Central Europe

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Different views of Central Europe
Central Europe (Brockhaus).svg
Central Europe according to The World Factbook (2009), [1] Encyclopædia Britannica , and Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (1998). There are numerous other definitions and viewpoints.
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The cultural-spatial borders of Europe according to the Standing Committee on Geographical Names, Germany. The map displays two different segment-bordering ways superimposed on each other. [2]

Central Europe is a geographical region of Europe between Eastern, Southern, Western and Northern Europe. [3] [4] The concept of "Central Europe" appeared in the 19th century. [5] [6] Countries in this region are considered to have historical, social, and cultural similarities. [7] [8] [9] With the exception of Germany, Central European countries had no colonies or overseas territories.


The region comprises most of the former territories of the Holy Roman Empire and those of the two neighboring kingdoms of Poland and Hungary. Large parts of the Kingdom of Hungary were controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Hungary and parts of Poland were later part of the Habsburg monarchy.

The countries that make up Central Europe have historically been, and in some cases continue to be, [10] divided into either Eastern or Western Europe. [11] [12] Respectively, countries in Central Europe have historical, cultural and geopolitical ties to these wider regions of Europe. [13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

After World War II, Central Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain (as agreed by the Big Three at the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam Conference) into two parts, the capitalist Western Bloc and the communist Eastern Bloc, although Switzerland, Yugoslavia, and Austria declared neutrality. The Berlin Wall was one of the most visible symbols of this division.

Central Europe began a "strategic awakening" in the late 20th and early 21st century, [18] with initiatives such as Central European Defence Cooperation, the Central European Initiative, Centrope, and the Visegrád Four Group. This awakening was triggered by writers and other intellectuals, who recognized the societal paralysis of decaying dictatorships and felt compelled to speak up against Soviet oppression. [19]

All of the Central European countries are presently listed as being "very highly developed" by the Human Development Index.

Historical perspective

Middle Ages and early modern period

Elements of cultural unity for Northwestern, Southwestern and Central Europe were Catholicism and Latin. However Eastern Europe, which remained Eastern Orthodox, was dominated by Byzantine cultural influence; after the East–West Schism in 1054, Eastern Europe developed cultural unity and resistance to Catholic (and later also Protestant) Western Europe within the framework of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Church Slavonic language, and the Cyrillic alphabet. [20] [21] [22] [23]

According to Hungarian historian Jenő Szűcs, the foundations of Central European history at the end of the first millennium were in close connection with Western European development. Szűcs argued that between the 11th and 15th centuries, not only Christianization and its cultural consequences were implemented, but well-defined social features emerged in Central Europe based on Western characteristics. The keyword of Western social development after the turn of the millennium was the spread of Magdeburg rights in some cities and towns of Western Europe. These began to spread in the middle of the 13th century in Central European countries, bringing about self-governments of towns and counties. [24]

In 1335, the Kings of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary met in the castle of Visegrád [25] and agreed to cooperate closely in the field of politics and commerce, inspiring the post-Cold War Visegrád Group. [25]

Before World War I

A view of Central Europe dating from the time before the First World War (1902):
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Central European countries and regions: Germany and Austria-Hungary (without Bosnia & Herzegovina and Dalmatia)
Regions located at the transition between Central Europe and Southeastern/Eastern Europe: Romania Central Europe 1902.PNG
A view of Central Europe dating from the time before the First World War (1902):
  Central European countries and regions: Germany and Austria-Hungary (without Bosnia & Herzegovina and Dalmatia)
  Regions located at the transition between Central Europe and Southeastern/Eastern Europe: Romania

Before 1870, the industrialization that had started to develop in Northwestern and Central Europe and the United States did not extend in any significant way to the rest of the world. Even in Eastern Europe, industrialization lagged far behind. Russia, for example, remained largely rural and agricultural, and its autocratic rulers kept the peasants in serfdom. [27] The concept of Central Europe was already known at the beginning of the 19th century, [28] but its real life began in the 20th century and immediately became an object of intensive interest. However, the very first concept mixed science, politics and economy – it was strictly connected with the intensively growing German economy and its aspirations to dominate a part of European continent called Mitteleuropa. The German term denoting Central Europe was so fashionable that other languages started referring to it when indicating territories from Rhine to Vistula, or even Dnieper, and from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans. [29] An example of that-time vision of Central Europe may be seen in Joseph Partsch's book of 1903. [30]

On 21 January 1904, Mitteleuropäischer Wirtschaftsverein (Central European Economic Association) was established in Berlin with economic integration of Germany and Austria–Hungary (with eventual extension to Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands) as its main aim. Another time, the term Central Europe became connected to the German plans of political, economic and cultural domination. The "bible" of the concept was Friedrich Naumann's book Mitteleuropa [31] in which he called for an economic federation to be established after World War I. Naumann's idea was that the federation would have at its centre Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire but would also include all European nations outside the Triple Entente.[ citation needed ] The concept failed after the German defeat in World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary. The revival of the idea may be observed during the Hitler era.

