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 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.
"My hope is that we can move away from defining regions based on cold war categories, and that we will be able to embrace a broader historical and cultural perspective when we speak of regions."
"In general I dislike the 'Former . . .' labels because it is such a negative way of describing a region. Yet I did it even in this note! There are times when it seems the simplest way to get across what one means--but I don't think it should be used as a consistent and broadly accepted label."
"I visit some of the 'CIS' countries frequently. I find this is a designation people are quite comfortable with; it is official and precise."
"We serve believers in the 'CIS' or the 'former Soviet Union' and it seems that we are forced to use terms that are not always well understood but do not offend. It has been our experience that those from 'Ukraine' and 'former East Bloc countries' are the most sensitive when there is any mention of 'Russia' or the 'Lands of Russia.' "
"For the 'FSU countries' I sometimes refer to 'Eastern Europe,' 'the Caucasus,' and 'Central Asia.' But it's a bit of a mouthful. 'Former Soviet Union' is quickest and has higher recognition than 'Post-Soviet Republics,' though I prefer the latter."
"I think that 'Ukraine, Belorussia, Latvia, Estonia,' etc., should be called 'Eastern Europe.' 'Russia' and all east of Russia should be called 'Eurasia' because it spans the Urals. Therefore you would most likely be saying, 'Eastern Europe and Eurasia' to catch all the 'former Soviet Union' countries. This is geographically and ethnically acceptable to all I have asked here at the seminary."
"On the second group, there is no name that will not require explanation. I think 'Eurasia' is gaining usage as a geographically and politically neutral term."
"I really believe these things are still in flux and will likely change again with the growth of the European Union within the next two years or so."
"I found this difficult to answer. If talking only about the country of 'Russia,' then I prefer to say 'Russia.' If I'm referring to all of the area that once comprised the Soviet Union, then I say the 'Former Soviet Union.'"
"We will certainly have to revise our vocabulary again within the next few years!"
"I have traveled in several countries of 'Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania)' and find that most of the nationals refer to their area of Europe as 'Eastern Europe,' not 'Central Europe,' and definitely not any kind of 'former Soviet . . . ' or 'former Communist . . . ' whatever. So I go with them in calling their area 'Eastern Europe.' I think 'Central Europe' is just confusing. Where does 'central' begin and end?"
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.
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© 2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report