Best Books & DVDs on CEE

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With the exception of Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries, the CEE countries are populated primarily by Slavic peoples, who constitute the largest ethnic and linguistic group in Europe. Believed to have originated in Asia, the Slavs migrated to Eastern Europe during the 3rd or 2nd millenium BC. The movement of ancient tribes westward in the 5th and 6th centuries AD sparked the Great Migration, during which Slavs penetrated deeply into Europe. Over time, the Slavs tended to mix with other peoples who came to their lands. In Bulgaria, for instance, the Slavic majority assimilated the Turkic-Bulgar ruling class around the 8th century. The Slavs of present-day Ukraine similarily assimilated the Varangians (Vikings) and in the mid-9th century established Eastern Europe´s first major civilization, Kyivan Rus.

Despite shared roots, the Slavic peoples have never enjoyed any natural unity.The division of Christendom in 395 into the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire split the Slavs into two culturally distinct groups. The fault line between the two religious groups cuts directly through the Balkans: the Croats and Slovenes were tied to Rome, while the Bulgarians, Romanians, and Serbs were loyal to Constantinople. Since the split, the political and social history of Western Slavs, like the Czechs and Poles, has been linked to Western Europe, while the southern and eastern Slavs have been influenced far more by their eastern neighbours, especially the Ottoman Turks.

Map of Central Europe 1890 (Austro - Hungarian Empire, Habsburg Empire)
Size: 91 x 68 cm (35.5 x 26.5 inches)
An ideal gift for anybody with an interest in European history.
Highly decorative

Condition: New/Original/Sealed Packaging
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Language: English



Beginning in the 9th century, several short-lived kingdoms rose and fell in Eastern Europe, such as the Empire of Great Moravia, which included Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, and Slovakia at its peak in 830. The Hungarian Kingdom, one of the few Eastern European empres to achieve longevity, first came to power it the early 11th century. With the exception of a year-long Tatar occupation in 1241, the kingdom grew for more than 500 years and eventually reached north to Polish Silesia, south to Croatian Pannonia, and east to Romanian Wallachia. The kingdom met its end at the 1526 Battle of Mohács at the hands of the Ottomans fell into Austria´s rising Habsburg dynasty.

The Russians came into their own by the end of the fifteenth century, when Ivan III finally threw off the Mongol yoke. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire firmly established itself in southeastern Europe when it crushed the Serbs in 1389 at the Battle of Kosovo. The empire expanded to control vast tracts of southeastern Europe and became one of the most powerful regimes in the world. Polish king Jan III Sobieski turned back the tide of Ottoman advance into the heart of Europe when he defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. A series of losses to Russia from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century compounded the Ottoman imperial decline that set in after the failed Siege of Vienna.

As the Ottoman Empire was floundering, the Russian Empire was rapidly expanding east to the Pacific and west into Poland and Ukraine. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795) had been one of the largest realms in Europe and the first modern democratic state. In a series of three partitions of Poland (1772-1795), the commonwealth was dissolved as Polish territory was divided among Austria, Prussia and Russia. The Russians also wrested Baltic territory from Sweden. In 1794, the Russian-Ottoman Treaty of Kücük Kaynarca granted the Russian tsar authority over all Orthodox Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. By 1801, the Russians controlled Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, eastern Poland, and Ukraine, but further expansion was halted by the mid-nineteenth century. The 1878 Congress of Berlin marked the end of the Russo-Turkish Wars and severely curtailed the Ottoman sphere of influence.

During this period, the colossal Austrian Empire, under the control of the Habsburg family, swallowed most of Central and Eastern Europe. The Habsburgs came to dominate Central Europe after the Battle of Mohács and gained control of all of Hungary by 1699. The Hungarians remained restless subjects, however, and in 1867 the Austrians entered into a dual monarchy with the Hungarians, creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in which Hungary was granted autonomy. Until 1918, Austria-Hungary controlled what are now the Czech and Slovak Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, and parts of Poland, Romania and Ukraine. By the 19th century, nearly all of Eastern Europe was controlled by the Ottoman, Russian, or Austro-Hungarian Empires. Following Napoleon´s brief dominion over Europe, a surge of Pan-Slavism, a movement for the unity of Slavic peoples, swept through the subordinated nations.