Interwar period

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Interwar Central Europe according to Emmanuel de Martonne (1927)
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CE countries, Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes 1910–1930 (L.A. County Museum of Art) [32]

According to Emmanuel de Martonne, in 1927 the Central European countries included: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Switzerland. The author uses both Human and Physical Geographical features to define Central Europe, but he doesn't take into account the legal development or the social, cultural, economic, infrastructural developments in these countries. [33]

The interwar period (1918–1938) brought a new geopolitical system, as well as economic and political problems, and the concept of Central Europe took on a different character. The centre of interest was moved to its eastern part – the countries that have (re)appeared on the map of Europe: Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. Central Europe ceased to be the area of German aspiration to lead or dominate and became a territory of various integration movements aiming at resolving political, economic and national problems of "new" states, being a way to face German and Soviet pressures. However, the conflict of interests was too big and neither Little Entente nor Intermarium (Międzymorze) ideas succeeded. These matters were not helped by the fact that Czechoslovakia appeared alone as the only multicultural, democratic, and liberal state among its neighbors. The events preceding World War II in Europe—including the so-called Western betrayal/ Munich Agreement were very much enabled by the rising nationalism and ethnocentrism that typified that time period.

The interwar period brought new elements to the concept of Central Europe. Before World War I, it embraced mainly German states (Germany, Austria), non-German territories being an area of intended German penetration and domination – German leadership position was to be the natural result of economic dominance. [28] After the war, the Eastern part of Central Europe was placed at the centre of the concept. At that time the scientists took an interest in the idea: the International Historical Congress in Brussels in 1923 was committed to Central Europe, and the 1933 Congress continued the discussions. [34]

The avant-garde movements of Central Europe were an essential part of modernism's evolution, reaching its peak throughout the continent during the 1920s. The Sourcebook of Central European avantgards (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) contains primary documents of the avant-gardes in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, and Poland from 1910 to 1930. [32] The manifestos and magazines of Central European radical art circles are well known to Western scholars and are being taught at primary universities of their kind in the western world.


With the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire around 1800, there was a consolidation of power among the Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns as the two major states in the area. They had much in common and occasionally cooperated in various channels, but more often competed. One approach in the various attempts at cooperation, was the conception of a set of supposed common features and interests, and this idea led to the first discussions of a Mitteleuropa in the mid-nineteenth century, as espoused by Friedrich List and Karl Ludwig Bruck. These were mostly based on economic issues. [35]

Mitteleuropa may refer to an historical concept, or to a contemporary German definition of Central Europe. As an historical concept, the German term Mitteleuropa (or alternatively its literal translation into English, Middle Europe [36] ) is an ambiguous German concept. [36] It is sometimes used in English to refer to an area somewhat larger than most conceptions of 'Central Europe'; it refers to territories under Germanic cultural hegemony until World War I (encompassing Austria–Hungary and Germany in their pre-war formations but usually excluding the Baltic countries north of East Prussia).[ citation needed ] According to Fritz Fischer Mitteleuropa was a scheme in the era of the Reich of 1871–1918 by which the old imperial elites had allegedly sought to build a system of German economic, military and political domination from the northern seas to the Near East and from the Low Countries through the steppes of Russia to the Caucasus. [37] Later on, professor Fritz Epstein argued the threat of a Slavic "Drang nach Westen" (Western expansion) had been a major factor in the emergence of a Mitteleuropa ideology before the Reich of 1871 ever came into being. [38]

In Germany the connotation was also sometimes linked to the pre-war German provinces east of the Oder-Neisse line.[ citation needed ]

The term "Mitteleuropa" conjures up negative historical associations among some elderly people, although the Germans have not played an exclusively negative role in the region. [39] Most Central European Jews embraced the enlightened German humanistic culture of the 19th century. [40] German-speaking Jews from turn of the 20th century Vienna, Budapest and Prague became representatives of what many consider to be Central European culture at its best, though the Nazi version of "Mitteleuropa" destroyed this kind of culture instead. [41] However, the term "Mitteleuropa" is now widely used again in German education and media without negative meaning, especially since the end of communism. In fact, many people from the new states of Germany do not identify themselves as being part of Western Europe and therefore prefer the term "Mitteleuropa".

