Central Europe is as much invented as the continent of Europe, and as any human concept for that matter. But when people subscribe to and act in accordance with a concept of this kind, it becomes reality, that is, part of social reality. This essay, in an interdisciplinary manner, traces the origins and the functioning of Central Europe as a concept through the lens of cartography, history and culture. From the vantage of intellectual and political discourse, the usually nebulous idea of Central Europe was a reply to the disappearance of empires in this region after 1918, and to the rise of totalitarianism in 1938-48. After the period of "occlusion" during the communist years (when the concept was preserved among Central European émigré scholars in the West as "East Central Europe"), it resurfaced in the 1980s as a cultural-cum-political banner, under which refusniks and dissident intellectuals proclaimed their protest, seeing the Soviet bloc countries as different from the Soviet Union, then identified with Eastern Europe. In the postcommunist 1990s Central Europe flourished as a cultural and political concept, but following the 2004-07 eastward enlargement of the European Union, its significance was reduced to culture only. Time will show whether any need for Europa Centralis may still remain.

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