Between 2004 and 2013, eleven Central and Eastern European countries, once part of the former Soviet bloc, joined the European Union. They all feature troubled histories and shifting borders, and for centuries lived in the shadow of an assortment of empires: Habsburg, Ottoman, Russian and then Soviet, German and even French. Their past makes them a tormented crossroads, boasting cultural depth but also encumbered by ethno-religious conflicts. Today, after the end of the Soviet Union, they are experiencing a feeling of national awakening and, in some cases, nationalistic impulses. These countries have benefited from enlargement and economic liberalization, but also grapple with a host of demographic and social problems; in some of them, the rule of law itself has been thrown into doubt. They have joined the EU but sometimes seem more in tune with NATO, to which they also belong. This is the setting for the author’s journey through the stories, places, characters and monuments of another Europe.
Beda Romano is a news correspondent in Brussels for the “Il Sole-24 Ore” financial newspaper, for which he reports about EU and NATO affairs; he also lectures at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (SciencesPo) and the Bocconi University in Milan.