Central Europe during World War II

During World War II, Central Europe was largely occupied by Nazi Germany. Many areas were a battle area and were devastated. The mass murder of the Jews depopulated many of their centuries-old settlement areas or settled other people there and their culture was wiped out. Both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin diametrically opposed the centuries-old Habsburg principles of "live and let live" with regard to ethnic groups, peoples, minorities, religions, cultures and languages and tried to assert their own ideologies and power interests in Central Europe. [42] There were various Allied plans for state order in Central Europe for post-war. While Stalin tried to get as many states under his control as possible, Winston Churchill preferred a Central European Danube Confederation to counter these countries against Germany and Russia. There were also plans to add Bavaria and Württemberg to an enlarged Austria. [43] There were also various resistance movements around Otto von Habsburg that pursued this goal. The group around the Austrian priest Heinrich Maier also planned in this direction, which also successfully helped the Allies to wage war by, among other things, forwarding production sites and plans for V-2 rockets, Tiger tanks and aircraft to the USA. [44] [45] So Otto von Habsburg also tried to detach Hungary from its grasp by Nazi Germany and the USSR. [46] [47] There were various considerations to prevent German power in Europe after the war. Churchill's idea of reaching the area around Vienna and Budapest before the Russians via an operation from the Adriatic had not been approved by the Western Allied chiefs of staff. [48] As a result of the military situation at the end of the war, Stalin's plans prevailed and much of Central Europe came under Russian control. [49] [50]

Central Europe behind the Iron Curtain

Neutral and Non-Aligned European States during the Cold War:
Neutral: Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland
Non-Aligned: Cyprus, Malta and Yugoslavia Neutral and Non-Aligned European States.png
Neutral and Non-Aligned European States during the Cold War:

Following World War II, large parts of Europe that were culturally and historically Western became part of the Eastern Bloc. Czech author Milan Kundera (emigrant to France) thus wrote in 1984 about the "Tragedy of Central Europe" in the New York Review of Books. [51] The boundary between the two blocks was called the Iron Curtain. Consequently, the English term Central Europe was increasingly applied only to the westernmost former Warsaw Pact countries (East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary) to specify them as communist states that were culturally tied to Western Europe.[ citation needed ] This usage continued after the end of the Warsaw Pact when these countries started to undergo transition.

The post-World War II period brought blocking of research on Central Europe in the Eastern Bloc countries, as its every result proved the dissimilarity of Central Europe, which was inconsistent with the Stalinist doctrine. On the other hand, the topic became popular in Western Europe and the United States, much of the research being carried out by immigrants from Central Europe. [52] Following the Fall of Communism, publicists and historians in Central Europe, especially the anti-communist opposition, returned to their research. [53]

According to Karl A. Sinnhuber (Central Europe: Mitteleuropa: Europe Centrale: An Analysis of a Geographical Term) [54] most Central European states were unable to preserve their political independence and became Soviet satellites. Besides Switzerland and Austria, only the marginal European states of Cyprus, Finland, Malta, Sweden and Yugoslavia preserved their political sovereignty to a certain degree, being left out of any military alliances in Europe.

The opening of the Iron Curtain between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic on 19 August 1989 then set in motion a peaceful chain reaction, at the end of which there was no longer an East Germany and the Eastern Bloc had disintegrated. [55] [56] It was the largest escape movement from East Germany since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. After the picnic, which was based on an idea by Otto von Habsburg to test the reaction of the USSR and Mikhail Gorbachev to an opening of the border, tens of thousands of media-informed East Germans set off for Hungary. [57] The leadership of the GDR in East Berlin did not dare to completely block the borders of their own country and the USSR did not respond at all. This broke the bracket of the Eastern Bloc and Central Europe subsequently became free from communism. [58] [59] [60]


According to American professor Ronald Tiersky, the 1991 summit held in Visegrád, Hungary and attended by the Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovak presidents was hailed at the time as a major breakthrough in Central European cooperation, but the Visegrád Group became a vehicle for coordinating Central Europe's road to the European Union, while development of closer ties within the region languished. [61]

