“For a thousand years, the geography of the borderlands dictated their fate,” writes Anne Applebaum in her evocative and well-written book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, which first published in 1994.
In the 1991 and 1992, an era of social, political and economic turmoil, Anne Applebaum travelled in the countries of former Soviet Union, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, across the borderlands that constitute Europe’s far east landscape. The Soviet empire had ended but nothing else had yet replaced it. Longstanding institutions, such as the Communist Party, had vanished. Corruption was rampant. New politicians constantly replacing old ones. The desire for freedom and national sovereignty had raised troubling questions about identity. In the next few years, political, cultural and military conflicts shook the territories that used to be part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
The end of the Soviet Union, saw the “construction of homelands”, a process in which the nationalist elites and intellectuals, mobilised the myths and the images of a homeland, in order to reinforce the depiction of a nation as an ancient community and to give people a sense of belonging. Nationalism became attractive and synonymous with decentralization and democratisation and nationalists were considered democratic and progressive heroes.
Anne Applebaum take us to a journey into the past and the post-Soviet era of Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. She travels us to an area defined throughout its history by colliding empires, cultures and religions.
“Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty,” she writes.
“there are many layers of civilization in the borderlands, but they do not lie neatly on top of one another. “A traveller can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus – and he has never left his village.”