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Euro‐Orientalism and the Making of the Concept of Eastern Europe in France, 1810–1880

Author(s): Ezequiel Adamovsky

Source: The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 77, No. 3 (September 2005), pp. 591-628
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Euro-Orientalism and the Making of the Concept of
Eastern Europe in France, 1810–1880*

Ezequiel Adamovsky
University of Buenos Aires and CONICET

The counterpart of the liberal-bourgeois narrative of Western civilization is the

narrative of its “others,” for in every binary construction of identity the ex-
cluded “other” and the self that gained consistency by means of that exclusion
depend on each other; both identities are part of the same discourse. I have
analyzed in other works how Russia was used as a fundamental “other” through
which a Western identity was constructed, at least in France. As part of that
process, a particular account of Russia’s history and a peculiar description of
its society emerged. Between about 1740 and 1860, Russia was constructed
as a “land of absence,” a historical entity characterized not by what it is but
by what it lacks—that is, by the absence of certain elements that were con-
sidered fundamental to civilization, development, modernity, or simply free-
dom. At different times, the allegedly missing elements were an independent
nobility and intermediate bodies able to check the power of the sovereign;
urban development and a large bourgeoisie or middle class; and a strong and
independent civil society. Not by chance, those were the quintessential ele-
ments of Western European (or, simply, Western) civilization, the source of
Western “exceptionality” and “superiority.” In the liberal-bourgeois narrative
of Western success, the history of Russia was constructed as a narrative of
failures due to the absence of Western ingredients. This narrative framework
often came to be extended to the Slavic nations in general, which were also
constructed as “lands of absence.”1

* This article was written thanks to the financial support of CONICET (Consejo
Nacional de Investigaciones Cientı́ficas y Técnicas) and Fundación Antorchas. A pre-
liminary version was presented at the Annual Conference of the British Association
for Slavonic and East European Studies held in Cambridge in March 2003.
Ezequiel Adamovsky, “Land of Absence: Liberal Ideology, the Image of Russia,
and the Making of Western Identity (France, c. 1740–1880)” (PhD diss., University
College London, 2003). See also my articles “Civilizar un Pueblo Bárbaro: Las imá-
genes de Rusia en el debate de la ilustración francesa acerca del concepto de ‘civili-
zación,’” Anales de Historia Antigua, Medieval y Moderna (University of Buenos
Aires) 34 (2001): 163–90, “Muros de ladrillo, muros imaginarios: El Muro de Berlı́n y
The Journal of Modern History 77 (September 2005): 591–628
䉷 2005 by The University of Chicago. 0022-2801/2005/7703-0003$10.00
All rights reserved.

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592 Adamovsky

The aim of this article is to analyze an important part of that process of identity
construction, namely, the invention of the idea and the concept of “Eastern
Europe” in France, and to present some hypotheses on “Euro-Orientalism” as a
discursive formation. I will argue that, by means of the concept of Eastern
Europe, the narrative of Western civilization transferred onto the Slavic nations
many of the stereotypes and prejudices traditionally ascribed to the Orient. In
turn, these stereotypes and prejudices became part of a wider discursive for-
mation that I am calling Euro-Orientalism, by means of which the West sym-
bolically organized and regulated its relationship with the part of the world
called Eastern Europe.


Before I can present my own interpretation, however, I must briefly review a
recent work on this issue, for it puts forward hypotheses that differ from the
ones I propose in this article. Inspired by Edward Said’s Orientalism, Larry
Wolff has argued in his Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on
the Mind of the Enlightenment (1994) that during the eighteenth-century
French Enlightenment a discourse of Eastern Europe emerged. “France’s
eighteenth-century experts on Eastern Europe,” Wolff contends, were respon-
sible for this “intellectual artifice,” a domination device “politically inflected
by aspects of Orientalism, standards of ‘civilization’ and the implicit pre-
sumptions of hegemonic discourse.”2 It is curious to find Said’s model applied
to the eighteenth century, for Orientalism specifically refers to the “post-
Enlightenment period” (that is, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), when
a discourse “with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery,
doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles” emerged.3 In Said’s
view, the negative opinions and prejudice directed against the Asian nations
in previous centuries did not count as Orientalism, which he expressly located
in the context of nineteenth-century colonialism, when a specific discursive

otras imágenes en el discurso de subordinación de ‘Europa Oriental,’” Revista del

Centro de Estudios Internacionales para el Desarrollo 1, no. 2 (1999): 32–47, “Russia
as a Space of Hope: Nineteenth-Century French Challenges to the Liberal Image of
Russia,” European History Quarterly 33, no. 4 (2003): 411–50, “Diderot en Rusia,
Rusia en Diderot: El papel de la imagen de Rusia en la evolución del pensamiento
polı́tico del último Diderot,” Stvdia Historica: Historia Moderna (Salamanca) 22
(2000): 245–82, and “Russia as the Land of Communism in the Nineteenth Century?
Images of Tsarist Russia as a Communist Society in France, c. 1840–1880,” Cahiers
du Monde Russe 45, nos. 3–4 (2004): 1–24.
Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the
Enlightenment (Stanford, CA, 1994), xi.
See Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York, 1979), 1–2.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 593

formation became consolidated. Is it possible, then, to speak of a sort of Euro-

Orientalism before Orientalism? As I shall argue in this article, there is nothing
like that until the second half of the nineteenth century, or even later. None of
the elements that Said pointed to as part of the discourse appear to be present
at an earlier stage. There is nothing vaguely resembling a body of scholarship
or “experts on Eastern Europe” in France before at least the 1860s. Similarly,
proper supporting institutions—journals, institutes, conferences, associations—
started to emerge only after the second decade of the twentieth century. Louis
Leger’s account of the unreceptive climate and the extensive problems he still
encountered in the 1860s and 1870s, when he was trying to develop Slavic
studies in France, is very revealing in this respect.4 But the most striking feature
of Wolff’s work is that it never states exactly when the expression “Eastern
Europe” appeared, or when it became common. In a book that contains hun-
dreds of quotations, Wolff provides evidence of only five instances of what he
thinks is a “name” for the object of possession: Voltaire, Ruhlière, and Ségur
each used the phrase l’Orient de l’Europe in passing; Gibbon referred to “the
northern and Eastern regions of Europe”; and a character in Sade’s Aline et
Valcour suggested a new division of Europe into four regions, “of the West,
of the North, of the East [d’Orient], and of the South.”5 This is an extremely
small amount of evidence with which to support a sweeping hypothesis. And
even within this limited body of evidence, Wolff traces no distinction between
a mere geographical reference and a concept. Such a distinction is important,
since saying “the East of Europe” does not necessarily mean “Eastern Europe.”
If we take the current expressions used to name that part of the world—in
Spanish, Europa oriental; in French, Europe orientale; in German, Osteuropa;
in English, Eastern Europe; in Italian, Europa orientale, in Russian, Vostoch-
naia Evropa, and so forth—we shall see that in all cases they were formed
either by making an adjective from the noun “Orient,” which gives the idea
of a Europe belonging to the Orient; or by using the genitive, which also gives
the idea of a Europe possessed by the Orient; or, in German, by creating a
whole new word. In Wolff’s four cases (I am leaving aside Sade’s rather prag-
matic division of the continent), the construction is the opposite: it is the Orient
that belongs to Europe. The connotation is completely different, and the con-
text of the quotations confirms that they are mere geographic indications. This
is not to say that eighteenth-century French writers would not have used ref-
erences to the Orient to describe certain characteristics of countries such as
Russia, Poland, and so on. Comparisons with Turkey or the Tatars, or evoca-

See Louis Leger, “Les études slaves, leur importance et leur difficulté,” Revue
Politique et Littéraire, no. 40 (March 30, 1872), 946–49, and Souvenirs d’un slavophile,
1863–1897 (Paris, 1905).
Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe, 298, 304, 274, 278, 141.

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594 Adamovsky

tions of the ancient Sarmatians, were very frequent. But so they were two
centuries earlier.6 Contrary to Wolff’s opinion, some of the eighteenth-century
French philosophers tried to erase the Oriental stigma attached to Russia’s
reputation: Voltaire may have written l’Orient de l’Europe once, but he called
Catherine II la Semiramis du Nord hundreds of times. True, Mozart or Ségur
may have felt that parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, or Russia
were different from Western Europe, as Wolff points out, but that does not
necessarily mean that they concluded that all those nations had something in
common or that they belonged to some entity of “Eastern Europe.” Even if
Wolff had found explicit references to Eastern Europe—which he has not—
that would not necessarily indicate the presence of a discursive formation. As
Said has shown, a discourse is composed not by words alone, but by a whole
set of tacit and interconnected assumptions and representations able to con-
dition our behavior. These are to some extent independent from individual
authors and can reproduce themselves through social practices. In other words,
a discourse has a materiality that words do not have on their own.7

See Francine-Dominique Liechtenhan, “Le russe, ennemi héréditaire de la chré-
tienté? La diffusion de l’image de la Moscovie en Europe occidentale aux XVIe et
XVIIe siècles,” Revue Historique 285, no. 1 (1991): 77–103, 86, 97, 101, “Les dé-
couvreurs de la Moscovie: L’apprehension des observateurs occidentales face à la mon-
tée de Moscou,” Histoire, Economie, Société 8, no. 4 (1989): 483–506, and “La pro-
gression de l’interdit: Les récits de voyage en Russie et leur critique à l’époque des
tsars,” Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte 43, no. 1 (1993); Ekkehard Klug, “Das
‘Asiatische’ Russland: Über die Entstehung eines europäischen Vorurteils,” Historische
Zeitschrift 245 (1987): 265–89; M. S. Anderson, Britain’s Discovery of Russia, 1553–
1815 (London, 1958), 80–81; Michel Mervaud and Jean-Claude Roberti, Une infinie
brutalité: L’image de la Russie dans la France des XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1991);
Marshall T. Poe, “A People Born to Slavery”: Russia in Early Modern European Eth-
nography, 1476–1748 (Ithaca, NY, 2000).
In addition to these methodological shortcomings, Wolff’s interpretation of ele-
ments such as cartographic evidence and some sexual references is totally ungrounded.
For more criticism of Wolff’s book, see Michael Confino, “Re-Inventing the Enlight-
enment: Western Images of Eastern Realities in the Eighteenth Century,” Canadian
Slavonic Papers 36, nos. 3–4 (1994): 505–22; Csaba Dupcsik, “Postcolonial Studies
and the Inventing of Eastern Europe,” East Central Europe 26 (1999): 1–14. Vladimir
Berelowitch has also challenged, perhaps too politely (his article is, after all, included
in a compilation edited by Larry Wolff and Sergei Karp), Wolff’s conclusion that the
idea of Eastern Europe emerged in the eighteenth century; see Vladimir Berelowitch,
“Europe ou Asie? Saint-Pétersbourg dans les relations de voyage occidentaux,” in Le
mirage russe au XVIIIe siècle, ed. Sergei Karp and Larry Wolff (Ferney-Voltaire, 2001),
57–74, 59–60.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 595


For my own interpretation, I shall analyze the emergence of the idea of Eastern
Europe in France. It must be borne in mind, however, that the choice of France
does not mean that this idea was “invented” only in France or that France
alone is to be taken into account if we are to explore fully this concept’s origins
and dissemination. Other countries were surely also important in this respect—
Germany, in particular, where the concept of Eastern Europe seems to have
been in use in a somewhat earlier period. Likewise, Eastern European writers
seem to have played an early and important role in the dissemination of the
new concept. As it would have been impossible for one scholar, at this stage
of our knowledge of the matter, to analyze data from all over Europe, I have
chosen to start with a case study; my first choice was France for several rea-
sons. First, in the eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth century, French
culture was particularly influential in the making of European identity, having
produced some of the most widely read narratives of the history of civilization
(e.g., those of Voltaire, Condorcet, and Guizot) and geographical depictions
of the world (e.g., those by Raynal, Malthe Bruun, and Reclus), as well as
some of the most important shifts in the history of modern liberalism. Second,
it was in France that some of the first and most significant works on Russia
and Eastern Europe were published and acquired European acclaim (e.g.,
works by Levesque, Rabbe, Custine, and Leroy-Beaulieu). Third, the academic
field specializing in Eastern Europe and Russia developed in France earlier
than in any other Western country, thus influencing the rest. For these reasons,
I believe my findings will be especially relevant for future scholars studying
the emergence and historical meaning of the idea of Eastern Europe in general.
This analysis of the emergence of the idea and the concept of Eastern Europe
in France will involve four questions. First, how and when did the French start
to perceive what we now call Eastern Europe as a relatively homogeneous
region (regardless of the characteristics and the name for that region)? Second,
how and when did the idea of Eastern Europe emerge, and when did the
concept appear? (The distinction between “idea” and “concept” is required
because, as I will argue, some French writers “discovered” the presence of a
group of nations toward the East, which they perceived as different from the
West, some time before the concept of Eastern Europe began to be used.) Third,
when did the new concept become predominant over rival representations of
geographical space? And, fourth, when did the references to Eastern Europe
crystallize as a hegemonic discourse?
Regarding the first question, it must be taken into account that the concept
of Western Europe does not necessarily imply the idea of Eastern Europe, for
theoretically it could stand in opposition either to a diversity of non-Western