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The European floristic regions
Carpathian Basin-Pannonian Basin.jpg
The Pannonian Plain, between the Alps (west), the Carpathians (north and east), and the Dinaric Alps (southwest)
Carpathian countries (north-west to south-east): CZ, AT, PL, SK, HU, UA, RO, RS

American professor Peter J. Katzenstein described Central Europe as a way station in a Europeanization process that marks the transformation process of the Visegrád Group countries in different, though comparable ways. [62] According to him, in Germany's contemporary public discourse "Central European identity" refers to the civilizational divide between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. [62] He says there is no precise, uncontestable way to decide whether Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, or Bulgaria are parts of Central Europe. [63]


Geopolitical Challenges - Panel on the Future of Europe Geopolitical Challenges.jpg
Geopolitical Challenges - Panel on the Future of Europe

Rather than a physical entity, Central Europe is a concept of shared history that contrasts with that of the surrounding regions. The issue of how to name and define the Central European area is subject to debates. Very often, the definition depends on the nationality and historical perspective of its author. The concept of “Central Europe” appeared in the 19th century. First, it was understood as a contact zone between the two main European regions of modern times – the Southern (Mediterranean and Catholic) and the Northern (Baltic and Protestant) areas. However, under the influenced of great power rivalry since the late 19th century, the term was redefined along the geopolitical divisions of Europe. Throughout the 20th century, thinkers portrayed “Central Europe” either as a separate region or a buffer zone between the Western and Eastern Europe, but disagreed either it was historically or culturally gravitating more towards the East or the West. The most recent wave of literature underlines the ties between Central and Western Europe.

In the early nineteenth century, the terms "Middle" or "Central" Europe (known as “Mitteleuropa” in German and “Europe centrale” in French) were introduced in geographical scholarship in both German and French languages. At first, these terms were linked to the regions spanning from the Pyrenees to the Danube, which, according to German authors, could be united under German authority. However, after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the French began to exclude France from this area, and later the Germans also adopted this perspective by the end of World War I. [64] The concept of “Central” or “Middle Europe,” understood as a region with strong German influence, lost a significant part of its popularity after WWI and was completely dismissed after WWII. Two defeats of Germany in the world wars, but also such Cold War realties as the division of Germany, together with the Communist-led isolation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary from the Western world as well as an almost complete disappearance of German-speaking communities in these countries, turned the concept of “Central/Middle Europe” into an anachronism. On the other side, the non-German areas of Central Europe were reconceptualised as belonging to the expanded “Eastern Europe,” primarily associated with the Soviet sphere of influence in the late 1940s–1980s. Unsurprisingly, this geographical framework lost its attraction after the end of the Cold War. Instead Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other post-Communist countries rather re-identified themselves in the 1990s as “Central European.” But avoiding the stained wording of “Middle Europe,” more strongly associated with the German-past of the region, this reinvented and reduced notion of “Central Europe” now straightforwardly excludes Germany. Altogether, if the original term “Central Europe” comprised areas from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians, it excluded France since 1870/1918, and Germany since 1918/1945, reducing its coverage chiefly to Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary and to some their eastern and southern neighbours. See, Aleksov, & Piahanau. Introduction, p. 7-8.


The main proposed regional definitions, gathered by Polish historian Jerzy Kłoczowski, include: [65]

Habsburg-ruled lands (divided between Cisleithanian/Austrian-administered and Transalthanian/Hungarian-administered) Growth of Habsburg territories.jpg
Habsburg-ruled lands (divided between Cisleithanian/Austrian-administered and Transalthanian/Hungarian-administered)

Former University of Vienna professor Lonnie R. Johnson points out criteria to distinguish Central Europe from Western, Eastern and Southeast Europe: [67]

He also thinks that Central Europe is a dynamic historical concept, not a static spatial one. For example, Lithuania, a fair share of Belarus and western Ukraine are in Eastern Europe today, but 240 years ago they were in Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. [68]
Johnson's study on Central Europe received acclaim and positive reviews [69] [70] in the scientific community. However, according to Romanian researcher Maria Bucur this very ambitious project suffers from the weaknesses imposed by its scope (almost 1600 years of history). [71]

Encyclopedias, gazetteers, dictionaries

The Columbia Encyclopedia defines Central Europe as: Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. [72] The World Factbook [1] uses a similar definition and adds also Slovenia. Encarta Encyclopedia and Encyclopædia Britannica do not clearly define the region, but Encarta places the same countries into Central Europe in its individual articles on countries, adding Slovenia in "south central Europe". [73]

The German Encyclopaedia Meyers Grosses Taschenlexikon (Meyers Big Pocket Encyclopedia), 1999, defines Central Europe as the central part of Europe with no precise borders to the East and West. The term is mostly used to denominate the territory between the Schelde to Vistula and from the Danube to the Moravian Gate. Usually the countries considered to be Central European are Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland.

