Central Europe's past in today's globalised world – a conversation with renowned historian and Oxford University professor, Robert Evans.
Professor Robert Evans
discussed how the concept of 'Mitteleuropa' or 'middle-Europe' was first developed in the 19th century as a way of describing an immensely variegated collection of countries and provinces. Most of these territories formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled by the Habsburg dynasty, and Professor Evans' talk - along with the very lively debate that followed - illustrated the persistence of empire as one of the great themes in European history.
Mitteleuropa is an evocative term - and its meaning is only partly geographical. Franz Lehar's bitter-sweet operettas, spies, coups and counter coups, political assassinations, the invention of psychoanalysis, Jewish identity, modern nationalism, attempts at reforming bureaucracy, currency unions, ironic jokes, cream cakes, cafe society, and heroic campaigns by the Austro-Hungarian cavalry: the mentality of central Europe comprises all of these experiences. And the ecological movement owes a specific debt to Mitteleuropa since the family estates of its aristocracy pioneered modern methods in the cultivation of forestry and the preservation of wild habitats.
In late 1918 the Habsburg Empire disappeared from the map. It is one of the very greatest examples of an imperial experiment that flourished and prospered before encountering decline and fall. Mitteleuropa then came to consist of independent states, such as Hungary and Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria.
In the early 21st century this region lies at the very heart of the debate about the future of Europe and its relation to the non-European world. To what extent can order be imposed from the centre without trespassing on the liberties of nations and the rights of individuals? Professor Evans demonstrated the recurrence of this question in the history of Mitteleuropa, and its return to prominence in the contemporary debate about the Union of Europe as a whole.
The discussion was moderated by Hywel Williams
, author and historian.
The talk is available for download here: Central Europe and the Global Future by Professor Robert Evans [PDF]
In its Salon Series
the Legatum Institute hosts scholars, writers, artists and public figures to discuss issues that are fundamental to the success of free, prosperous, and enterprising societies. Ranging widely across the arts, sciences and humanities, the conversations promote a discourse between cultural, philosophical, economic and political modes of enquiry.