The response of the Visegrad countries much to the surprise of many EU member states was heavy handed and sharply anti-immigrant. Hungary was the first to close borders with other transit countries. Greater securitisation and detention of refugees followed to prohibit their movement and discourage the use of the region as an area of transit. The V4 also opposed the European Union’s response to refugees and especially the welcome policy that countries like Germany adopted. They therefore refused to accept the burden sharing EU quota system of relocation of refugees. 

V4 countries like Poland and Hungary are increasingly colliding with the EU on questions of democratic functioning. ‘Democratic backsliding’ is what these countries are said to be experiencing as parties winning elections by substantial majority set out to amend constitutions, initiate judicial reforms and institutional restructuring. Leaders like Orban openly talk of ‘illiberal democracy’ as an alternative to ‘liberal democracy’ that EU membership is based on. It has led the EU to move from criticising countries like Poland and Hungary to initiating action against them. EU’s moves meet resistance as these states stand by each other to counter the EU. One of the important factors that made the Central and East European countries seek EU membership was to distance themselves from Russia. Here again V4 states barring Poland now keenly look at renewing ties with Russia. Orban has been at the forefront of EU’s sanctions against Russia post the Ukrainian crisis of 2014. Given these developments to understand the EU today regional dynamics of Central and Eastern Europe, as members or potential members need careful attention.


Young Researchers' Conference 

Central and Eastern Europe: Three Decades since Transition
Date: May 18th-19th, 2022

The Young Researchers’ Conference on Central and Eastern Europe: Three Decades since Transition was organised by the Jean Monnet Module on Understanding European Integration Through the Regional Lens and the Centre for European Studies in the School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) between May 18th and 19th, 2022.

The Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries have undergone momentous developments since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In this context, the objective of this webinar was to take stock of the domestic developments of the CEE countries in the three decades since transition and evaluate both their achievements as well as the challenges they face. 

The conference was introduced by Prof Bhaswati Sarkar, Jean Monnet Chair and Chairperson at the Centre for European Studies through her Welcome Address. This was followed by Special Remarks delivered by Dr Erdő Mariann, Director of Liszt Institute, Hungarian Cultural Centre, New Delhi. Dr Mariann emphasised the similar cultural, religious and political backgrounds of the CEE countries and highlighted several aspects of their socio-cultural and economic transformations. Further, she also focused on Indo-Hungarian relations that have for long been underpinned by strong cultural ties, a theme which was continued by her Czech counterpart Mr Roman Masarik, Minister-Counsellor Charge d’affaires at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in India. With India and the Czech Republic set to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations in 2023, Mr Masarik underlined India’s strong cultural relations with the Czech Republic and called to attention the pivotal role played by the latter in India’s defence sector as well as the increasing trade and tourism between the two countries with promising expansion potential. The final Special Remarks were given by Prof Gulshan Sachdeva, Jean Monnet Chair and faculty member at the Centre for European Studies. Interestingly, Prof Sachdeva being a PhD student in Hungary in the early 1990s experienced first-hand some of these changes. Like the previous speakers, he too highlighted India’s strategic interest in the CEE countries and succinctly summarised the political and economic transformations experienced by this region from the 1990s up to the onset of the pandemic. Two of the major challenges noted by him during this transition are migration and the ageing population. Complementing the Special Remarks, the Keynote Address was delivered by Prof R.K. Jain, Jean Monnet Chair and former Professor and Chairman at the Centre for European Studies. Prof Jain, with his longstanding interest in the region, traced the history of India’s relations with Central Europe as far back as the 1950s and concluded that the relationship between India and this region had for years been defined by mutual neglect and an information deficit. Nevertheless, amidst the current political scenario marked by Brexit and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), there is potential for greater engagement between India and Central Europe, not just in terms of trade but also in other areas like defence and technology sharing since Central European countries have the potential to contribute immensely towards India’s modernisation efforts. The inaugural session, with its summary of the major developments of the region over three decades, ended with a vote of thanks by Dr Sakti Prasad Srichandan, Assistant Professor at the Centre for European Studies and set the perfect tone for the webinar.

The Conference was organised into six working sessions spanning two days which delved into an in-depth analysis of issues ranging from religion, right-wing populism and immigration to energy security, the rising partnership between India and the Visegrád Group, cyber security and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. It was marked by presentations made by young researchers from diverse academic backgrounds who are at various stages of their careers. The sessions were ably chaired by notable Indian experts such Prof B. Krishnamurthy (former Professor at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Pondicherry University), Prof. Bhaswati Sarkar, Dr Amitabh Singh (Associate Professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, SIS JNU) among others, as well as by an international scholar Dr Šarūnas Paunksnis who is an Associate Professor at the Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. Every session was followed by engaging discussions as well as Question-and-Answer rounds which were open to the attendees who hailed from different parts of India. An overwhelming majority of the attendees were Research Scholars and Post-graduate students from various institutions of higher education. The event was also attended on the first day by Dr Kristína Gondová of the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in New Delhi. 

The Webinar concluded with Prof Bhaswati Sarkar’s final remarks where she expressed her sincere gratitude to the participants and emphasised the need to carry forward the ideas and learnings of the conference to encourage further debates on the issues that presently dominate the European landscape.

Special Lecture

The Ukraine-Russia Crisis: A Geopolitical Economy Reflection of an Asian Academic in Europe
Speaker: Dr Bonn Juego, University of Helsinki
Date: April 25, 2022

The Jean Monnet Module on Understanding European Integration through Regional Lens at the Centre for European Studies in the School of International Studies (SIS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) organised a Special Lecture by Dr Bonn Juego on April 25th, 2022. The event was hosted online over Google Meet on the topic “The Ukraine-Russia Crisis: A Geopolitical Economy Reflection of an Asian Academic in Europe ”. 

Dr Juego is a Lecturer in World Politics at the Discipline of Political Science in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Hailing from an interdisciplinary background in the political and socio-economic sciences, his areas of interest include but are not limited to democracy, media and communication, international political economy, history of economic thought and global governance. Much of his work focuses on the Global South, particularly East and Southeast Asia, as well as contemporary North-South relations. 

Against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Dr Juego’s insightful presentation covered the various dimensions of the crisis, especially from the perspective of Asia and its impact on the region. 

The presentation was followed by a Q&A session which paved way for a lively and in-depth discussion on the issue. The event was attended by nearly 60 participants, an overwhelming majority of who were research scholars concentrated in the Delhi NCR Region.

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