According to Meyers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon, [74] Central Europe is a part of Europe composed of Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Switzerland, and northern marginal regions of Italy and Yugoslavia (northern states – Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia), as well as northeastern France.

The German Ständige Ausschuss für geographische Namen (Standing Committee on Geographical Names), which develops and recommends rules for the uniform use of geographical names, proposes two sets of boundaries. The first follows international borders of current countries. The second subdivides and includes some countries based on cultural criteria. In comparison to some other definitions, it is broader, including Luxembourg, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and in the second sense, parts of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Italy, and France. [2]


Travel time by car or ferry from the geographical center of Europe Travel time by car or ferry from the geographical center of Europe.jpg
Travel time by car or ferry from the geographical center of Europe

There is no general agreement either on what geographic area constitutes Central Europe, nor on how to further subdivide it geographically. [75]

At times, the term "Central Europe" denotes a geographic definition as the Danube region in the heart of the continent, including the language and culture areas which are today included in the states of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and usually also Austria and Germany, but never Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union towards the Ural mountains. [76]

Governmental and standards organisations

The terminology EU11 countries refer the Central, Eastern and Baltic European member states which accessed in 2004 and after: in 2004 Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia; in 2007 Bulgaria, Romania; and in 2013 Croatia. [77]


The comprehension of the concept of Central Europe is an ongoing source of controversy, [82] though the Visegrád Group constituents are almost always included as de facto Central European countries. [78] Although views on which countries belong to Central Europe are vastly varied, according to many sources (see section Definitions) the region includes some or all of the states listed in the sections below.

Depending on context, Central European countries are sometimes grouped as Eastern or Western European countries, collectively or individually [83] [84] [85] [86] but some place them in Eastern Europe instead: [83] [84] [85] for instance Austria can be referred to as Central European, as well as Eastern European[ dubious ] [87] or Western European [88] and Slovenia can sometimes be placed in either Southeastern [89] or Eastern Europe. [87]

Other countries and regions

Some sources also add regions of neighbouring countries for historical reasons (the former Austro-Hungarian and German Empires, and modern Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), or based on geographical and/or cultural reasons:


The Danube watercourse system throughout Central and Southeastern Europe Danubemap.jpg
The Danube watercourse system throughout Central and Southeastern Europe

Geography defines Central Europe's natural borders with the neighbouring regions to the north across the Baltic Sea, namely Northern Europe (or Scandinavia), and to the south across the Alps, the Apennine peninsula (or Italy), and the Balkan peninsula [75] across the SočaKrkaSava–Danube line. The borders to Western Europe and Eastern Europe are geographically less defined, and for this reason the cultural and historical boundaries migrate more easily west–east than south–north. The river Rhine, which runs south–north through Western Germany, is an exception.[ original research? ]

Southwards, the Pannonian Plain is bounded by the rivers Sava and Danube – and their respective floodplains. [110] The Pannonian Plain stretches over the following countries: Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia, and touches borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine ("peri- Pannonian states").

As southeastern division of the Eastern Alps, [111] the Dinaric Alps extend for 650 kilometres along the coast of the Adriatic Sea (northwest-southeast), from the Julian Alps in the northwest down to the Šar-Korab massif, north–south. According to the Freie Universität Berlin, this mountain chain is classified as South Central European. [112] The city of Trieste in this area, for example, expressly sees itself as a città mitteleuropea. This is particularly because it lies at the interface between the Latin, Slavic, Germanic, Greek and Jewish culture on the one hand and the geographical area of the Mediterranean and the Alps on the other. A geographical and cultural assignment is made.