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World War I began with an attempt by the Serbs to free the South Slavs from the clutches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Serb nationalists of the illegal Black Hand movement believed that their cause would best be served by the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand d´Este, the likely heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. On June 28, 1914, Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Ferdinand and his wife Sophia in Sarajevo. Exactly one month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and soon full-scale war broke out as France, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, Montenegro, Serbia, and the Ottoman Empire came to the aid of allies.

As they were under the control of Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, most Eastern Europeans fought alongside the Central Powers. The Baltic nations were controlled by both the Germans and Russians and remained divided in their alliances between the Allies and the Central Powers. Ukraine became a hotly contested battleground and eventually fell to German wartime occupation.

As the war dragged on and catastrophic losses caused the death toll to skyrocket, the Russian people became increasingly frustrated with their inefficient government. Coupled with a crippled wartime economy, the tension finally erupted in the Russian Revolution. Riots over foot shortages began in March 1917 and led to the Tsar´s abdiction. In November, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, took power and established the world´s first communist government. Nationalist independence movements emerged througout the Russian Empire on the heels of the March 1917 revolution, and the empire crumbled. With support from the West, Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine won brief independence from Russia, and Lithunia likewise freed itself from German rule. Poland became an independent state for the first time since 1792.

Poster Austro-Hungarian Paper Money (incl. timeline)
Size: 91 x 68 cm (35.5 x 26.5 inches)
The Poster shows the particularly beautiful banknotes from the period between 1867 and 1918. By designers such as Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser.
An ideal gift for anybody with an interest in European (monetary) history.
Highly decorative

Condition: New/Original/Sealed Packaging
Premium Reprint
Language: English

While the Russian Empire disintegrated, victorious powers dismantled the defeated Austria-Hungary. The Czechs and Slovaks united to create Czechoslovakia. Romania´s size doubled with the acquisition of Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transsylvania. Finally, in keeping with the vision of South Slav nationalism that had sparked the war, 1918 saw the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later known as Yugoslavia. In 1922, the Bolsheviks declared the Union of Soviet Socialist Rebublics (USSR), which included Belarussian, Russian, Transcaucasian, and Ukrainian territories. The interwar period was a turbulent time, as many states, independent for the first time in centuries, struggled to establish their own governments, economies, and societies in a period made even more unstable by the global depression of the 1930s.

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“PEACE IN OUR TIME” (1938-1945)

Just two decades after WWI ravaged the continent, World War II rose out of its many lingering conflicts. Adolf Hitler was determined to reclaim the “Germanic” parts of Poland and Czechoslovakia that Germany had lost in the Treaty of Versailles. He claimed that the 3 million Germans living in the Czechoslovak Sudetenland were being discriminated against by their government. Hoping to avoid another war, France and Britain ignored Hitler´s glaring aggression against a sovereign country and adopted their infamous policy of appeasement.

France and Britain sealed Czechoslovakias fate on September 30, 1938, by signing the Munich agreement with Germany, which ordered all non-German inhabitants of the Sudetenland to vacate their homes within 24 hours and permitted the German army to invade. Upon his return from Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain mistakenly believed that he had secured “peace in our time”. Hitler, however, ignored the stipulations of the agreement and proceeded to annex the remainder of Czechoslovakia, which he turned into the Bohemian-Moravian Protectorate in March 1939.

Hitler and Stalin shocked the world in August, 1939, by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonagression Pact, forging an uneasy alliance between the two historical enemies. Secret clauses detailed a dual invasion of Poland – Germany would contron the the western two-thirds, while the USSR would keep the eastern third. In September 1919, Hitler annexed Poland, sparking WWII.

The Nonagression Pact lasted only until June 1941, when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. The German army advanced as far as the gates of Moscow before being turned back, as much by the harsh winter as by Stalin´s army. Following the 1941 Anglo-Soviet Agreement, the USSR joined the Allied forces. This was a major turning point in the war, as were the Allies decisive victories in 1942. The people of Eastern Europe suffered greatly in WWII. Of approximately 60 million total war casualties, Soviet troops and civilians accounted for 20 million, the largest loss of life that any country suffered.

Poland, however, lost the largest percentage of its population; the 6 million Poles who died in the war accounted for a staggering 20% of the country´s pre-war population. More than half of the estimated 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps were Polish. Before World War II, Eastern Europe had been the geographical center of the world´s Jewish population, but Hitler´s “final solution” succeeded in almost entirely eliminating the Jewish communities of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine through both genocide and forced emigration.

