Hassiotis, I.K.: Eastern Europe in the early plans for European unification

From “The idea of European Community in History”, ed. National and Capodistrian University of Athens, Greek Ministry of education and religious affairs, Athens 2003.

hasiotisI MUST MAKE IT CLEAR from the outset that I shall not be discussing all of Eastern Europe here, but only Southeastern Europe. This is not to save space or time, but for more fundamental reasons. The various countries and peoples of the region were not automatically included in the plans for the pacification and unification of Christian Europe, at least until just before the Enlightenment. On the contrary, large parts of the rest of Eastern Europe (Poland and Hungary, for instance) were incorporated from the start either into the territory of Western nations or into their dynastic, political, and social systems, which is why they have a place, albeit marginal, in the relevant literature. However, the case of the various peoples of Southeastern Europe remains shrouded in historiographical silence or generalities. Lastly, the West European political perception of these peoples frequently associated them with the broader Russian world; this was more systematically the case after the turn of the seventeenth century, and so falls outside the scope of this paper.(1)

At the end of the Middle Ages, the absence of the Greek Orthodox East (Oriens) from the process of the political reorganization of the Latin West (Occidens) led West European discourse to identify Christianitas and Latinitas as virtually synonymous. Significantly, when enumerating the nationes that constituted Christianitas, at the Council of Constance (1414-18), Pierre d’Ailly (1350-1420) included only those which were under the authority of the Holy See. Others, however, also accepted within the Christian family those peoples who, regardless of the doctrine they espoused, were under ‘Latin’ dominion (et si qui Graeci sunt de obedientia nostra).(2)The equation Chris­tianitas = Occidens = Latinitas endured in the ensuing years, leaving ideological hangovers of the Occidens/Abendland = Europa type, which had longterm effects on the political evolution of the entire European world.(3)

The rapid Ottoman domination of the Eastern Mediterranean in the fif­teenth and sixteenth centuries revived these historical equations, while also investing them with new aspects, some of which were detrimental and others beneficial to the peoples of Southeastern Europe. The first, negative, aspect was their inability to join in the ‘internal’ political and social developments taking place in the West, owing to their subjugation to the Ottoman regime. This is underlined by Niccolò Macchiavelli (1469-1527) in his account of the distinctive features of the European world. The difference between ‘Europe’, he wrote in Dell’arte della guerra in 1520, and the Ottoman East was not only religious, it was above all political. On the one side were the many and various European monarchies; on the other the undifferentiated despotic dominion of the sultan. And although this diversitàwas the legacy of the ancient Greek city-states, modern Greece in bondage to the Ottomans no longer had a share in this political heritage. By contrast, although they did not have Greece’s historical credentials, other countries or areas of Eastern Europe, such as Transylvania and Hungary, had acquired the same institu­tions as the West European nations and therefore participated in the political system of Europe. Clearly, for Macchiavelli ‘Europeanness’ was not a static quality: countries that were on the fringes of ‘Europe’ at that time could very well be included among its members; but they first had to cast off the regime of ‘Asian barbarity’ and align their political life with the terms laid down by the family of Europe.(4)

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