The Central European flora region stretches from Central France (the Massif Central) to Central Romania (Carpathians) and Southern Scandinavia. [113]


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Population density in Central European countries
Population density (people per km ) by country, 2018 Population density of countries 2018 world map, people per sq km.svg
Population density (people per km ) by country, 2018

Central Europe is one of the continent's most populous regions. It includes countries of varied sizes, ranging from tiny Liechtenstein to Germany, the second largest European country by population. Demographic figures for countries entirely located within notion of Central Europe ("the core countries") number around 165 million people, out of which around 82 million are residents of Germany. [114] Other populations include: Poland with around 38.5 million residents, [115] Czech Republic at 10.5 million, [116] Hungary at 10 million, [117] Austria with 8.8 million, Switzerland with 8.5 million, [118] Slovakia at 5.4 million, [119] Slovenia with 2.1 million [120] and Liechtenstein at a bit less than 40,000. [121]

If the countries which are occasionally included in Central Europe were counted in, partially or in whole – Croatia (4.3 million), [122] Romania (20 million), Lithuania (2.9 million), Latvia (2 million), Estonia (1.3 million), Serbia (7.1 million) [123] – it would contribute to the rise of between 25 and 35 million, depending on whether regional or integral approach was used. [124] If smaller, western and eastern historical parts of Central Europe would be included in the demographic corpus, further 20 million people of different nationalities would also be added in the overall count, it would surpass the 200 million people figure.



Currently, the members of the Eurozone include Austria, Croatia, Germany, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland use their own currencies (Czech koruna, Hungarian forint, Polish złoty), but are obliged to adopt the Euro. Switzerland uses its own currency (Swiss franc), as does Serbia (Serbian dinar) and Romania (Romanian leu).

Human Development Index

World map by quartiles of Human Development Index in 2013:
Very High
Data unavailable
Medium 2013 UN Human Development Report Quartiles.svg
World map by quartiles of Human Development Index in 2013:
  Very High
  Data unavailable

In 2018, Switzerland topped the HDI list among Central European countries, also ranking #2 in the world. Serbia rounded out the list at #11 (67 world).


Map showing the score for the KOF Globalization Index Globalization Index.svg
Map showing the score for the KOF Globalization Index

The index of globalization in Central European countries (2016 data): [125] Switzerland topped this list as well (#1 world).

Prosperity Index

Legatum Prosperity Index demonstrates an average and high level of prosperity in Central Europe (2018 data). [126] Switzerland topped the index (#4 world).


Overview of the index of perception of corruption, 2015:
No information
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Overview of the index of perception of corruption, 2015:
     90–100     60–69     30–39     0–9
     80–89     50–59     20–29     No information
     70–79     40–49     10–19

Most countries in Central Europe tend to score above the average in the Corruption Perceptions Index (2018 data), [127] led by Switzerland, Germany, and Austria.


Industrialisation occurred early in Central Europe. That caused construction of rail and other types of infrastructure.


Rail network density Rail density map.svg
Rail network density

Central Europe contains the continent's earliest railway systems, whose greatest expansion was recorded in Austro-Hungarian and German territories between 1860-1870s. [128] By the mid-19th century Berlin, Vienna, and Buda/Pest were focal points for network lines connecting industrial areas of Saxony, Silesia, Bohemia, Moravia and Lower Austria with the Baltic (Kiel, Szczecin) and Adriatic (Rijeka, Trieste). [129] Rail infrastructure in Central Europe remains the densest in the world. Railway density, with total length of lines operated (km) per 1,000 km2, is the highest in the Czech Republic (198.6), Poland (121.0), Slovenia (108.0), Germany (105.5), Hungary (98.7), Serbia (49.2), Slovakia (73.9) and Croatia (72.5). [130] [131] [132] [133]

River transport and canals

Before the first railroads appeared in the 1840s, river transport constituted the main means of communication and trade. [129] Earliest canals included Plauen Canal (1745), Finow Canal, and also Bega Canal (1710) which connected Timișoara to Novi Sad and Belgrade via Danube. [129] The most significant achievement in this regard was the facilitation of navigability on Danube from the Black sea to Ulm in the 19th century.

The economies of Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland tend to demonstrate high complexity. Industrialisation reached Central Europe relatively early: the Czech lands by 1797, [134] Luxembourg and Germany by 1860, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland by 1870, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia by 1880. [135]


Central European countries are some of the most significant food producers in the world. Germany is the world's largest hops producer with 34.27% share in 2010, [136] third producer of rye and barley, 5th rapeseed producer, sixth largest milk producer, and fifth largest potato producer. Poland is the world's largest triticale producer, second largest producer of raspberries, currants, third largest of rye, the fifth apple and buckwheat producer, and seventh largest producer of potatoes. Czech Republic is world's fourth largest hops producer and 8th producer of triticale. Hungary is world's fifth hops and seventh largest triticale producer. Serbia is world's second largest producer of plums and second largest of raspberries. [137] [138] Slovenia is world's sixth hops producer.