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The wartime alliance between the Soviet Union and the West had been an uneasy one. Plans for postwar division of power in Europe were sketched out as early as 1944 and were sealed at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Germany was divided into four zones, administered by Britain, France, the USSR, and the United States. The Soviets also oversaw newly liberated Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, a plan that the Allies accepted with the expectation that these countries would be allowed to hold free elections – a detail that Stalin´s government ignored. Between 1945 and 1949, the USSR established a ring of satellite People´s Democracies in Eastern Europe. The American, British, and French zones of Germany coalesced into capitalist West, and the Soviet zone became the satellite state of East Germany. With the consolidation of a capitalist West and a communist East, the Iron Curtain descended and the Cold War began.

To counter the American Marshall Plan, which funneled aid to European countries in an attempt to preserve democratic capitalism, communist nations created the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), an organization meant to facilitate and coordinate the growth of the Soviet Bloc, in 1949. Later that year, the West established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance meant to “keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.” In 1955, the Eastern Bloc retaliated with a similar alliance, the Warsaw Pact, which maintained military bases throughout Eastern Europe and tightened the USSR´s grip on its satellite countries. The only communist country never to joint the Warsaw Pact was Yugoslavia, where former partisan Josip Broz Tito broke from Moscow as early as 1948 and followed his own vision of combining communism with a market economy.

After Stalin´s death in 1953, and Nikita Khrushchev´s denunciation of him in the so-called Secret Speech of 1956, the Soviet Bloc was plagued by chaos. In Hungary and Poland, National Communism, or the belief that the attainment of ultimate communist goals should be dictated internally rather than by orders from Moscow, gained popularity, threatening Soviet domination. The presence of Russian troops throughout Eastern Europe, however, enabled Moscow to respond to rising nationalist movements with military force. The Soviets violently suppressed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and workers´ strikes in Poland, and executed renegade Hungarian leader Imre Nagy in 1958.

The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, creating a physical symbol of the economic, political, and ideological divide between East and West. The Prague Spring of 1968 witnessed another wave of violent suppression as the Czechoslovakian dissident movement demanded freedom and attention to human rights and was instead met with Soviet tanks. Political repression coupled with the economic stagnancy of the Leonid Brezhnev years (1964-82) increased unrest and resentment toward Moscow among the satellites.

The 1978 selection of Polish-born Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II further undermined Soviet control in Eastern Europe: the Polish Solidarity movement, the first Eastern Bloc dissident movement in which elite intellectuals and industrial workers joined together to oppose Soviet rule, was ignited by the new pope´s 1979 visit to Poland and provided a model for dissident movement across the region for the next decade.

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When Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary General of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1985, he began to dismantle the totalitarian aspects of the Soviet regime through is policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The new freedom of political expression gave rise to increasing displays of dissidence, which finally erupted in 1989 with a series of peaceful revolutions throughout Eastern Europe. In June, Poland voted the Communists out of office, electing Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Pact to create a new government.

This Polish victory was swiftly followed by a new democratic constitution in Hungary in October, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall on November 9, the resignation of the Bulgarian communists on November 10, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia on November 17, and the televised execution of Romania´s communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu, on December 25. Almost all the Warsaw Pact countries had successfully – and almost bloodlessly – broken away from the Soviet Union.

The USSR crumbled shortly ofter its empire. By June 1990, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all declared independence from Moscow. Ukraine followed suit at the end of 1991. In an attempt to keep the USSR together, Gorbachev condoned military force against the rebellious Baltic republics. A conflict erupted in Vilnius, Lithuania, in January 1991, killing 14. By September, the USSR had dissolved and all of its constituent republics and satellite nations had achieved full independence.

Following Tito´s death in 1980, Yugoslavia slowly disintegrated. Economic inequality among its different republics brought suppressed nationalist sentiments to the surface. Inspired by the developments in the rest of Eastern Europe, both Croatia and Slovenia declared independence on June 25, 1991; the Serb-controlled government responded with military force. The conflict in Slovenia lasted only 10 days, but Croatia´s attempts to secede resulted in a protracted, genocidal war that continued until the signing of the US-negotiated Dayton Peace Agreement in November 1995.

Today, the former Soviet satellites are moving, with varying degrees of success, toward democracy and market economies. In March 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO. May 2002 saw the formation of the NATO-Russia Council, a strategic alliance between Russia and the organization originally established as a military alliance against it. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia were welcomed as new members of NATO in April 2004. The following month, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia became part of the European Union (EU). Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007, Croatia in 2013.

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