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596 Adamovsky

nations with nothing in common or, as was often the case, to Russia alone
(that is, not including other nations). In his Essai sur les moeurs, for example,
Voltaire made use of the expression Europe occidentale as opposed to the
Orientaux in general; but there is no evidence that he perceived Eastern Europe
or even the Slavs as a singular cultural entity.8 It can be argued that French
eighteenth-century writers were not aware of (or, at least, disregarded) any
degree of ethnic, linguistic, or cultural homogeneity in what we now call East-
ern Europe. In fact, well into the nineteenth century, Frenchmen would have
denied that there was any similarity between, say, autocratic and Orthodox
Russia, on the one hand, and aristocratic and Catholic Poland, on the other.
The idea of a “race” with certain characteristics was alien to the universalistic
principles of the Enlightenment: eighteenth-century educated people thought
in terms of individual countries—Russia, Poland, or Hungary, which were
perceived as very different indeed—rather than in terms of a whole Slavic
Mme de Staël—the writer of “the first Romantic manifesto in France”—
can be acknowledged as the person who introduced the Slavs to France.9 Un-
doubtedly, she discovered the Slavs in German philosophy, an area in which
she was particularly skilled: she introduced German romantic thought to
France with her De l’Allemagne (1810). It is not unlikely that she borrowed
her ideas about the Slavs from Herder—one of the precursors of romanti-
cism—whose philosophy occupies an entire chapter of De l’Allemagne.
Herder’s general ideas on history and on the role of the Orient and the Slavs
were quite original. In his Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung
der Menschheit (1774), he praised “Oriental despotism” as the indispensable
period of education and “paternal authority” that all nations need in their
“childhood.” Challenging Enlightenment assumptions, Herder also admired
the Middle Ages and regretted the corrupting consequences of the development
of commerce.10 Regarding the Slavs, in Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte
der Menschheit (1784–91) Herder prompted a radical change in geographical
perceptions when he criticized the traditional division of nations along a north-
south axis according to climate. Challenging the Ptolemaic heritage, on the
one hand, and introducing particularism against Enlightenment universalism,
on the other, Herder made a third space for the Slavs in the East. No longer
part of the North, no longer lost in cosmopolitan history, the Slavs could now
be granted a geographical and historical place of their own. Herder called this

Voltaire, Essai sur les moeurs, in Oeuvres complètes, 13 vols. (Paris, 1853), 3:74.
Simone Balayé, Madame de Staël: Lumières et liberté (Paris, 1979), 162.
Johann Gottfried von Herder, Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung
der Menschheit, in Sammtliche Werke, 16 vols. (Karlsruhe, 1820), 2:227–28, 322.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 597

space, which was similar to the Orient in many ways, “Eastern Europe” [öst-
liches Europa].11
In the fourth part of the Ideen Herder included his famous chapter about the
Slavs, depicting their characteristics and historical destiny. Originally, the
Slavs were generous, peaceful, and free, but they were also obedient and doc-
ile. For this reason, they were enslaved and, as a result, they became cruel and
indolent, as all slaves are. However, it was still possible to perceive their former
good qualities. According to Herder, it was now time for the Slavs to “awake
from their long sleep” and be liberated. Thus, Herder not only distinguished
the Slavs as a unified people but also gave them a promising future.12
Similar elements can be found in Mme de Staël’s De l’Allemagne, beginning
with the partition of Europe into “three major different races: the Latin race,
the Germanic race, and the Slavonic race.” However, according to Staël only
the first two races constituted the “real” Europe, the Latin carrying the classical
legacy and the Germanic adding the feudal institutions. “Slavonic civilization”
was still too recent, and for the moment it had produced cultural “imitations”
only and nothing “original.”13 It is important to notice that Staël repeated here
Rousseau’s theme of the inauthenticity of Russian civilization, but she ex-
tended it to all the Slavs.14 However, Staël did not think that the Slavs would
always be “imitators” (in contrast to Rousseau’s opinions about Russia); rather,
she believed that they still had not had the opportunity to develop their own
Later on, in 1812, as part of her long journey of escape from Napoleon,
Mme de Staël found a temporary refuge in Russia. In Dix années d’exil, she
recorded her observations of that country, comparing it with the Orient, though

Ibid., Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, in Sammtliche Werke,
3:20–21, and 6:36.
Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, in Sammtliche
Werke, 6:31–35. On Herder and the Slavs, see Helen Liebel-Weckowicz, “Nations and
Peoples: Baltic-Russian History and the Development of Herder’s Theory of Culture,”
Canadian Journal of History 21 (1986): 1–23; Mechthild Keller, “‘Politische See-
träume’: Herder und Russland,” in Russen und Russland aus deutscher Sicht, 18. Jahr-
hundert: Aufklärung, ed. Mechthild Keller (Munich, 1987), 357–95; Pierre Pénisson,
“L’imaginaire européen de Johann Gottfried Herder,” in Transfers culturels triangu-
laires France-Allemagne-Russie, ed. Katia Dmitrieva and Michel Espagne, Philolo-
giques, no. 4 (1996), 141–52; H. Barry Nisbet, “Herder’s Conception of Nationhood
and Its Influence in Eastern Europe,” in The German Lands and Eastern Europe, ed.
Roger Bartlett and Karen Schönwälder (New York, 1999), 115–35; Wolfgang Gese-
mann, “Herder’s Russia,” Journal of the History of Ideas 26 (1965): 424–34.
Germaine de Staël, De l’Allemagne, in Oeuvres, 3 vols. (Paris, 1838): 3:6–7.
See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Contrat social, in Oeuvres complètes, 3 vols. (Paris,
1971): 2:534.

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598 Adamovsky

in a positive sense. In Russia, she wrote, one felt “closer to that Orient from
which so many religious beliefs emerged and which still contains incredible
treasures.” Russia was a strong and vigorous nation, and the Russians—like
the Orientals and unlike Europeans—had a limitless imagination and a natural
aptitude for dreams and passions. In this respect, in a typical romantic way,
Staël challenged the centuries-old tradition of derogatory references to the
Orient. Given such extraordinary conditions, Russia was called to a great fu-
ture. Having the right balance of nature and civilization, the Russians would
soon excel in the artistic realm, “especially in literature.” In Staël’s romantic
approach, nature and society, content and form, passion and manners contrib-
uted to a more cultural definition of civilization, which enabled her to reap-
praise Russia in a different light. Criticizing Europe, Staël could place great
expectations on the Orient and on Russia.15
Despite Staël’s influential book, the presence of the Slavs long remained an
abstract philosophical issue for most people in France. It gained more mate-
riality only in the 1840s, when Pan-Slavism as a movement became visible.16
In any case, given the idea that there is such a thing as a Slavic world, as
distinct from Romano-Germanic Europe, it still does not follow that this Slavic
world constitutes an “Eastern Europe.” This is a very important distinction,
because the idea of an Eastern or Oriental Europe transfers to that region many
of the assumptions and prejudices related to Asia in Western culture, something
that the recognition of a Slavic world by itself does not necessarily do.
This brings up the second question: when did the idea and the concept of
Eastern Europe appear in France? This is a very difficult question, for a con-
clusive answer would involve checking every single document written in
France before the 1840s, when the concept was already perceptible—a task
well beyond the abilities of one researcher. However, the reading of almost all
the texts on Russia published in France between 1740 and 1884, in addition
to many other texts and documents on the Slavs and other issues and the
available secondary literature, allows for a provisional hypothesis.
On the basis mainly of German sources, Hans Lemberg has argued that the

Germaine de Staël, Dix années d’exil (Brussels, 1830), 194–203, 294. On Staël
and Russia, see Olga Trtnik Rossettini, “Mme de Staël et la Russie d’après les articles
parus en URSS sur l’influence française en Russie au début du XIX siècle,” Rivista di
letterature moderne e comparate 16, no. 1 (1963): 50–67; S. Durylin, “G-zh De Stal’
i eë russkie otnosheniia,” in Russkaia Kul’tura i Frantsiia, ed. S. A. Makashin, 3 vols.
[Literaturnoe Nasledstvo, nos. 29–34] (Moscow, 1937–39), 3:215–330; Vladimir
Brett, “Considerations et observations de Mme de Stael pendant son voyage en Russie
en 1812,” Revue des Pays de l’Est 30, no. 2 (1989): 91–99.
The first Pan-Slavic Congress met in Prague in 1848, and it was held under the
leadership of the Czech historian František Palacký. The Russian variant of Pan-
Slavism gained more notoriety in the 1860s.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 599

traditional perception of Europe according to a North/South axis did not

change to an East/West divide until the years between the Congress of Vienna
and the Crimean War (ca. 1815–56).17 Regarding the French context in par-
ticular, Oscar Hammen has shown that a marked sense of an East/West divide
emerged between 1830 and 1854 due to an ideological conflict: in order to
resist the conservative threat that the Holy Alliance posed to the ideals of 1789,
French liberals called for a “Western,” liberal, and constitutional grouping of
states encompassing Britain, France, and Germany.18 Similarly, Robin Okey
maintains that the North/South divide started to erode only when mass politics,
nationalism, and ideological issues shifted attention toward cultural differences
and away from eighteenth-century cosmopolitanism. In turn, “the rise of the
Eastern Question heightened the derogatory association of the terms eastern/
oriental/Asian in the European west and through the opposed position of the
powers attached these negative stereotypes to Russia, particularly after the
Crimean War.”19
My own findings partially confirm those opinions: I shall argue that the first
evidences of the idea of Eastern Europe—that is, the notion that a Slavic world
not only existed but was also Eastern or Oriental—are to be found in France
in the late 1810s or 1820s. The concept of Eastern Europe (Europe orientale)
entered the French political vocabulary only in the mid-1830s, to become more
common in the 1840s.
The first appearance of the concept Europe orientale is difficult to estab-
lish.20 Geographers seem to have been the first to use the expression in France,
even before it became a concept—that is, before it acquired a meaning in
relation to wider conceptual frameworks. For example, in his Géographie his-
torique, ecclesiastique, et civile (1755), Joseph Vaissete explained that, while
geographers usually divided Europe into three areas (nord, midi, and milieu),
he preferred to distinguish four regions: Europe septentrionale, Europe méri-

Hans Lemberg, “Zur Entstehung des Osteuropabegriffs im 19. Jahrhundert: Vom
‘Norden’ zu ‘Osten’ Europas,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 33 (1985):
Oscar J. Hammen, “Free Europe versus Russia, 1830–1854,” American Slavic and
East European Studies 11, no. 1 (1952): 27–41.
Robin Okey, “Central Europe/Eastern Europe: Behind the Definitions,” Past and
Present 137 (1992): 102–33.
I have found an incidental use of the expression as early as 1601, in the index to
a book by Claude Du Pré, where it is said that the Gauls once controlled Europe
orientale et occidentale. See Claude Du Pré, Abrégé fidelle de la vraye origine et
généalogie des François (Lyon, 1601). Even earlier, in 1552, Guillaume Postel made
the same point about the presence of the Gauls in l’orientale partie de l’Europe. See
Guillaume Postel, L’histoire mémorable des expéditions depuys le déluge faictes par
les Gauloys, ou Francoys depuys la France jusques en Asie, ou en Thrace et en
l’orientale partie de l’Europe (Paris, 1552), 16, 31.