Central European business has a regional organisation, Central European Business Association (CEBA), founded in 1996 in New York as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting business opportunities within Central Europe and supporting the advancement of professionals in America with a Central European background. [139]


Central European countries, especially Austria, Croatia, Germany and Switzerland are some of the most competitive tourism destinations. [140]

Outsourcing destination

As of 2013 Kraków, Warsaw, and Wrocław (Poland), Prague and Brno (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary), Bucharest (Romania), Bratislava (Slovakia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Belgrade (Serbia) and Zagreb (Croatia) were among the world's top 100 outsourcing destinations. [141]



Various languages are taught in Central Europe, with certain languages being more popular in different countries.[ vague ][ citation needed ]

Education performance

Student performance has varied across Central Europe, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment. In the 2012 study, countries scored medium, below or over the average scores in three fields studied. [142]

Higher education

Karolinum of the Charles University in Prague 156 Univerzita Karlova, o Karolinum (Universitat Carolina).jpg
Karolinum of the Charles University in Prague


The first university established east of France and north of the Alps was in Prague in 1348 by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. The Charles University was modeled upon the University of Paris and initially included the faculty of law, medicine, philosophy, and theology. [143]

Central European University

The entrance of the Central European University in Budapest Building of CEU entrance.jpg
The entrance of the Central European University in Budapest

In 1991, Ernest Gellner proposed the establishment of a truly Central European institution of higher learning in Prague (1991–1995). [144] Eventually, the Central European University (CEU) project was taken on and financially supported by the Hungarian philanthropist George Soros, who had provided an endowment of US$880 million, making the university one of the wealthiest in Europe. [145] Over its 30 year history CEU has become one of the most internationally diverse and recognisable universities in the world. For example, as of 2019, 1217 students were enrolled in the university, of which 962 were international students, making the student body the fourth most international in the world. [146] CEU offers highly selective programs with a student to faculty ratio of 7:1. [147] In 2021, the admission rate into its programs was 13%. [148] CEU has thus become a leading global university in Europe promoting a distinctively Central European perspective whilst emphasizing academic rigor, applied research, and academic honesty and integrity. [149] CEU is a founding member of CIVICCA, a group of prestigious European higher education institutions in the social sciences, humanities, business management and public policy, such as Sciences Po (France), The London School of Economics and Political Science (UK), Bocconi University (Italy) and the Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden). [150] In 2019, Central European University leadership announced their preparatory work on moving CEU to Vienna due to legal constraints against academic freedom in Hungary. [151]

Culture and society


Research centres of Central European literature include Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), [152] Purdue University, [153] and Central European Studies Programme (CESP), Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. [154]



Percent of Catholics in Europe by Country-Pew Research 2011 (no legend).svg
Adherence to Catholicism in Europe
European countries by percentage of Protestants (2010).svg
Adherence to Protestantism in Europe
Central European major Christian denomination is Catholicism as well as large Protestant populations. Click map to see legend.

Central European countries are mostly Catholic (Austria, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) or historically both Catholic and Protestant, (the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and Switzerland). Large Protestant groups include Lutheran, Calvinist, and the Unity of the Brethren affiliates. Significant populations of Eastern Catholicism and Old Catholicism are also prevalent throughout Central Europe.

Central Europe has been the center of the Protestant movement for centuries, with the majority of Protestants suppressed and annihilated during the Counterreformation. [155] [156]

Historically, people in Bohemia in today's Czech Republic were one of the very first Protestants in Europe. As a result of the Thirty Years' War following the Bohemian Revolt, many Czechs were either killed, executed (see for Old Town Square execution), forcibly turned into Roman Catholics, or emigrated to Scandinavia and the Low Countries. In the aftermath of the Thirty Years' War, the number of inhabitants in the Kingdom of Bohemia decreased from three million to only 800,000 due to multiple factors, including devastating ongoing battles such as the significant Battle of White Mountain and the Battle of Prague (1648). However, in recent years, most Czechs report as overwhelmingly non-religious, with some describing themselves as Catholic (10.3%).

Before the Holocaust (1941–45), there was also a sizeable Ashkenazi Jewish community in the region, numbering approximately 16.7 million people. [157]

Currently, a number of Central European countries present themselves as more secular or non-religious, including a atheists, undeclared, and non-religious people. For example, people in the Czech Republic report the following figures (non-religious 34.2% and undeclared 45.2%), meanwhile persons in Germany (non-religious 38%), and Slovenia (atheist 14.7% [158] ), Luxembourg (23.4% non-religious [158] ), Switzerland (20.1%), Hungary (27.2% undeclared, 16.7% "non-religious" and 1.5% atheists), Slovakia (atheists and non-religious 13.4%, "not specified" 10.6%) Austria (19.7% of "other or none"), Liechtenstein (10.6% with no religion), Croatia (4%) and Poland (3% of non-believers/agnostics and 1% of undeclared).


