Central Europe

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Differences between Western and Central Europe

Germany and Austria are still considered as members of Central Europe. If that region exists, countries included there should have more common signs. This essay is focused on economical and political differences between Central and Western Europe and then the position of Germany and Austria in these regions.
If we want to use the term ‘Central Europe’, first of all we need to define it and show some borders of this region in history which leads to question: Where has Central Europe been in past century? At the beginning, before World War 1, there were only two countries which could be counted as members of Central Europe, Germany and Austro-Hungarian Empire, which started first world war. After that, Habsburg monarchy collapsed and transformed into many countries, from which southern ones joined new country Yugoslavia, which was one of the biggest states in Southeastern Europe. Other countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria, became part of Central Europe, which included two other states, Germany and Poland. Because after World War II Cold war came on the scene, Central Europe was separated into two parts, Western, where was Austria and West Germany, and Eastern, which included all other CE countries. After 40 years struggling, the socialist economy of the East was broken and in series of revolutions turned into capitalist market economy and showed huge differences between East and West, where former Central European countries developed so much that they caught other Western European countries . After all in Central Europe only four states left over, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary connected together in organisation called Visegrad Four. If we want to help Central Europe to be a better place for living, we should look at countries which were in Central Europe, but now they are more developed, and learn from them, think about how they reached it and, if there are some, learn from their problems. Although Germany and Austria are counted as members of Central Europe by many organisations, they are much more developed than V4 countries economically, politically and socially.

Economical situation of Central Europe is still worse than Western Europe and there are big differences between them. That is one of certain reasons why Germany and Austria are in Western Europe. According to 2016 report by International Monetary Fund there are all Western European countries in first 30 countries in the World by GDP per capita in what the richness of countries is measured. On the other hand, Czech Republic, which is on the highest place from Visegrad Four countries, has about 25 percent lower income and is on 37th place, followed by other CE countries. There are obvious differences between these two regions from which we can decide where Germany belongs. Germany and Austria too are even richer than some Western countries and all in all they are on average value of Western European countries. Another way how scientists are measuring human well being is by Human Development Index, complexly counted number which includes besides level of education, expected length of life and economical factors. Results of this index from year 2016 are roughly the same as from GDP for comparing Western and Central Europe, some countries changed places, but even the lowest Western country has still higher index than the best Central European one. Germany's quality of living on one of the best places in the whole world so it surely belongs to Western Europe. From economical perspective we can see border between Western and Eastern Europe if we count Germany and Austria as part of Western Europe, which has the strongest economies in the world, the best quality of living, smallest corruption and highest income. Central Europe as whole region, on the other hand, has one of the most growing economies in Europe which is in many aspects better than before entering EU, but is still economically lagging behind Western Europe.

Unfortunately, Central Europe has not been destroyed in communist era only from economical perspective. Whole society over two generations could not engage in politics, which consequence is that political environment is less civilized and people have higher tendency to support populists and anti-democratic parties. We can really well see how different is Central and Western European politics for example on joint opinion on migration crisis of Visegrad Four countries, where Germany as leader of sympathetic West is trying to push Central European countries to help migrants and join common European solution of crisis. According to OECD research, around one quarter of young population is not interested in politics, but there is again big difference between Central Europe and Western Europe, where most of western countries are over OECD average and all central ones under that average. This fact shows that political problem of small engagement in V4 countries still exists even though this young generation has never lived under socialism. One of the causes why young people do not care about politics can be education, which did not changed much in past decades and students are learning only basic informations about politics. Small civic engagement, understanding of politics and voter turnout led to huge troubles in Central Europe in past years. We can see rise of populist and nationalist parties across the region and tendencies to turning away from democracy, which example can be Hungary called by their politologist Agh Attila “Potemkin democracy” with restrictions against opposition and consolidation of power in government hands.

The rest of the Europe
Nevertheless Central Europe is still growing, the economy has been radically changing in past 25 years and it overtook even economies of for example some countries mostly from Southern Europe, which has been part of West in 20th century. We can see big difference between economies of Eastern European countries, such as Ukraine or Belarus, which are basically still on Soviet level, and V4 countries, which has made a big leap forward compared with eastern post communist countries. Changing of politics in few past years, rise of populists and danger of losing democracy are in Central Europe definitely true, however we can see these changes in many other countries, where even in Western Europe are radical political parties rising up in voters preferences. Aversion to immigration and multiculturalism is in mainstream more than before across the whole Europe and fact that it is even stronger in Central Europe is pretty understandable, because of absence of colonies there were not many other cultures living in Central Europe and it was even strengthened by forty years of isolation from the rest of the world. So when we are looking at Central Europeans disadvantages from larger perspective then the level of it’s development is not so bad.

Germany is at least economically and politically part of more developed Western Europe, which is in most cases final destination of our effort to improve Central Europe. One of our goals in LEAF is to help Central Europe to be better place for living. Where we can get inspiration for how to achieve it is definitely in Western Europe. Most of Western countries has grown their quality of life for centuries, but Austria and Germany has became part of Western Europe quite recently and now they are on the top of evolution in Europe. They are really close to our countries so we can observe and learn pretty easily how they are working on their success and when we will need to solve some problem we can always look up to them if they already solve that problem and if we can solve it in the same way. Of course, Central Europe is original and we do not have to copy everything from West, but on example with Germany is visible that countries can develop to the highest level and still be themselves. And that is the task for our generation.

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