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600 Adamovsky

dionale, Europe occidentale, and Europe orientale. However, this seems to be

a pragmatic division with little sentimental or ideological content. Europe ori-
entale, for example, encompassed Russia, Poland, and European Turkey (in-
cluding Serbia, Romania, and Greece), while Hungary, Dalmatia, Croatia, and
Transylvania were considered to be part of Europe méridionale, together with
Italy and Germany. Europe occidentale encompassed France, Holland, and
Spain but not the British Isles, which were part of Europe septentrionale to-
gether with the Scandinavian Peninsula.21 In any case, Vaissete’s design does
not seem to have found followers. Until the beginning of the nineteenth cen-
tury, the community of French geographers stuck to the three-region scheme22
or simply chose to divide the Continent into its different countries.23 In the
second decade of the nineteenth century, the expression Europe orientale be-
came more common, probably under the influence of two prominent geogra-
phers: the Italian Adriano Balbi and the Franco-Danish Malthe Conrad Bruun.
The Italian presented a new division of Europe in his Compendio di geographia
universale (1817). In that work, Balbi explained that the traditional distinction
of three regions—southern, northern, and central Europe—made no sense,
and he proposed a new division into “Occidental Europe” and “Oriental Eu-
rope.” The latter encompassed the Russian and Ottoman empires, Poland,
Greece, Serbia, Walachia, and Moldavia. The publication of his Abrégé de
géographie (Paris, 1833) made this new division and the concept Europe ori-
entale available to French readers.24 But it was probably Malthe Bruun—one
of the founders of modern geography in France—who popularized the concept
of Europe orientale in that country. Brunn may have had different sources: he
was in close contact with his Italian colleague, and he had mastered the German
and Nordic languages, in which the expression “Eastern Europe” seems to
have been used earlier than in French. Bruun was also part of the romantic
movement in France and, like Mme de Staël, he was attracted to things “Ori-
ental” and to the German authors who—like Herder—had “discovered” the

Joseph Vaissete, Géographie historique, ecclesiastique, et civile, ou Description
de toutes les parties du globe terrestre (Paris, 1755), 3.
See, e.g., Abbé Grenet, Abrégé de géographie ancienne et moderne (Paris, 1781),
1–2; Abbé Gaultier, Leçons de géographie (Paris, 1789), 1.
See, e.g., Guillaume de L’Isle [aka Delisle], Introduction à la géographie, 2 vols.
(Paris, 1746); Buffier, Geographie universelle, 8th ed. (Paris, 1759), 9; P. C. V. Boiste,
Dictionnaire de géographie universelle, ancienne, du Moyen Age, et moderne, com-
parées, 2 vols. (Paris, 1806), 1:332.
Adriano Balbi, Abrégé de géographie, rédigé sur un nouveau plan d’après les
derniers traités de paix et les découvertes les plus récentes (Paris, 1833), 107–8. The
concept had also been used in Balbi’s Introduction à l’atlas ethnographique du globe
(Paris, 1826), xlix.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 601

Slavs.25 Interestingly enough, Bruun’s own system of distinguishing regions

in Europe seems to have changed during his short life. Thus, in the eight-
volume Géographie universelle that Mentelle and he published in 1816, Bruun
divided Europe into five regions: Europe centrale (the Austro-Hungarian Em-
pire, Holland, Switzerland, and the German lands), Europe septentrionale
(Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland), Europe orientale (the Russian Empire,
including Poland), Europe méridionale (Italy and European Turkey, including
Greece), and Europe occidentale (France, Belgium, the British Isles, Spain,
Portugal).26 A surprising shift, however, appears in Bruun’s Traité élémentaire
de géographie—an abrégé of his masterpiece, Précis de la géographie uni-
verselle (1810–29)—published by his assistants and colleagues in 1830, four
years after his death. Quoting Balbi, Bruun now distinguished two main re-
gions: Europe occidentale and Europe orientale. The other three regions he
had previously delineated now were renamed and became subdivisions within
the Western half, and a most fascinating change occurred in the distribution
of nations. The partie boréale now included the Scandinavian Peninsula and
the British Isles; the partie centrale was composed of France, the Austro-
Hungarian Empire, Holland, Switzerland, and the German lands; and the partie
australe was made up of Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The eastern half was
divided in two subregions: the partie boréale et partie centrale included Po-
land and Russia, while the partie australe encompassed European Turkey,
including Greece. Thus, the map of the Continent was divided in two halves,
the concept of Europe orientale was expanded to include Turkey and Greece,
Italians and Turks were separated, and Germans and Frenchmen were re-
united. With this shift, the modern representation of geographical space finally

See Per Stig Møller, Malte-Bruns litteraere kritik og dens plads i transformations-
processen mellem klassicisme og romantik i Fransk litteraturhistorie 1800–1826 (Co-
penhagen, 1973), 495–533, which contains a long summary in French.
Malthe Conrad Bruun and C. Mentelle, Géographie universelle ancienne et mo-
derne, 8 vols. (Paris, 1816), 2:xxix–xxx.
Malthe Conrad Bruun, Traité élémentaire de géographie (Paris, 1830), 468–69.
Other contemporary French geographical works also started to divide the Continent in
two halves and/or to use the concept of Europe orientale. For example, in Dufau and
Guadet, Dictionnaire universel abrégé de géographie ancienne comparée, 2 vols.
(Paris, 1820), 2:383, Europe was divided into Occidental and Oriental halves. The
former encompassed the British Isles, France, Spain, the German lands, Dalmatia, and
Illyria, while the latter included Italy, Greece, and the area of the Russian Empire. The
concept of Europe orientale had also been used before—although only incidentally—
in the anonymous work La géographie en estampes, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1819), 39. It also
appeared beginning in 1826 in A. Kilian and C. Picquet’s Dictionnaire géographique
universel, 10 vols. (Paris, 1823–33), 3:723, to which Bruun was one of the contributors.

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602 Adamovsky

If one looks at political vocabulary, the concept of Eastern Europe originated

in at least two different intellectual contexts: the liberal and the romantic (both
conservative and socialist). Each presents different connotations. I shall start
with the liberal lineage.
The first uncontroversial evidence of a West/East divide of Europe that I
have found is located, not by chance, in a text by one of the leading liberal
specialists in international relations, Dominique Dufour de Pradt: L’Europe et
l’Amérique en 1821 (1822). Here de Pradt draws a “line of absolute power”
from Copenhagen to Sicily, which divides Europe in two halves, “The whole
of the West of Europe belongs to the constitutional order, and the East [l’est]
to absolute power. In such circumstances, we may imagine the West freed from
the despotism that has so long oppressed it, driving it toward the East [l’Orient]
from whence it came and forcing it back to its birthplace. Take a geographical
map and from the borders of England and France you may easily follow the
line of liberty, which decreases as you approach Asia.” The “constitutional”
side encompasses the “great atelier of civilization,” where the masters of all
the arts and sciences live and where industry and society flourish. In contrast,
the “despotic” side is far behind the West, and regardless of the efforts of the
former to “imitate” its “elder sister,” for many centuries the latter will retain
“moral superiority.”28 In spite of de Pradt’s claims, it cannot be said that West-
ern Europe (especially France) in the 1820s was not exposed to absolute gov-
ernment. In fact, de Pradt’s political division of Europe represents more his
goal for the future than the Continent’s reality at the time. Thus, de Pradt
thinks he “sees” the West purged of despotism, when he is actually trying to
dismiss despotism as something uncivilized and Oriental by means of this
ideological rearrangement of geographical space.
Similar constructions of geographical space can be found later in statements
by other liberals—for example, in François Guizot’s assertion of 1833 in a
speech at the Chamber of Deputies: “I believe it should be evident to all that,
in the dispute that has arisen in our day between the East [l’Orient] and the
West of Europe, between Russia and Western Europe [l’Europe occidentale],
it is France that is heading the Western cause.”29 In a similar way, discussing
the danger that Russia and the “Slavic race” posed to Europe, Ernest Charrière
argued in 1836 that Europe “terminates at the Oder and the Julienne Alps.”
There is an “utter and profound line there” that separates “two completely
different races. . . . It is another Europe, a half-Asian Europe, which marks the

Dominique Dufour de Pradt, L’Europe et l’Amérique en 1821, 2 vols. (Paris, 1822),
François Guizot, Histoire parlementaire de France: Recueil complet des discours
prononcés dans les Chambres de 1819 à 1848, 5 vols. (Paris, 1863), 2:156.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 603

transition to the Asian continent.”30 In another text, published in 1841–42,

Charrière would repeat the same statement, now giving the eastern part of
Europe the name of unité orientale.31
In the French political vocabulary, the first appearances of the concept Eu-
rope orientale that I have found are also related to liberal disputes. In his Du
système industriel (1821), Saint-Simon urged Messieurs les industriels to sup-
port his project of an “industrial regime” and the principles of 1789. In this
context, he argued that his ideas were relevant not only for France but also for
the whole of Western Europe, for civilization had developed there homoge-
neously, thus unifying the different peoples in one “great nation.” Saint-Simon
was referring here mainly to the economic progress and political changes of
“modern societies” that, he hoped, would make it possible to implement his
projects. This promising situation, Saint-Simon argued, distinguished the West-
ern European nations “absolutely” from Eastern Europe [Europe orientale].32
In July 1828, during the twelfth lesson of his Cours d’histoire moderne, Guizot
made use of the expression Europe orientale, although incidentally.33 In 1835,
the liberal politician and writer Saint-Marc Girardin contrasted Eastern Europe
to “the liberal spirit of the West” while warning against the Russian menace
to Europe. If the Russians were to dominate Europe, he argued, they would
first have to defeat “English commerce and French liberty.”34
However, the new concept did not become common until the late 1830s.35

Ernest Charrière, “Considérations sur l’avenir de l’Europe,” in La chute de
l’Empire, drame-épopée précedé d’une introduction historique, ou Considérations sur
l’avenir de l’Europe (Paris, 1836), i–lvi, quote on xxxix.
Ernest Charrière, La politique de l’histoire, 2 vols. (Paris, 1841–42), 2:170.
Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, Du système industriel, 2 vols. (Paris, 1966), 2:23.
François Guizot, Cours d’histoire moderne (Paris, 1828), 10.
Saint-Marc Girardin, review of the pamphlet L’Angleterre, la France, la Russie et
la Turquie, Journal des Débats, July 18, 1835, 1. Interestingly enough, he had made a
similar point the previous year; however, in this case the “political civilization of
1789”—that is, the “Western spirit”—was said to be threatened by Russia’s “despotic
civilization”—that is, the “spirit of the North” (Saint-Marc Girardin, Notices politiques
et littéraires sur l’Allemagne [Paris, 1835], x–xi).
See e.g., “Monuments antiques de l’Europe orientale,” in Le magasin pittoresque
(Paris, 1839), 207–8. It is interesting to note that in the long parliamentary debates of
1840 on the creation of the chair of Slavic languages and literatures at the Collège de
France, nobody uttered the phrase (although the baron de Gérando did say that the
Slavic nations occupied “tout l’Est de l’Europe”). Another indirect indication of the
novelty of the concept is that the first book or series title to contain the expression
Europe orientale in the CD-ROM database French Bibliography, 15th Century to 2000
(Research Libraries Group, 2000) appears in 1854 and that the author is not a French-
man. The next title does not appear until 1871, and until 1899 there are only twelve
additional entries. A quick comparison with the catalog of the British Library is re-

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604 Adamovsky

In the 1840s and early 1850s, apart from the romantic uses of Europe orientale
that I shall comment on below, the new concept and similar expressions often
appeared in the context of Russophobic statements (especially apropos the
situation in Poland, which fueled anti-Russian feelings throughout Europe)
that implicitly or explicitly claimed that the region alluded to was not com-
pletely European. In some cases, Eastern Europe and Russia were used as
synonyms.36 After the mid-1850s, aside from common Russophobia and calls
for the unity of Western Europe, the concept of Europe orientale started to be
used in the context of warnings against Pan-Slavism and the allegedly com-
munist features of Slavic institutions such as the egalitarian peasant commune
and the artel’.37

vealing: the first book title to contain the expression “Eastern Europe” appears in 1846,
and there are only eleven entries by 1899.
See, e.g., Saint-Marc Girardin, untitled article on the persecution of Catholics in
Russia, Journal des Débats, October 23, 1842, 1; Astolphe de Custine, La Russie en
1839, 2 vols. (Paris, 1990), 2:302; Jean-Henri Schnitzler, Statistique générale métho-
dique et complète de la France, 4 vols. (Paris, 1846), 1:4; Montalembert and Guizot
in their speeches at the Chambre des Pairs (see Moniteur Universel, July 3, 1846);
Edmond Robinet, L’Europe, histoire des nations européennes: Russie, Pologne, Suède,
et Norwège (Paris, 1847), 48; Henri Martin, De la France, de son génie et de ses
destinées (Paris, 1847), 314; Charles Sirtema de Grovestins, La Pologne, la Russie, et
l’Europe Occidentale (Paris, 1847), 217–18; Jules Michelet, Légendes démocratiques
du Nord (Paris, n.d.), 5; François Combes, La Russie en face de Constantinople et de
l’Europe (Paris, 1854), 73, 273; Charles Sirtema de Grovestins, Tableau politique et
moral de la Russie (Paris, 1854), 41–42.
See, e.g., L. Dussieux, Force et faiblesse de la Russie au point de vue militaire
(Paris, 1854), 27; Émile Montégut, “De l’idée de monarchie universelle,” Revue des
Deux Mondes, July–September, 1854, 194–210, esp. 206; Saint-René Taillandier,
“Les Allemands en Russie et les Russes en Allemagne,” Revue des Deux Mondes,
August 1, 1854, 633–91, esp. 636; and Allemagne et Russie (Paris, 1856), 95–97;
Augustin Picard, “Le gouvernement des tsars et la société russe,” pts. 1 and 2, Revue des
Deux Mondes, November 15, 1855, 865–94; and December 1, 1855, 1035–64 (1063);
Alphonse de Lamartine, Histoire de la Russie, 2 vols. (Paris, 1855), 2:403–4; Jean-
Henri Schnitzler, L’empire des tsars au point actuel de la science, 4 vols. (Paris, 1856–
69), 1:1–8, 3:738–39; Hippolyte Castille, Portraits politiques au dix-neuvième siècle:
Alexandre II, 3rd ed. (Paris, 1856), 34; François Combes, Histoire de la diplomatie
slave et scandinave (Paris, 1856), 276; Émile Barrault, La Russie et ses chemins de fer
(Paris, 1857), 3; A. Regnault, Esquisses historiques sur Moscou et Saint-Pétersbourg
à l’époque du couronnement de l’empereur Alexandre II (Paris, 1857), 203; Louis
Wolowski, “La question du servage en Russie,” pts. 1–3, Revue des Deux Mondes,
July 15, 1858, 317–49; August 1, 1858, 595–631; and September 15, 1858, 393–446
(322); Henri Martin, “Préface” to Autriche et Russie, by F. Smolka (Paris, 1869), v–
xvi, esp. v–vi; Saint-René Taillandier, Tchèques et Magyars: Bohême et Hongrie (Paris,
1869), and La Serbie (Paris, 1872), 2, 8, 406; Louis Leger, Le monde slave (Paris,
1873), 266, and “Les travaux de la Conférence Tocqueville sur l’Europe orientale,”
Revue Politique et Littéraire, no. 10 (September 2, 1876), 232–33; Cyrille [Adolphe