Central European cuisine has evolved through centuries due to social and political change. Most countries share many dishes. The most popular dishes typical to Central Europe are sausages and cheeses, where the earliest evidence of cheesemaking in the archaeological record dates back to 5,500 BCE (Kuyavia region, Poland). [159] Other foods widely associated with Central Europe are goulash and beer. The list of countries by beer consumption per capita is led by the Czech Republic, followed by Germany and Austria. Poland comes 5th, Croatia 7th and Slovenia 13th.

Human rights

Generally, the countries in the region are progressive on the issue of human rights: death penalty is illegal in all of them, corporal punishment is outlawed in most of them and people of both genders can vote in elections. However, Central European countries are divided on the subject of same-sex marriage and abortion. Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland also have a history of participation in the CIA's extraordinary rendition and detention program, according to the Open Society Foundations. [160] [161]


Regional writing tradition revolves around the turbulent history of the region, as well as its cultural diversity. [162] [163] Its existence is sometimes challenged. [164] Specific courses on Central European literature are taught at Stanford University, [165] Harvard University [166] and Jagiellonian University [167] The as well as cultural magazines dedicated to regional literature. [168] Angelus Central European Literature Award is an award worth 150,000.00 PLN (about $50,000 or £30,000) for writers originating from the region. [169] Likewise, the Vilenica International Literary Prize is awarded to a Central European author for "outstanding achievements in the field of literature and essay writing". [170]



There is a number of Central European Sport events and leagues. They include:

Football is one of the most popular sports. Countries of Central Europe hosted several major competitions. Germany hosted two FIFA World Cups (1974 and 2006) and the UEFA Euro 1988. Yugoslavia hosted the UEFA Euro 1976 before the competition expanded to 8 teams. Recently, the 2008 and 2012 UEFA European Championships were held in Austria & Switzerland and Poland & Ukraine respectively. The UEFA Euro 2024 will be hosted by Germany.



Central Europe is a birthplace of regional political organisations:

Democracy Index

The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy index map for 2022, with greener colours representing more democratic countries Democracy Index 2022.svg
The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy index map for 2022, with greener colours representing more democratic countries

Central Europe is a home to some of world's oldest democracies. However, most of them have been impacted by totalitarianism, particularly Fascism and Nazism. Germany and Italy occupied all Central European countries, except Switzerland. In all occupied countries, the Axis powers suspended democracy and installed puppet regimes loyal to the occupation forces. Also, they forced conquered countries to apply racial laws and formed military forces for helping German and Italian struggle against Communists. After World War II, almost the whole of Central Europe (the Eastern and Middle part) had been transformed into communist states, most of which had been occupied and later allied with the Soviet Union, often against their will through forged referendum (e.g., Polish people's referendum in 1946) or force (northeast Germany, Poland, Hungary et alia). Nevertheless, these experiences have been dealt in most of them. Most of Central European countries score very highly in the Democracy Index. [172]

Global Peace Index

Global Peace Index Scores Global Peace Index.svg
Global Peace Index Scores

In spite of its turbulent history, Central Europe is currently one of world's safest regions. Most Central European countries are in top 20%. [173]

Central European Time

Central European Time zone (dark red) Time zones of Europe.svg
Central European Time zone (dark red)

The time zone used in most parts of the European Union is a standard time which is 1 hour ahead of Coordinated Universal Time. It is commonly called Central European Time because it has been first adopted in Central Europe (by year):[ citation needed ]

Central Europe is mentioned in the 35th episode of Lovejoy , entitled "The Prague Sun", filmed in 1992. While walking over the well-regarded and renowned Charles Bridge in Prague, the main character, Lovejoy, says: "I've never been to Prague before. Well, it is one of the great unspoiled cities in Central Europe. Notice: I said: 'Central', not 'Eastern'! The Czechs are a bit funny about that, they think of Eastern Europeans as turnip heads." [176]

Wes Anderson's Oscar-winning film The Grand Budapest Hotel depicts a fictional grand hotel located somewhere in Central Europe which is in actuality modeled on the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. The film is a celebration of the 1920s and 1930s Central Europe with its artistic splendor and societal sensibilities. [177] [178]

See also

Related Research Articles

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    General and cited references

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