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And Kurt Waldheim’s Vienna recently hosted a symposium with the electrifying title “Heimat Mitteleuropa.” A backhanded tribute to the new actuality of the Central European idea comes even from the central organ of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Trybuna Ludu, which earlier this year published a splenetic attack on what it called “The Myth of ‘Central Europe.”‘ There is a basic sense in which the term “Central Europe” (or “East Central Europe”) is obviously useful.
Even in Austria, as ex-Chancellor Fred Sinowatz has remarked, “until ten years ago one was not permitted so much as to mention the word ‘Mitteleuropa.”‘ In Prague and Budapest the idea of Central Europe continued to be cherished between consenting adults in private, but from the public sphere it vanished as completely as it had in “the West.” The post-Yalta order dictated a strict and single dichotomy.
Western Europe implicitly accepted this dichotomy by subsuming under the label “Eastern Europe” all those parts of historic Central, East Central, and Southeastern Europe which after 1945 came under Soviet domination.
When a country resurrects a tainted figure to serve the needs of a new national mythology.
Consider the case of Latvian national hero Herberts Cukurs and his role in the Holocaust.
On the one hand, this process has brought to light important cultural, social, and political figures who were marginalized because they did not fit into the ideology of Soviet communism.
On the other hand, it has animated a cast of “heroes” whose moral and legal transgressions have been sanitized.
At the end of World War I, aviator Cukurs fought alongside other Latvians for independence from the Russian Empire.
He earned fame after building a single-engine plane, flying it to Gambia in the 1930s, and winning an international aviation prize.
So also, if it suggests to American or British students that the academic study of this region could be more than footnotes to Sovietology.
But of course the voices from Prague and Budapest that initiated this discussion mean something far larger and deeper when they talk of “Central Europe.” The publication in English of the most important political essays of three outstanding writers, Václav Havel, George Konrád, and Adam…