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 605

This relationship between Eastern Europe and communism (or, at least,

egalitarianism) is also associated with the romantic source of the new concept.
As I have already argued in this article, romantic admiration for the Orient
and its alleged ancient wisdom and social harmony contributed to a different
view of the Slavs. It was in this context that, after 1842, romantic socialists
such as Cyprien Robert and Adolphe Lèbre rediscovered “Oriental Christen-
dom,” viewing the Slavs as young “Oriental Europeans” and assigning them
the task of regenerating the old and decadent Europe.38 In this usage of the
new concept, unlike the liberal usage, the fact that Eastern Europe was a
“vague” land, “the battlefield of Europe and Asia” (as Robert liked to describe
it), was a positive feature.39 Robert’s journal La Pologne (1848–50)—whose
subtitle was Journal slave de Paris, organe des intérêts fédéraux des peuples
de l’Europe orientale—made an important contribution to the diffusion of the
new concept.40
Conservative writers such as Hippolyte Desprez and Frédéric Le Play and
the authoritarian Auguste Comte also used the concept in a positive nonliberal
sense. Desprez and Le Play considered Eastern Europe a space where the West
should seek advice on social conservatism, while Comte thought he had found
in Eastern Europe the strong leadership he needed for his radical projects—

d’Avril], Voyage sentimental dans les pays slaves (Paris, 1876): Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu,
“La liberté en Russie,” Revue des Deux Mondes, February 1, 1877, 710–17, esp. 717;
Alfred Rambaud, Histoire de la Russie (Paris, 1878), 1–3 and passim.
However, it must be borne in mind that, such romantic socialists notwithstanding,
most leftist writers were conspicuously repelled by things “Oriental” or “Slavic.” See,
e.g., Proudhon’s Le Peuple, in which Russia was considered a barbarous nation and
Pan-Slavism was perceived as a threat of “reactionary barbarism” against “progressive
civilization”: “Le Panslavisme russe et la démocratie allemande,” Le Peuple, no. 4
(November 8–15, 1848), 6; and “Le Panslavisme,” Le Peuple, no. 50 (January 7,
1849), 1.
See the following articles by Cyprien Robert, “Le monde gréco-slave,” pts. 1–7,
Revue des Deux Mondes, February 1, 1842: 380–430; June 15, 1842: 879–938; August
1, 1842: 353–410; December 15, 1842: 939–99; March 1, 1843: 811–90; May 1, 1843:
415–79; July 15, 1843: 271–312 (381), “Le monde gréco-slave: Du mouvement uni-
taire de l’Europe orientale,” Revue des Deux Mondes, November 1, 1844, 427-64, “Le
monde gréco-slave: Le système constitutionnel et le régime despotique dans l’Europe
orientale,” Revue des Deux Mondes, February 1, 1845, 409–50, “Le monde gréco-
slave: Les Diètes de 1844 dans l’Europe orientale,” Revue des Deux Mondes, August
15, 1845, 647–82, “Les deux panslavismes,” Revue des Deux Mondes, November 1,
1846, 452–83, and his book Le monde slave, son passé, son état présent et son avenir,
2 vols. (Paris, 1852). See also Adolphe Lèbre, “Mouvement des peuples slaves, leur
passé, leurs tendances nouvelles: Cours de M. Mickiewicz,” Revue des Deux Mondes,
December 15, 1843, 951–93, esp. 954 and 991.
The same publishing house that published La Pologne and Robert’s book also
published a series of books under the series name Bibliothèque de l’Orient Européen:
Bibliothèque Slave.

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606 Adamovsky

leadership that was unavailable in “anarchic” Western Europe.41 These positive

appraisals of Eastern European societies, however, were far less prevalent than
the predominantly negative images of the allegedly Oriental features of those
Although the new concept was common in the 1840s, the actual limits of
this Eastern Europe were far from clear. While for some authors Eastern Eu-
rope perfectly overlapped with the possessions of the Russian Empire, for
Louis Leger it also included Austria. In contrast, Elias Regnault excluded the
Russians from Eastern Europe altogether by arguing that they were not Slavs
and not even Europeans. Henri Martin agreed that the Russians were neither
Slavs nor Europeans, but he still used Europe orientale and Russia as syno-
nyms. Julian Klaczko preferred to use a political criterion rather than an eth-
nological one, thus distinguishing the Romanovs’ Europe orientale from the
Hohenzollerns’ Europe centrale. Finally, the Greeks were also part of Cyprien
Robert’s Eastern Europe.42 The uncertainty of the ethnological and geograph-
ical limits of Eastern Europe still motivated an academic debate in the Société
de géographie in 1872.43
I have shown that the concept of Eastern Europe was already common in
the 1840s and that it was increasingly prevalent in the next decades. But
when—to address the third question posed above—did the new concept be-
come predominant over its rival representation of European space according
to a North/South axis? This is an important question, for depictions of Russia
as a “Northern” power were still predominant in the 1880s, if not later. Con-
fusing as it may sound, references to the East and to the North often coexisted
in the same texts, a fact that seems to have passed unnoticed by the authors.
To offer but one example, in Leroy-Beaulieu’s three-volume L’empire des tsars
et les russes (1881–89), things Russian appear seven times under labels such
as Europe orientale, moitié orientale de l’Europe, or Europe de l’Est, but the
author still called Russia a “Northern” country at least sixteen times.44 The fact

Hippolyte Desprez, “La Russie et la crise européenne,” Revue des Deux Mondes,
March 15, 1850, 1100–23, esp. 1102 and 1118, and “La Russie et le slavisme,” Revue
des Deux Mondes, May 1, 1850, 524–42, esp. 525 and 542; Frédéric Le Play, Les
ouvriers européens, 6 vols. (Tours, 1877–79), 2:ix; Auguste Comte, Système de poli-
tique positive, 4 vols. (Paris, 1890–95), 3:xxix, xliv.
Louis Leger, L’état autrichien (Paris, 1866), 15; Elias Regnault, La question eu-
ropéenne improprement appelée polonaise (Paris, 1863), 10; Henri Martin, La Russie
et l’Europe (Paris, 1866), 16, 97–98; Julian Klaczko, “Le Congrès de Moscou et la
propagande panslaviste,” Revue des Deux Mondes, September 1, 1867, 132–81, esp.
135; Robert, “Le monde gréco-slave,” 381.
See the account in the Revue Politique et Littéraire, no. 44 (April 27, 1872).
Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, L’empire des tsars et les russes, 4th ed. (1881–89; repr.,
Paris, 1990), 7, 298, 353, 354, 503, 890, 909 (“Orient”); and 15, 105, 117, 212, 227,
236, 326, 327, 349, 399, 465, 615, 870, 890, 906, 1122 (“North”). “Eastern Europe”
appears in the text together with allusions to Asia, comparisons with Arab nomadism,

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 607

that “Eastern Europe” may or may not be used to name that area is a clear
indication that, although the concept was already common, a discourse of
Eastern Europe was still not operating (or, at least, it was still too weak to
strongly condition language, as real discourses do).
Two important early moments in the struggle between representations of
Europe according to a North/South or an East/West axis, which finally ended
with the supremacy of the concept of Eastern Europe, deserve to be commented
on briefly. First, Elisée Reclus, one of the main French geographers, pointed
out in his monumental Nouvelle géographie universelle (1880) the “inconsis-
tency” of the location of Russia in the “North.” After having described the
features of Europe orientale as opposed to the “Western peoples” and “Europe,
properly speaking,” Reclus added, “When the Westerners [les Occidentaux]
speak in ordinary language of Russia as a ‘northern country,’ although forming
the oriental section of the continent, the expression is not completely wrong,
considering that the climatic conditions remove Russia, so to say, several de-
grees nearer to the pole.”45 Thus, arguably the most authoritative French aca-
demic description of world geography reinforced the concept of Eastern Eu-
rope and ruled out the location of Russia in the “North,” which from then on
was meant to be considered “ordinary” (that is, nonscientific) knowledge.46
The second important episode in the rise of the concept of Eastern Europe
was the appointment in 1874 at the Conférence Tocqueville of a special com-
mittee that was commissioned to carry out a comprehensive survey of the
“Slavic peoples and Eastern Europe.” Established in 1863, the Conférence
Tocqueville was a sort of informal parliament and school for promising young
men who were seeking a political career. Together with the Conférence Molé
(with which it merged in 1876) and the École libre des sciences politiques, the
Conférence Tocqueville was one of the main seedbeds of the republican and
conservative political elite that ruled the country after 1871. Being accepted
in one of these three institutions, privileged places for intergenerational and
interelite communication, was often the first step in a successful political ca-
reer.47 The decision to establish a committee to study Eastern Europe was un-

and depictions of backwardness, despotism, lack of private property, and “communist”

practices among Russian peasants. Predictably, Eastern Europe is presented as opposed
to Occident, Europe occidentale, Europe historique, and Europe proprement dite, which
gives the idea that Eastern Europe is a deviant area. For other late examples of Russia
viewed as a “Northern” country, see Gustave de Molinari, “La Russie et le nihilisme,”
Journal des Economistes 14 (April 1881): 5–31 (31); Léonce Pingaud, Les français en
Russie et les russes en France (Paris, 1886), vii.
Elisée Reclus, Nouvelle géographie universelle, 19 vols. (Paris, 1880), 5:289.
For Reclus, Eastern Europe “still participates to some extent in the Asiatic world.”
In turn, the West was meant to “incorporate” the Orient into the “world of civilization”:
Elisée Reclus, Hégémonie de l’Europe (1894), 5–12.
See Gilles Le Béguec, “Un conservatoire parlementaire: La Conférence Molé-

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608 Adamovsky

doubtedly related to France’s international isolation after the Franco-Prussian

War and to the need to explore the world in search of potential allies. The
committee, which was presided over by a real deputy, the moderate Charles
Savary,48 was quite prolific: it seems to have published a series of at least
thirteen short books on different Eastern European countries, called Studies on
the Slavic Peoples and Eastern Europe.49 Thus, it can be argued that the con-
cept Europe orientale was well established in the 1870s and that it was quickly
replacing the North/South axis, thus transferring the usual stereotypes about
the Orient onto the whole of an Eastern Europe.


A proper discourse of Eastern Europe—what I call Euro-Orientalism—was
only starting to develop in the 1870s, however. As Michel Foucault, Edward
Said, and other prominent scholars have demonstrated, discursive formations
are not made of words, concepts, or representations alone; they are structured
by means of social practices and institutions, through which they gain consis-
tency and strongly condition the way we perceive the world. The mere exis-
tence (or even the predominance) of the concept of Eastern Europe does not
necessarily imply the presence of a discursive formation. That is why the
answer to the last question posed above—When did the concept of “Eastern
Europe” become part of a wider discourse?—will require a change in meth-
odological approach. In the first part of this article, I used mainly the proce-
dures of Begriffsgeschichte to follow the subtle shifts and clashes in the mean-
ing of concepts and to determine how they relate to struggles in the political
arena and in the making of a European identity. The study of a discursive
formation requires different tools—namely, the analysis of social practices and
institutions and their relationship to the establishment of power relations. Most
of the semantic elements of the concept of Eastern Europe as we understand
it today were already in place in the late nineteenth century. The remainder of

Tocqueville à la fin de la IIIe République,” Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire Moderne

83, no. 22 (1984): 16–23.
The other members were Labadie-Lagrave, d’Aymery, de Bray, d’Aillières,
d’Antioche, Arnous, A. Boulay de la Meurthe, Léon Bourgeois, Chauffard, A. Cohn,
Henry Defert, F. Dreyfus, Fauvel, Ferrère, G. Fournier, Guérin, Hartmann, Herbette,
Hippeau, Hutchinson, de Lallemand de Mont, Fernand Cassany de Mazet, Peyrot, Jo-
seph Reinach, de Ronseray, Roquet, Sarchi, and Waliszewski.
Most of these books seem to be unavailable. I have found information on only
four of them: Joseph Reinach, Serbie et Monténégro (Paris, 1874); Léon Bourgeois,
La Hongrie (Paris, 1875); Fernand Cassany de Mazet, La Pologne (Paris, 1875); and
Henry Defert, Tchèques (Paris, n.d.).

