East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 2000, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

What to Call "It"

Mark Elliott

As all students of international affairs are aware, designations for the former Communist countries of Europe and Central Asia can be confusing and controversial.  The naming of the East-West Church & Ministry Report itself in late 1992 required considerable deliberation--and misgivings. The goal, as much as possible, was to refer to the region--or is it regions?--with language that was geographically accurate but politically neutral.  To that end, the bottom of the first page of every issue of the Report has specified coverage of "the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe."  But as editor of the Report I have not been completely comfortable with these designations.  And readers from time to time have shared as much.  Seeking to address this issue, assistant editor Sharyl Corrado conducted a survey of e-mail subscribers in January 2000 to explore systematically reader preferences in nomenclature for the region(s) in question.  The 94 replies, which represented a surprisingly high response rate of over 30 percent, identified first choices and last choices for various descriptors that have had some degree of currency in the press.  (See chart.)

The Consensus:  "Central and Eastern Europe"
For the countries of Europe outside the Soviet Union that had Communist governments between the end of World War II and the demise of these regimes in 1989-91, the most favored designations were "Central and Eastern Europe" (39), "Eastern Europe" (14), and "Central/Eastern Europe" (13).  In contrast, the least favored designations were "Former Soviet Satellite States" (50), "Former Soviet Bloc Countries" (10), and "Central Europe" (9).  Among the 34 in-country respondents, "Central and Eastern Europe" received as many first choice votes (16) as all other designations combined. Like survey respondents as a whole, a majority of in-country subscribers also adamantly disapproved of "Former Soviet Satellite States" (20).

And "The Former Soviet Union"
Regarding the now-independent countries that formerly constituted the Soviet Union, respondents' first preferences were "Former Soviet Union" (22), "Commonwealth of Independent States" (19), and "Eurasia" (13). The least favored designations were "Russia" (20), "Eurasia" (16), and "Newly Independent States" (13).  In-country respondents closely paralleled overall responses, except that subscribers from the region rarely favored "Eurasia" (3) and frequently marked it as their last choice (7).  Only "Russia" (8) received more last-choice votes from respondents in-country.

Survey Sampling
Survey comments suggest that, in the main, no consensus exists for what one respondent aptly called "the thicket of terminologies."  Note below a sampling of disparate and sometimes contradictory survey opinions.

In conclusion, I often have lectured that the only safe generalization for the countries of this part of the world is that each, in one respect or another, is a significant exception to any attempt at regional generalization, and this because of intense, longstanding political and dynastic rivalries and extraordinary cultural diversity (ethnic, religious, and linguistic). The surprise, as a consequence, would have been if interested parties had agreed on what to call "it"--but they never have been able to and, I suspect, they will not be able to any time soon.  For now, the consensus would appear to be "Central and Eastern Europe" and "the Former Soviet Union." We can hope that in time new nomenclature in favor in the future will be less of a mouthful. 

Mark Elliott is editor of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

Mark Elliott, "What to Call 'It'," East-West Church & Ministry Report 8 (Spring 2000), 12-13.

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2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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