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Preface

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Having studied and taught Eastern European history for many years, I had of course always tried to include the history of all the countries that lie east of Germany. But in doing this I became more and more aware that three distinct fields of study have to be treated and differentiated. Two of these, which are universally recognized, are familiar to many scholars of various lands and are covered in numerous textbooks and historical surveys.

These are the history of the Byzantine Empire in the Middle Ages, which was later replaced by the Ottoman Empire, and the history of the Russian Empire, which was created by Moscow in the course of the modern period. There remains, however, the history of the numerous peoples which in both mediaeval and modern times have lived between Germany and these empires, sometimes in independent states of their own, sometimes submerged by their powerful neighbors.

The third field is equally as interesting and important as the other two because of its internal diversity. In spite of such great variety, however, it represents a clearly distinct unity which occupies a special place in the development of mankind, as I attempted to show briefly in my recent book on The Limits and Divisions of European History. Yet that whole region of Europe is neglected in the writing and teaching of general and European history, as well as in the interpretation of the subject matter. No textbook is available to the student which helps him to understand the past of that large area as a whole, nor is there any synthesized survey at the disposal of the reader who feels that a broad historical background is badly needed for grasping the implications of contemporary events. Therefore, it remained difficult to realize the significance of all the many peoples between Germany and Russia peoples whose collective population exceeds that of either the Germans or even the Russians.

To fill such a gap within the compass of a single volume is no easy task for an individual historian. Obliged to make a strict selection among countless facts, he is unavoidably influenced by the chief directions of his own research work. And even in the case of those facts which are incidentally mentioned in the outlines of world history or in the histories of contiguous or neighboring regions, the task of coordinating them into a picture which is inspired by an entirely different approach naturally raises new and complex problems.

The origins of the whole story, in part prehistoric, have received special attention in some valuable recent works. This was an additional reason for treating these distant times, which remain filled with controversial issues, as briefly as possible. Detailed discussion of the Middle Ages, from the tenth century onward, and of the Renaissance, which is usually regarded as a typically Western development, proved indispensable. This was in view of the vitality of the mediaeval traditions for nations which were later to lose their freedom, and because of the cultural community which the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance created between Western Europe and what might be called since there is no better name East Central Europe.

The motivating ideas in describing the fairly well-known modern centuries of European history from the point of view of the victims were these: That a free East Central Europe is indispensable for any sound balance of power on the Continent, and that the temporary disappearance of that whole region created a dangerous tension between suppressed nationalisms and apparently well-established imperialisms which usually were in dangerous rivalry with one another. Seen from the point of view of the nations of East Central Europe, which were independent between the two world wars and which again lost their freedom after the second, even contemporary history must appear in a different light.

If throughout this book, which attempts to show how far Western civilization expanded in the direction of the East, political history receives special attention, it is because for students and readers at large a knowledge of the main political events is a prerequisite framework and an indispensable basis for further study in the cultural, social, or economic field.

In addition to the results of my own research, I have tried to utilize all that I owe not only to my Polish professors and colleagues but also to the leading historians of the other nations of East Central Europe. Among the latter are such scholars as N. Iorga of Rumania, E. Lukinich of Hungary, V. Novotny of Czechoslovakia, and F. Sisic of Yugoslavia, all of whom I have met at many international congresses of the interwar period. And to these should also be added the representatives of the Baltic Countries who, under the leadership of F. Balodis of Latvia, organized the first conference of Baltic historians in 1937. I also gratefully acknowledge the experience gained through long years of teaching at the universities of Cracow and Warsaw, that of my early youth in the multinational Danubian Empire, and that of ten years spent in American centers of learning where there is an ever-growing interest in all that has to do with East Central Europe.

I am very much obliged to my publishers and to their expert staff for the careful attention with which they prepared this volume for publication, especially in dealing with the maps and the genealogical chart. Although the four maps cannot, of course, take the place of a historical atlas, nevertheless they do illustrate at least some of the basic interpretations of the text. Similarly, the genealogical table could not include all members of the various dynasties, but for the first time their relationship is presented on a single chart, thus stressing those matrimonial alliances which explain the order of succession from the mediaeval origins to the threshold of modern times.

This book is dedicated to the loving memory of my parents. Finally, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to my wife for her helpful cooperation, particularly in preparing the index.

Oscar Halecki, New York City, January, 1952