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 609

this article will examine the connections between that concept and the social
practices and institutions that constituted the Euro-Orientalist discourse in the
twentieth century. It is only by unveiling the creation and the function of Euro-
Orientalism that we will fully understand the historical meaning of the seman-
tic shifts analyzed in the first part of this article.50
The present state of scholarly knowledge and the scope of my own research
allow me to present only provisional hypotheses about the origin and function
of Euro-Orientalism; categorical conclusions will have to wait until further
contributions from the academic community are available. My main hypoth-
eses are that (a) Euro-Orientalism emerged in the early twentieth century,
received a dramatic reinforcement after World War II, and is still with us;
(b) academic institutions played a major role in the creation and expansion of
Euro-Orientalism; (c) as a cultural artifact, Euro-Orientalism is a shared en-
terprise of the so-called Western world: its early origins may be in France, but
it developed later mainly (but not only) in the leading areas of the West—that
is, the Anglo-Saxon countries. Euro-Orientalism is the discursive formation by
means of which the West symbolically organizes and regulates its relationships
with the area of the world called Eastern Europe; and (d) Euro-Orientalism has
a distinctive class component. Moreover, Euro-Orientalism and its twin dis-
course of the West together constitute a form of class ideology. Indeed, they
are a fundamental part of liberal-bourgeois ideology.
The beginnings of Euro-Orientalism are to be found in the second decade
of the twentieth century, especially after World War I, when the Western powers
had to redraw the map of Eastern Europe. In that context, interest in Slavonic
studies spread to different universities in Europe and specialized institutes and
periodical publications were established, forming a network of supporting in-
stitutions for the new discourse. The timing of this process seems to have been
similar in France and in other countries. In France, the first Institut d’études

As is well known, the methodology of Begriffsgeschichte requires that concepts
be analyzed by locating them in two different contexts: synchronic and diachronic. The
first part of this article examines the synchronic context, analyzing the political and
intellectual reasons for the emergence of the concept of Eastern Europe, the political
and semantic struggles between different uses of the concept, and the shifts in its
meaning until it finally crystallized in an accepted and predominant usage in the period
1810–80. But concepts also need to be placed in the diachronic series to which they
belong. We can understand the significance of the data from the period 1810–80 only
if we know that the concept of Eastern Europe was the cornerstone of a whole discursive
formation that consolidated itself in the twentieth century. We are able to analyze the
making of the idea of Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century as an intellectual artifact
fundamental to the mental mapping of Western identity only because we know that
such an artifact gave way to Euro-Orientalism. In other words, without information
about the twentieth century it is not possible to interpret the chain of semantic shifts
in the nineteenth century as pointing in a certain direction (i.e., as a chain).

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slaves was established in Paris in 1919; in Germany, the Deutsche Gesellschaft

zum Studium Osteuropas was created in 1913; in Britain, the School of Sla-
vonic and East European Studies was established in 1915 at the University of
London; and in the United States, a Society for the Advancement of Slavonic
Study was created in 1919, but it did not last very long—proper academic
institutions for Slavic studies were established in the United States only after
1939. Immediately before and after the foundation of these new institutions,
specialized journals and new chairs of Slavic-related study were established
in various universities. The scholars involved in the new field often played an
important role in the diplomatic endeavors of their native countries.51
A second and stronger wave, which consolidated the discourse of Eastern
Europe all over the world, seems to have followed during the cold war. In that
context, anti-Communist politicians, intellectuals, academics, journalists, and
others presented the image of a world divided into two sides—Western (free)
and Eastern (Communist).52 The powerful metaphor of the iron curtain pro-
vided a visual image for that divide, which was later embodied in the even
stronger (material) metaphor of the Berlin Wall.53 Thus, as a discursive for-

On the beginnings of Slavic studies outside the Slavic world, see J. J. Gapanovitch,
Historiographie russe hors de la Russie (Paris, 1946); Uwe Liszkowski, “Russlandbild
und Russlandstudien vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg: Zur Gründung der deutschen Gesell-
schaft zum Studium Russlands 1913,” Osteuropa 38, no. 10 (1988): 887–901; Michael
Hughes, “Bernard Pares, Russian Studies and the Promotion of Anglo-Russian Friend-
ship, 1907–14,” Slavonic and East European Review 78, no. 3 (2000): 510–35; Clar-
ence Manning, A History of Slavic Studies in the United States (Milwaukee, 1957);
Josef Hamm and Günther Wytrzens, eds., Beiträge zur Geschichte der Slawistik in
nichtslawischen Ländern (Vienna, 1985).
The eight-volume American study Marxism, Communism, and Western Society: A
Comparative Encyclopedia (ed. C. D. Kernig [New York, 1972]), and the two-volume
French study Le grand defi USA/URSS: Encyclopédie comparée (ed. Marc Saporta and
Georges Soria [Paris, 1967]) are good examples of the role of academics in bifurcating
the world. In the French work, the split between Russia and the United States becomes
explicit. Another good example is the well-known Anglo-American academic journal
Soviet Survey, which was renamed Survey: A Journal of East & West Studies in 1971.
Similarly, the journal of the Istituto di studi e documentazione sull’Europa comunitaria
e l’Europa orientale in Italy was named Est-Ovest in the mid-1980s, while the Centre
national de la recherche scientifique in France has published a journal called Revue
d’Études Comparatives Est/Ouest since 1970. On the lexicon of East and West during
the cold war, see Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique
of Metageography (Berkeley, 1997), 55–62.
Interestingly enough, there is a very old tradition of similar metaphors, beginning
with the medieval image of Poland as an Antemurale Christianitatis. See Jadwiga
Krzyzaniakowa, “Poland and ‘Antemurale Christianitatis’: The Political and Ideologi-
cal Foundations of the Idea,” Polish Western Affairs 33, no. 2 [1992]: 3–24). In
nineteenth-century France, images such as a “barrier,” “wall,” “defensive line,” “strong-
hold,” “fortress,” or “cord” against “contagion,” which allegedly needed to be placed

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mation, Euro-Orientalism received a dramatic reinforcement after World War II

as a response to the ideological and political challenge to liberal-bourgeois
social order coming from Communist Eastern Europe.
During the cold war, hundreds of new institutes and university programs
specializing in Eastern Europe mushroomed in Europe, Canada, and the United
States (the latter now taking the lead, for obvious reasons). The strong polit-
icization of the anti-Communist “scholarly missions”—to use Stephen Co-
hen’s phrase—and the tight links between some of those new institutions and
governmental agencies such as the FBI and CIA are well known.54 The influ-
ence of liberal and conservative political thinking is also very noticeable in
the origins of Western Sovietology, be it in England and America—where
classic works like Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) and Hannah
Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) had a deep and lasting influ-
ence—or in France—where Raymond Aron’s Démocratie et totalitarisme
(1965) had an important impact, for example, in Alain Besançon’s interpre-
tation of the Soviet period.
Naturally, the idea of Eastern Europe and Euro-Orientalism in general were
intensely reinforced by these new and politicized supporting institutions, start-
ing with their very names: Centre d’études sur l’URSS et l’Europe orientale
(EHESS), Center for Russian and East European Studies (Birmingham Uni-
versity, Stanford University, and the University of Toronto), Dipartimento di
studi dell’Europa orientale (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples), to men-
tion only three typical ones. Likewise, thousands of books and other materials
containing in their titles the expression “Eastern Europe” were (and still are)
published all over the world. But Euro-Orientalism also became evident in the
pervasive presence of the metaphysical issue of the limits between Europe and
Asia and in the use of the no less metaphysical East/West divide as a central
analytical category in the works of some of the most important specialists. For
example, allegations about Russia’s Asian or non-European nature can fre-
quently be found in works by Hélène Carrère d’Encausse and Richard Pipes,

between Russia and Western Europe, were very common. See, e.g., [André d’Arbelles?],
De la politique et des progrès de la puissance russe (Paris, 1807), 106; C.-L. Lesur,
Des progrès de la puissance russe depuis son origine jusqu’au commencement du XIXe
siècle (Paris, 1812), 469; Napoleon I, Correspondance, 32 vols. (Paris, 1870), 32:352;
Dominique Dufour de Pradt, Du Congrès de Vienne, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1815), 125; Adrien
Peladan, La Russie au ban de l’univers et du catholicisme (Paris and Lyon, 1854), 11;
Moniteur Universel, January 29, 1864, 151. The metaphor of the iron curtain was
already in use in the 1920s, well before Winston Churchill made it famous: see Richard
Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 1919–1924 (London, 1997), 237; Katarzyna
Murawska-Muthesius, “Who Drew the Iron Curtain? Images East and West,” in Borders
in Art: Revisiting Kunstgeographie, ed. Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius (Warsaw, 2000),
241–48, esp. 242.
Stephen Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience (New York, 1985), 1–37.

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612 Adamovsky

while Bertram Wolfe and Karl Wittfogel invoked the old idea of Oriental
despotism to describe the USSR.55 Interestingly enough, after the fall of Com-
munism one of the most important periodicals in the field changed its name
from Soviet Studies to Europe-Asia Studies, thus implying that Soviet phenom-
ena belonged to an ambiguous land in between Europe and Asia; likewise, the
field of Soviet studies was renamed “Eurasian studies” in some universities.56
Finally, as Mikko Kivikoski has noted, post-Communist studies also rely to a
great extent on the East-West divide: “From today’s perspective, the era of
post-communism is often described as a determined, inevitable journey from
communism to liberalism, from state socialism to parliamentary democracy,
from ‘East’ to ‘West.’”57
In a similar fashion, the exact location of Europe’s eastern border was as
passionately debated after the mid-1980s as it had been during the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries. As usual, the main issues at stake were, Should Rus-
sia be considered European? Do we really trust the other Eastern European
nations so far as to acknowledge them fully as European? Which ones should
be readmitted, and on what grounds? Academic specialists contributed to this
wider debate. “There is no place for Russia in my map [of Europe],” said
Ralph Dahrendorf. François Furet rediscovered the value of the old “religious
border between Roman and Orthodox churches,” which enabled him to readmit
only Poland.58 Claiming that Hungarians were Central Europeans and had
nothing to do with their Eastern neighbors the Russians, the Hungarian scholar
Péter Hanák presented as proof the presence of “capitalistic private property”
in Hungary’s feudal times; George Schöpflin supported his Hungarian col-
league and added: “Russia may have had European elements in its culture, it
certainly contributed ideas and values to Europe, and individual Russians may
indeed be Europeans, but it was not a part of the current European cultural
development and, most significantly, excluded itself from that current by the
Russian Revolution and its aftermath.”59 “So, is Russia European now?”

Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, Nicolas II, la transition interrompue (Paris, 1996),
17–18; Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 278–79; Bertram Wolfe, Communist
Totalitarianism: Keys to the Soviet System (Boulder, CO, 1985), 274; Karl Wittfogel,
“Russia and the East: Comparison and Contrast,” Slavic Review 22, no. 4 (1963):
See the fascinating justification of the label “Eurasian” as a new subtitle of the
journal Kritika: “Eurasian Studies?” Kritika 1, no. 2 (2000): 233–35.
Mikko Kivikoski, “‘Anti Politics’ and Civil Society: Forgotten Ideas in East Cen-
tral Europe?” in Russia: More Different than Most, ed. Markku Kangaspuro (Helsinki,
1999), 45–76, quote on 45.
Lucio Caracciolo, ed., R. Dahrendorf, F. Furet, B. Geremek: La democracia en
Europa (Madrid, 1993), 27–31.
George Schöpflin (“Central Europe: Definitions Old and New”) and Nancy Wood
(“Central Europe: A Historical Region in Modern Times”), in In Search of Central
Europe (Cambridge, 1989), 62, 7.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 613

Georges Nivat asked himself in 1998. His answer was that Russia is in Europe
but remains different from Europe in many ways, even if it is now “heading
toward normality”; one of the main differences is that the Russians still lack
“property-owner mentality.”60 This debate is not without significance in a time
when the inclusion of new members in the European Union and the expansion
of NATO are being evaluated.61
So, if I may recap, Euro-Orientalism emerged on the eve of World War I in
relation to geopolitical interests, was reinforced during the cold war for ideo-
logical reasons, and seems to have remained a powerful discursive device after
Communism collapsed in 1989–91. Hints of its presence in current mass cul-
ture can easily be found; however, I shall focus here on the role of Euro-
Orientalism in contemporary academic studies.62 The pervasive presence of
Euro-Orientalism can be understood only by unveiling its structure and function.

1. Euro-Orientalism: Structure and Function

As a discursive formation, Euro-Orientalism not only provides a style of talk-
ing about Eastern Europe but also performs a normative function—that is, it
endeavors to establish norms for a good society and to punish deviations from
those norms. The contents of the Euro-Orientalist narrative of history may be
summarized as a number of binary oppositions (see table A1). These socio-
historical oppositions convey implicit moral judgments: it goes without saying
that civilization is better than barbarity and that progress is preferable to stag-

Georges Nivat, Regards sur la Russie de l’an VI (Paris, 1998), 283–85.
See Katlijn Malfliet, “How ‘European’ Is Russia Today?” Slavica Gandensia 27
(2000): 151–76.
I cannot restrain myself from offering two outstanding examples of the pervasive
presence of the idea of Eastern Europe in mass culture and of the fear that “the wall
in our minds” still evokes (even without Communism around). The first is an article
in the Guardian Weekly that appeared in the context of the NATO bombing of Yugo-
slavia (1999), in which the possibility of a new Pan-Slavism was discussed and am-
biguously dismissed. The dismissal, however, came only after readers were alerted by
means of a big map of Eastern Europe displaying the number of inhabitants of each
country and the total sum of Slavs. See Ian Traynor, “Expedient Band of Slav Brothers,”
Guardian Weekly, April 25, 1999, 19. The second example is an editorial, published in
1999 in Argentina’s most important newspaper, celebrating the fall of Communism and
the Berlin Wall but warning readers about the new “cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic
walls” that replaced the old one in Eastern Europe. See “Después de la caı́da del Muro,”
Cları́n, November 12, 1999, 18. For a more detailed description of Euro-Orientalism
today, see Adamovsky, “Muros de ladrillo.” For an interesting comparison between the
content of Sovietology and cold war spy literature in France, see Erik Neveu, “Les
miroirs troublants de la ‘sovietologie’ spontanée,” in Back in the USSR: Représenta-
tions de l’Union Soviétique, ed. Loı̈c Blondiaux and Sylvie Gillet, Politix: Travaux de
science politique, no. 18 (1992), 56–76. For a description of the ideological origin of
the concept of Eastern Europe and its place in academic studies, see Joanna Kostylo,
“Eastern Europe and the Historian,” Slovo (London) 13 (2001): 153–71.

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614 Adamovsky

nation. The normative ambition of Euro-Orientalism becomes more obvious

in its cultural or even moral binary oppositions (see table A2). Thus, the un-
educated want education, the fradulent have to be exposed, the contradictions
ought to be brought into balance, the deviant or irrational must be brought
back to normality, and the incapable and passive need to be helped, guided,
ruled, penetrated.
To be sure, some of these binary oppositions are hardly the property of
Euro-Orientalism alone; many of them can also be found in Orientalism and
other forms of Eurocentrism (see table A3). Other scholars will surely identify
additional characteristics of Euro-Orientalism—for example, in depictions of
Eastern Europe’s allegedly feminine spirit as opposed to the West’s virile na-
ture, of the Russian soul in contrast to Western intellectualism and/or materi-
alism, and so on—which I have left unexplored. As Euro-Orientalism is part
of the more general Eurocentric narrative of history, I have displayed here only
what I think are its most distinctive features.63
Eurocentric narratives have received much attention in the last decade. Post-
colonial scholars and the Indian historians who developed the perspectives of
subaltern studies agree that narratives of political “modernization,” the eco-
nomics of “developmentalism,” and historiographical accounts of Europe’s
“exceptionality,” played an essential role in the Westernization of the world.
Indeed, Eurocentric narratives of identity produced in the academic field pro-
vided political legitimacy, moral justification, and symbolic organization for
the West’s formal and informal colonization of the planet.64 Subaltern schol-

Similar stereotypes were at times applied even to nations that were eventually ac-
cepted as part of the narrative of Europe’s superiority—notably, to Spain or nineteenth-
century Germany. This is not strange if we consider that the grand narrative of civilization
was a historical construction and that it experienced many changes in its geographical
delineation and shifts of meaning until it finally crystallized. The distinctive feature of
Euro-Orientalism is to be found in its peculiar combination of discursive elements and
(as I will argue later in this article) in its clear class function. Thus, for example, if
most peripheral areas were constructed as “spaces of absences” of Western ingredients,
the exclusion of Eastern Europe by means of Euro-Orientalism seems to have served,
in particular, to confront mass politics, Communism, and collective institutions (ele-
ments that, apparently, are less likely to be found in other comparable discourses).
See Samir Amin, “The Construction of Eurocentric Culture,” in Postcolonialism:
Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Diana Brydon, 5 vols. (London
and New York, 2000), 4:1674–91; Sandra Harding, “Postcolonial Science and Tech-
nology Studies: A Space for New Questions,” in ibid., 5:2041–56; Silvia Federici,
ed., Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civi-
lization and Its “Others” (Westport, CT, 1995); James M. Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model
of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (New York, 1993);
Edgardo Lander, ed., La colonialidad del saber: Eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales,
perspectivas latinoamericanas (Caracas, 2000); Arif Dirlik, Vinay Bahl, and Peter
Gran, eds., History after the Three Worlds (Lanham, MD, 2000); Peter Gran, Beyond

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 615

ars have also studied how, by transforming the peripheral zones into the
mirror image of the European/Western self, Eurocentric narratives deprive
non-European peoples of a history of their own. Thus, accounts of world
history centered on the themes of progress or modernization implicitly ascribe
the leading role to “successful” (Western) nations, while condemning the rest
to constant justification of their “incomplete” development, their “failure” in
or their “distortions” of modernity, and the persistence in their societies of
“premodern” features. Thus the narrative of the West constructs a narcissistic,
self-sufficient self-identical image of itself, by subalternizing its others. That
is why subaltern scholars argue that, in order to understand world history
beyond Eurocentric ideology, we need to “provincialize Europe” by question-
ing the “universal and secular vision of the human” conveyed in the concepts
that the narrative of the West taught us.65 True, historians and social scientists
cannot simply restore the real subaltern presences suppressed by the hege-
monic narrative representations of world history. But hints of those presences
can be illuminated, as Gyan Prakash has argued, “by sketching the traces of
figures that come to us only as disfigurations. Again, not to restore the original
figures but to find the limit of foundations in shadows that the disfigurations
themselves outline.”66 I find this approach relevant for the understanding of
However, my vision of Euro-Orientalism differs in some important respects
from other postcolonial critiques of Eurocentric discourse. Following post-
structuralist approaches, the narrative of Western civilization has often been
analyzed as an epistemological construct, the product of Western logocentrism,
the creation myth of the white man forged during (and as the core of) the
Enlightenment. To put it in simplistic terms, the active agent of colonization,
according to some works modeled on this approach, appears to be “the
West”—that is, people of the white race who, due to some strange mental
disposition (the Enlightenment), set out to colonize and discipline themselves
and the rest of the world.67 The moral to be drawn from this kind of approach

Eurocentrism: A New View of Modern World History (Syracuse, NY, 1996); Ozay
Mehmet, Westernizing the Third World: The Eurocentricity of Economic Development
Theories (London and New York, 1999); Victor Lieberman, ed., Beyond Binary His-
tories: Re-imagining Eurasia to c. 1830 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1999).
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical
Difference (Princeton, NJ, 2000), 4, 32, 35; Nahla Abdo, ed., Sociological Thought
beyond Eurocentric Theory (Toronto, 1996), 13; Eckhardt Fuchs and Benedikt Stuchtey,
eds., Across Cultural Borders: Historiography in Global Perspective (Lanham, MD,
Gyan Prakash, “Can the ‘Subaltern’ Ride?” in Brydon, Postcolonialism: Critical
Concepts, 3:916–33, quote on 924.
This is the main theme, for example, in Larry Wolff’s Inventing Eastern Eu-

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616 Adamovsky

becomes evident in the general politics of postmodernism: the way out of

(Western) oppression consists in giving up the universalistic pretensions of
modernity, rejecting knowledge as a mere facade of the will to power, and
letting difference flow in a relativistic current able to destroy the binary op-
positions that modernity invented. If Enlightenment is the problem, then post-
modernism is the solution.
My interpretation of Euro-Orientalism follows a different line. For, however
important, the postmodern critique of modernity is somewhat misleading. By
finding the source of modern oppression in an episteme that organizes reality
through binary oppositions (that is, the “Enlightenment”), postmodern thinkers
have overlooked the social origins of such constructs and have left critical
thinking—always in fear of being accused of the sins of “modern Reason”—
in an awkward, paralyzing position.
To elucidate the interpretation I am proposing here, a short digression on
modernity is required. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have recently
argued, modernity was born divided. There are, in fact, two modernities: one
represented by the revolutionary discovery of the plane of immanence—that
is, the idea that knowledge and creation are not the patrimony of transcendence
but belong to this world and to men and women—and the other by the repeated
attempts to reestablish a transcendent world through appeals not only to reli-
gion but also to modern science or reason. While overlooking the former notion
of modernity, the postmodern critique failed to notice that the latter—embod-
ied in the disciplinary features but certainly not in the radical critical aspects
of the period of the Enlightenment—was not simply an epistemological con-
struct but also one of the historical forms of bourgeois ideology. This distinc-
tion dramatically changes the perspective. Indeed, as Hardt and Negri have
argued, bourgeois ideology today seems to be shifting away from its modern
form, which means that domination may no longer need the maintenance of
strong binary oppositions. On the contrary, while blurring the rigid borders of
the era of the nation-state, the culture of global capitalism seems to feel rather
at ease with the postmodern celebration of diversity and hybrid identities.
Instead of clinging to the rigid binary oppositions that strangle differences,
bourgeois ideology seems to be shifting today to more flexible ways of ad-
ministration and hierarchization of differences, which has quickly dissolved
the radical potential of postmodern politics.68

rope. On subaltern perspectives and the legacy of Enlightenment, see Federici, Endur-
ing Western Civilization, xii–xiii; and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity:
Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago, 2002), 20–37.
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2000), 137–56, 183–
203. Before Hardt and Negri, Fredric Jameson had already called our attention to the
“happy marriage” between postmodernism and capitalism in his acclaimed “Postmod-
ernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review, no. 146 (1984):

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 617

This digression was necessary to deduce that Euro-Orientalism (like other

forms of Eurocentrism) is neither a mere ethnocentric discourse nor the man-
ifestation of the Enlightenment’s vicious will to dominate everything through
knowledge but is, instead, one of the discursive formations of liberal-bourgeois
ideology. The West is not the agent and source of Euro-Orientalism, nor are
all Eastern Europeans equally victims of that discourse, for both “Eastern
Europe” and “the West” are representations rather than entities in their own
right. Even when such representations have a materiality of their own, it is
only by metaphysical fiat that they can be considered agents or objects of the
power relations they help to institute and organize. On the contrary, the agents
of Euro-Orientalism are the individuals and institutions shaped by the bour-
geois order, regardless of their ethnic origin or geographical location. Euro-
Orientalism is one of the main discursive formations by means of which the
area of the world that we were taught to call Eastern Europe was (and still is
being) incorporated into the global capitalist system. Euro-Orientalism is the
discourse that symbolically organizes and regulates the relationship between,
on the one hand, those institutions and people (regardless of their ethnic back-
ground or national location) whose role is to help expand capitalist social forms
in “Eastern Europe,” and, on the other, the “natives” and autochthonous insti-
tutions of that area of the world. In other words, Euro-Orientalism is a form
of class ideology.69 To further clarify this hypothesis, it is necessary to return

Subaltern scholars have argued that the category of class that is often employed
in, for example, Marxist historiography tends to essentialize the complex social rela-
tionships to be found in non-European societies by reading them through a conceptual
framework originally developed for European realities. That is indeed a valid point,
even though some have tended to exaggerate it. It is therefore important to note that
the concept of class is not used here in this article in its narrow economic meaning but,
rather, in one that encompasses its cultural and political dimensions. By “class,” I do
not mean one particular group of people distinguishable by the amount of money they
have or by their ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production. Under
capitalism, production and social reproduction take place on a society-wide, global
scale. Thus, for example, the production of wheat takes far more than the labor of the
rural workers directly involved in it: it also requires the work of those who produced
other necessary inputs in other countries—of the bus drivers who took them to work;
the teachers who taught them to read; the agronomists who devised better methods of
production; the physicians who treated them when they were ill; the students who will
become teachers, physicians, and agronomists tomorrow; the unemployed and the il-
legal immigrants who keep salaries at a “convenient” level; the domestic (family)
workers who raised them; the policemen who ensured social order for all this to happen;
and so on. Therefore, class relationships are not only to be found in the direct exploi-
tation of one specific social group (“the rural workers”) by another (“the owners of the
rural company”) but are also disseminated throughout the (global) body social. Thus,
all the people whose work is directly or indirectly exploited by the capitalist norms of
production and reproduction, and all who are subject to the power of those norms, are

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to the narrative of Western civilization and its relationship to liberal-bourgeois

In the formative period of liberalism, John Locke argued that human beings
become part of civil/political society only after they have been properly edu-
cated by their parents. Children, idiots, and those who do not display reason
in general cannot give their rational consent to a political authority. Therefore,
as they are not capable, they need to be excluded from social/political life and
to live under someone else’s authority. The problem arises: who is to decide
that somebody is not rational or capable enough? In the lack of resolution for
this question lies the ideological core of the liberal tradition: where theory does
not decide, (liberal) social conventions govern. The history of the idea of
civilization betrays this ideological operation. In the liberal-bourgeois ideology
and the narrative of civilization, the key to each person’s place in the gradient
of inclusion/exclusion lies precisely in his or her degree of civilization. For
“civilization” refers to the manners and customs of the (Western) upper class
(as Norbert Elias has shown in his masterpiece The Civilizing Process); to a
“rational” and politically acceptable (or “civil,” meaning liberal) behavior; and
to a high degree of economic and cultural “progress,” all at the same time. In
the unacknowledged logic of ideology, by default, all three meanings are as-
sumed to come together. Thus, if nothing points to the contrary, people with
bad (read “lower-class”) manners, or from an uncivilized (i.e., non-Western)
race or country, are assumed to be uneducated and politically less capable. By
the same token, those with good (read “Western, upper-class”) manners are
immediately assumed to be rational, politically capable, and so on. If all three
elements are not evidently present in the appropriate measure, an individual’s
place in the gradient of inclusion/exclusion will depend on the degree of “civ-
ilization” that that person is able to demonstrate. And the burden of proof is
always on those who do not seem civilized in the eyes of those who obviously
are. Failure to show an anthropological minimum in the eyes of the civilized
may result in partial or total social and political exclusion. Translated into
social practices, failure to play the role that the script of civilization assigns
to each person gives the civilized the right to claim control over some or all
aspects of the lives of those who have failed, including control over their
autonomy, political sovereignty, economic way of life, and freedom.

under class domination. This includes the specific configurations of class domination
to be found in peripheral countries, which are often (wrongly) considered precapitalist
or premodern. “Class ideology” refers here to the set of ideas, concepts, representations,
and so on that organize and legitimize that domination in its different situations.
“Liberal-bourgeois ideology” refers to the specific, historical configuration of class
ideology in the modern (capitalist) world. On this definition of “class,” see Michael
Hardt and Antonio Negri, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State-Form (Minne-
apolis, 1994), 8–21.

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 619

Euro-Orientalism is one of those scripts: it is the discourse that regulates the

inclusion/exclusion of “Eastern Europeans.” In other words, Euro-Orientalism
defines to what extent their affairs can be left in their own hands and how
much they can be helped, advised, or forced to become something else; in the
case of extreme exclusion, Euro-Orientalism can even serve to legitimize the
suppression of those who stubbornly refuse to assume their roles in the nar-
rative of civilization. It must be remembered, however, that Euro-Orientalism
regulates not only the relationships between Westerners and Eastern Europeans
but also the relationships between the more or less Westernized Eastern Eu-
ropean “natives”—that is, between those who have different degrees of edu-
cation in the school of liberal-bourgeois civilization. Thus, Euro-Orientalism
regulates the total or partial exclusion/inclusion of Eastern European countries,
and not just with regard to the (Western) institutions—NATO, EU, IMF, UN—
and decisions—investments, adoption of new technologies, and so on—that
organize and shape global society. The same applies to the internal life of
Eastern Europeans: the derogatory effect of Euro-Orientalism also regulates
the relations between the elites and the people and between people who per-
ceive themselves as Western or modern in different degrees.

2. On the Materiality of Euro-Orientalism

The material effects of Euro-Orientalism remain to be studied. However, some
of its contours can already be sketched. The violence implicit in the normative
discourse of the European/Western self and its “others” has always accompa-
nied, justified, and organized the explicit violence by means of which the
Westernization (that is, the inclusion in the capitalist order) of the world was,
and still is, accomplished. And Euro-Orientalism is no exception.
Russia may serve as an example. Most scholars would agree now that, after
Peter the Great, the tsars of Russia embarked on policies to modernize the
country. Indeed, when Peter decided to cut the beards of the Russian nobles
and force them to dress in the German fashion, he had already understood,
better than anyone else, that “modernization” meant Europeanization and that
Russians might never modernize without coercion. The eighteenth-century
French philosophes would discuss whether civilization could be imposed by
force or not, but, except for Rousseau, they all agreed that it was a good thing
to educate Russia in the customs and institutions of Europe. And Napoleon
would indeed have brought civilization to Russia by military force, just as he
had civilized Egypt, if it were not for the stubbornness of the Russian army.
Never mind: unlike the situation in nineteenth-century Asia or Africa, there
was an “educated” elite in Russia ready to do the job by itself.
Thus, nineteenth-century French specialists such as Gustave de Molinari,
Louis Wolowski, and the brothers Leroy-Beaulieu found a good reception
when they advised the tsars to turn Russia into a Western society by encour-

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aging capitalistic reforms, dissolving the communal forms of ownership, and

filling the country’s “emptiness” with a middle class and with certain types of
associations and institutions. If Russia’s own capabilities were not enough (by
definition, they were not), European entrepreneurs were ready to provide loans
and investments. And so they did.
Much contemporary scholarship would also argue that foreign investments,
the tsars’ policies of rapid industrialization, and attempts to privatize the land
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were positive steps on the
road to modernization and development. Some of them would argue that, re-
grettably, the “transition” in Russia was unduly interrupted by the Bolsheviks,
who destroyed precisely what Russia most wanted: the incipient middle class,
civil society, and private property. Some scholars have asked themselves if,
perhaps, the violence that the Revolution imposed on Russian society was
related to the previous violence of forcible Westernization. However, the old
account of the Russian Revolution as the manifestation of the uneducated
peasant mob, of the Asiatic part of Russia’s “dual” nature interrupting the
“normal” course of history, still seems to be hegemonic in many institutions
of higher learning and research (not to mention secondary education).
During Soviet times, the normative will implicit in Euro-Orientalism ac-
quired its most aggressive form. For the problem was not just Russia’s tradi-
tional refusal or incapacity to become “like us”: now Russia explicitly wanted
to become something else, and it invited the rest of the world to join a new
narrative—the emancipation of humankind through Communism. Both polit-
ically and symbolically, liberalism had to fight with Communism for the own-
ership of the future. As the liberal-bourgeois Western identity faced this re-
bellion by one of its “others,” it fell momentarily into anxiety and fear. Thus,
in the 1940s, Euro-Orientalism changed its patronizing self-confidence for a
more belligerent and at times paranoid disposition: if the “other” could not be
induced to reassume its assigned place in the liberal-bourgeois narrative of
progress, it might have to be destroyed. The school of totalitarianism provided
rationalization for this attitude typical of the cold war era, exemplified outside
the campuses in America’s development of weapons of mass destruction. As
is well known, the conclusion of many academic specialists on Russia in the
1950s and later was that totalitarianism could be overthrown only by military
force from outside.
In the end, direct military violence did not need to be deployed, and the
patronizing spirit of Euro-Orientalism had its revenge. As more and more
“reasonable” elites came to power in the Soviet Union after Gorbachev—the
man of whom Margaret Thatcher said, “With him we can do business”—the
liberal-bourgeois order recovered its pedagogic approach. With the material
support of Western governments, financial institutions, foundations, investors,
and literally thousands of Western experts and advisers, the new Russian elite

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Euro-Orientalism and the Concept of Eastern Europe in France 621

embarked on an accelerated Westernization, which meant, as usual, the adop-

tion of capitalism. In the early 1990s the state was dismantled and the whole
economy was privatized in record time, while Western television channels
indulged in images of young Russians elbowing their way into the newly
opened McDonalds. No official notification of conquest was needed: the image
of the yellow arches juxtaposed to St. Basil’s cathedral was more than enough.70
However, excitement about the “new Russia” did not last very long. As the
whole economic experiment collapsed and the vast majority of the population
was forced into poverty, Westerners rediscovered Russia’s superficial (imita-
tive?) Westernization, its old cultural impediments, its “civilizational incom-
petence.”71 Russia was once again blamed for its disgrace.72 That was no sur-
prise: after all, it was the same old “eternal” Russia.73 In that way, the implicit
hierarchy projected by the narrative of civilization was finally restored when
the former enemy became the “pupil” of capitalistic economic and political
practices. Russia was once again declared “in transition”: once again it was a
developing country, like the vast majority of the world. As usual, academic

Remembering the anniversary of the discovery of America in 1992, Hélène Carrère
d’Encausse argued that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was like “another
New World” waiting to be discovered; moreover, the end of Communism left that
country “facing a tabula rasa” (Victorieuse Russie [Paris, 1992], 381–82). By that, she
probably meant that Russia now had the chance to be transformed into something
different. However, the discovery of the New World becomes a rather unfortunate
comparison if we think of it from the viewpoint of the Russian “natives.” The fact that
the French scholar “forgot” the five hundred years of violence that accompanied the
forcible inclusion of the Americas in the capitalist world system invites the thought
that Euro-Orientalist discourse will probably overlook the violence of a similar process
in Eastern Europe.
See e.g., Piotr Sztompka, “Civilizational Incompetence: The Trap of Post-
Communist Societies,” Zeitschrift für Soziologie 22 (1993): 85–95.
In a lecture at the Moscow School of Political Studies in 1999, Richard Pipes went
so far as to argue that Russia’s “enemy” is the Russians themselves, whose culture is
undermining economic and political reforms. See Richard Pipes, “What Russians
Should Do in the Twenty-First Century,” Russia on Russia (London) 1 (2000): 42–49.
A prestigious American publishing house considered it necessary in 1989, when
it reprinted the marquis de Custine’s famous account of his journey to Russia in 1839,
to remind readers that “some tendencies that we attribute to ‘Communism’ today may
simply be Russian: expansionism, autocracy, bureaucracy, centralism, secrecy, con-
tempt for personal rights and public opinion, and so on.” The volume was given the
revealing (and nonauthentic) subtitle A Journey through Eternal Russia (Astolphe de
Custine, Empire of the Czar: A Journey through Eternal Russia [New York, 1990]).
Indeed, the old testimonies of European travelers may still be used within the academic
field to “prove” that Russia has certain “eternal” (bad) characteristics (see, e.g., Anna
Rédei Cabak, “Russia in a Western Mirror: A Presentation of Denis Diderot, Mme. de
Staël, and André Gide,” CFE Working Paper Series, Lund University, 2001, http://

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Euro-Orientalism—especially in the new field of “transitionology”—provided

a symbolic organization of the new post-Communist reality, systematic guide-
lines and cadres for the reforms, and moral legitimacy for the Western gov-
ernments, international institutions, experts, nongovernmental organizations,
and companies that helped demolish Russia’s Communist features and set up
unrestrained market relations overnight. It also made Western responsibility
invisible to the eyes of the public when the profoundly destructive effects of
those reforms became evident.74
In conclusion, from its early roots in the eighteenth century to its full emer-
gence in the first years of the twentieth century, from its fearful and aggressive
disposition during the cold war to its patronizing triumph after the fall of
Communism, Euro-Orientalism is one of the most relevant cultural constructs
to the history of the imposition of capitalism on the whole world. Insofar as
it (symbolically) organized and (materially) helped the expansion of capital-
istic social features in the region that we now call Eastern Europe—a land
constructed as empty and inferior, wanting the insemination of the Western
master—Euro-Orientalism can be considered a form of class ideology (not
simply a form of ethnocentrism). Its role in academia—past and present—
still awaits serious discussion.

3. On Race and Class: A Final Word on the Wider Debate on

If I am correct in this conclusion—that the function of Euro-Orientalism as a
discursive formation is mainly one of class—a question immediately arises.
Scholars of other discursive formations comparable to Euro-Orientalism, such
as Orientalism (Edward Said) or “Balkanism” (Maria Todorova), seem to have
found no functions of class ideology of the kind that constitute the very core
of the discourse I have analyzed in this work.75 Is it possible that discursive
formations that seem to be so closely related may differ in such a fundamental

It must be said, however, that some scholars did raise this issue. See, e.g., Stephen
Cohen, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (New
York and London, 2000), 19–21; David Wedgwood Benn, “Warm Words and Harsh
Advice: A Critique of the West’s Role in Russian Reforms,” International Affairs 77,
no. 4 (2001): 947–55; Michel Roche, Thérapie de choc et autoritarisme en Russie: La
démocratie confisquée (Paris and Montreal, 2000); Esther Kingston-Mann, In Search
of the True West: Culture, Economics, and Problems of Russian Development (Prince-
ton, NJ, 1999).
See Said, Orientalism; Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (New York and
Oxford, 1997). True, Todorova’s work clearly identifies differences of class in Western
perceptions of the Balkans (i.e., aristocrats/conservatives, on the one hand, and middle
class/liberals, on the other, tended to perceive different features more prominently), but
she interprets “Balkanism” more as a mere form of ethnocentrism than in terms of its
class functions (if any).

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point? My poor knowledge of “Oriental” and Balkan studies does not allow
me to risk an answer. It could well be that elements of class ideology are
especially visible in Euro-Orientalism and not so much (or not at all) in com-
parable discourses. However, it would not be too surprising if it turns out that
hints of class ideology have simply been overlooked in those studies. The
intellectual climate of postmodernism and the obsession of some postcolonial
scholars with power/knowledge, logocentrism, and other alleged sins of the
Enlightenment have often meant, as Rosalind O’Hanlon and David Washbrook
have noted, that all identities, differences, and forms of oppression were wor-
thy of study except those of class.76
In this respect, the recent discussion of Orientalism by David Cannadine
becomes relevant to this analysis. Against Said’s view, Cannadine argued that
“the British Empire was not exclusively (or even preponderantly) concerned
with the creation of ‘otherness’ on the presumption that the imperial periphery
was different from, and inferior to, the imperial metropolis: it was at least as
much (perhaps more?) concerned with what has recently been called ‘construc-
tion of affinities’ on the presumption that society on the periphery was the
same as, or even on occasions superior to, society in the metropolis.” Thus,
while some nineteenth-century British writers would focus on the racial dif-
ferences distancing them from their colonized “inferiors,” others would pay
more attention to the social similarities that made them similar and “equals.”
This is illustrated by the examples of some writers who would equate the
workers in English factories (the “dangerous classes”) with the “negroes” from
abroad, and the industrial zones at home with “the ‘dark continents’ overseas.”
Similar analogies were also used for the upper classes: monarchs and “nobles”
of the colonized regions were often granted the treatment that their peers at
home deserved. Cannadine concludes from this that the “preracial” perception
of the other, more commonly found in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
(the “pre-Enlightenment”), was still present during the empire: “This means
there were at least two visions of empire that were essentially (and elaborately)
hierarchical: one centered on color, the other on class.”77 I have found similar
evidence in nineteenth-century France: the workers were constantly compared
to the barbarians past and present (including the Cossacks), while the Russian
nobility was usually accepted as fully European. What Cannadine fails to no-
tice is that the differences of class and race did not constitute two alternative
or opposing visions but were constructed by, and functioned as interwoven in,

Rosalind O’Hanlon and David Washbrook, “After Orientalism: Culture, Criticism,
and Politics in the Third World,” in Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial,
ed. Vinayak Chaturvedi (London, 2000), 191–219, esp. 214–15.
David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (London,
2001), xix, 5 6, 8–9.

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the same symbolic system devised by bourgeois ideology. Indeed, for all its
racist implications, the narrative of Western civilization never excluded the
“inferior races” completely. On the contrary, as Hardt and Negri have argued,
modern racism operated by ordering racial differences according to their de-
gree of deviation from the standard of the white man. Thus, “deviant” char-
acteristics were differentially integrated in a gradient of proximity and re-
moteness from white “normality.” But the most important function of modern
racism was not so much to keep biological types apart by means of strong
binary oppositions (white/colored) as to use racial differences to produce social
hierarchies. Relationships of power and exploitation can be instituted through
different devices, racial hierarchies (and the concomitant racial prejudice) be-
ing one of them. And there is no need to remember here the role that racism
played in the organization and legitimization of two of the most important
episodes in the making of capitalism: colonialism and the reintroduction of
slavery. But racism, unfortunately, is not something of the past alone. A some-
what different type of racism still performs a similar function today. This new
racism is not based on essentialist biological assumptions—most Westerners
would accept today that all races are equal. Rather, it has reframed the dis-
tinctions between peoples as “cultural” or “social” differences.78 Seemingly
less essentialist, these alleged cultural distinctions permit the ordering of dif-
ferences in more flexible hierarchies—that is, hierarchies that do not imply
that those below can only remain below. Thus, for example, the policies of
African countries are to a great extent molded by Western institutions, while
African Americans still occupy the bottom layer of American society—two
facts curiously resembling the times of colonialism and slavery. Yet no edu-
cated person would argue today that this is because black people are biologically
inferior: their present subaltern situation is due only to “social” or “cultural”
causes. Theoretically, there is no impediment to their becoming autonomous
or doing as well as their (white) fellow humans: it is just that they are incapable
or less capable at the moment. In this way, cultural and sociological signifiers
have taken the place of the old biological ones in the construction of social
hierarchies that, however, still have an unmistakable racial component. Leav-
ing the most objectionable biological categories behind, class ideology still
employs race as a way to create distinctions and construct social hierarchies.
The evidence that Cannadine found proves only that, in the social hierarchies
that bourgeois ideology invents and constantly rebuilds, biological, cultural,
and social differences may overlap and to some extent be interchangeable.
Indeed, the history of Euro-Orientalism permits us to visualize better the
continuity of old and new racism in the narrative of Western civilization. For
Euro-Orientalism seems to have been based in biological differences less than

Hardt and Negri, Empire, 190–95.

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Orientalism or the discourses of slavery were; social and cultural differences

played a predominant role in Euro-Orientalism from the very beginning. Thus,
Russia was and still is constructed as racially inferior—references to the Tatar
“stain” in Russian blood or to Lenin’s Asiatic face can still be found in the
academic literature—as much as it is perceived as culturally and socially in-
complete, lacking the right civic culture, a middle class, civil society, and so
on.79 Moreover, from the eighteenth century onward, intellectuals would design
projects for the completion of Russia’s “emptiness,” which indicates that such
a task was considered perfectly possible. Due perhaps to Russia’s paradoxical
place between Europe and Asia, between us and the “other,” the discourse of
Euro-Orientalism was structured by somewhat weaker and more selective bio-
logical components. For example, in nineteenth-century France, allusions to
Russia’s Asiatic origins and the most racist biological references were used to
refer to the Russian lower classes and their egalitarian institutions (the mir and
the artel’), as well as to the entire nation and its rulers when they embarked
on the Communist project or threatened the liberal-bourgeois order in any other
way. Conversely, recognition of Russia’s European nature was more likely to
be granted to the upper classes and to the whole nation in periods in which it
seemed to fit into the role of the learner of Western civilization.80 The partial
overlapping of categories of class, culture, and race, and the relative ease with
which one type could replace the other, seems to prove that they all belonged
to the same ideological formation.

See, e.g., Carrère d’Encausse, Victorieuse Russie, 36, Lénine (Paris, 1998), 21–
22, and L’Union Soviétique de Lénine à Staline: 1917–1953 (Paris, 1972), 8.
See n. 39 above. A contemporary example of this can be found in Carrère
d’Encausse, L’Union Soviétique, 8.

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The West Russia or Eastern Europe

Civilization Barbarity81
Modernity, development, progress Tradition, underdevelopment, stagnation
Middle class Lack of middle class82
Freedom Despotism or totalitarianism
Civil society or intermediate corps Lack of civil society or intermediate corps83
Private property Collective property
Pluralism or “diversity” Homogeneity
Individuals Masses84
Liberalism Communism

The image of Eastern Europe as a land that lacks civilization can be found in many
contemporary sources. The sociologist Piotr Sztompka went so far as to coin the con-
cept of “civilizational incompetence” to name the malaise of Eastern Europe past and
present. See his “Civilizational Incompetence” (n. 71 above). Similar uses of the binary
construction of West/East as civilization/barbarity can be found in other leading con-
temporary scholars, and even in Russian philosophers. See Hélène Carrère d’Encausse,
La Russie inachevée (Paris, 2000), 190, 285; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The
Russian Revolution, 1891–1924 (London, 1996), 43; Evert Van der Zweerde, “Civil
Society and Ideology: A Matter of Freedom,” Studies in East European Thought 48
(1996): 192–93. The use of similar concepts such as “modernity,” “development,” or
“progress,” performing the same binary divisions between West and East, is much more
common (“civilization” remains somewhat unfashionable).
The idea that Eastern Europe’s deficient civilization/development/progress is due
to the weakness or absence of its “middle class” or “bourgeoisie” can be found in many
contemporary sources. See, e.g., Nivat, Regards sur la Russie de l’an VI (n. 60 above),
20, 281; Marie-Pierre Rey, Le dilemme russe (Paris, 2002): 20; Richard Pipes, Russia
under the Old Regime (1974; repr. Harmondsworth, 1987), 191–220; Geoffrey Hosk-
ing, Russia: People and Empire, 1552–1917 (London, 1998), 246–48; Harley Balzer,
ed., Russia’s Missing Middle Class (New York and London, 1996), 300.
The theme of Eastern Europe’s lack of freedom due to the lack or weakness of
“civil society” is recurrent in the academic arena. For example, Alain Besançon, Martin
Malia, and Richard Pipes agree that the lack of “intermediate” or “independent” as-
sociations in tsarist Russia is a key to understanding the triumph of authoritarian ten-
dencies in the tsarist period and after 1917. See Alain Besançon, Les origines intellec-
tuelles du Léninisme (Paris, 1977), 58, 110, 101, and Présent sovietique et passé russe
(Paris, 1976), 47; Martin E. Malia, The Soviet Tragedy (New York, 1994), 6 and 507,
and Russia under Western Eyes (Cambridge, MA, 1999), 32–35, 412; Richard Pipes,
Three Whys of the Russian Revolution (London, 1998), 8, 17–18. The idea of the “lack
of civil society” is also fundamental to the interpretations of the school of totalitari-
anism, which dominated the field of Slavic studies for decades, and also in contem-
porary studies on the “transition” to democracy in Eastern Europe. The list of examples

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The West Russia or Eastern Europe

Education (“civilization”) Cultural handicaps
Balance Contradictions
Normal Deviant
Rational Irrational
Authentic (Fake) Imitation
Capable Incapable
Active Passive

would be endless; to mention but a few: Schöpflin and Wood, eds., In Search of Central
Europe (n. 59 above); Ralph Dahrendorf, After 1989: Morals, Revolution and Civil
Society (London, 1997); Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its
Rivals (London, 1994); Anne Le Huérou and Kathy Rousselet, eds, La société civile
en Russie: De l’utopie à l’engagement civique? Problèmes politiques et sociaux (série
Russie), vol. 814 (Paris, 1999); Z. T. Golenkova, ed., Problemy formirovaniia grazh-
danskogo obshchestva (Moscow, 1993).
The necessary link between individuality, pluralism, private property (and the idea
that collective forms of ownership of property bring about despotism), and freedom is
a classic tenet of liberal thinking that can easily be found in the field of Slavic studies.
For example, Hosking calls the plebeian forms of collective property and association—
the mir and artel’—Russia’s “totalitarianism from below.” See Geoffrey Hosking, The
Awakening of the Soviet Union (London, 1991), 26–34, 55, 213. Similarly, basing
himself in no evidence whatsoever, Pipes concluded that “the Russian peasant shared
with other primitive men a weakly developed sense of personal identity”; the alleged
handicap was due to the lack of private property. See Pipes, Russia under the Old
Regime, 158.
Some examples of this can be found in the field of positivist psychology. The
reformist liberal theoretician Alfred Fouillée argued in his widely read positivist treatise
Esquisse psychologique des peuples européens (4th ed. [Paris, 1903], 397–452) that
Slavonic blood was not purely “Arian” but mixed with that of Asian races. The shape
of Slavonic skulls confirmed this Oriental pedigree. Hence their “absence of intellectual
life,” “sensitivity,” “melancholy,” “love for equality” even in servitude, “passivity,”
“simplistic” reasoning, superstitious and “fanatic” approach to religion, and so on. The
Russians in particular seemed to be the most “primitive,” “passive,” “inert,” “unbal-
anced,” and unsuitable to “capitalism” of the Slavs, due to their “Turanian and brach-
yocephalic” element. Needless to say, Fouillée presented scientific evidence of the
superiority of the Western psychology (the French in particular). These stereotypes,
albeit in more subtle formulations, can also be found in more recent scholarship.

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628 Adamovsky


Characteristics of the Core Characteristics of the Periphery

Inventiveness Imitativeness
Rationality, intellect Irrationality, emotion, instinct
Abstract thought Concrete thought
Theoretical reasoning Empirical, practical reasoning
Mind Body, matter
Discipline Spontaneity
Adulthood Childhood
Sanity Insanity
Science Sorcery
Progress Stagnation

Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World (n. 64 above), 17.

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