East is East and West is West

By Ron Houston

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Orient Express

CLAIMS

"Bulgaria is the country where East meets West." - Balkantourist chief guide in Sofia, 1979.
"Turkey is the country where East meets West." - Turkish smuggler on the Orient Express through Bulgaria, 1983.
"Yugoslavia is the country where East meets West." - Serbian lawyer in Beograd, 1979.
"Germany is the country where East meets West." - East German in Leipzig, 1982.
"Poland is the country where East meets West." - Polish interpreter in Toruń, 1981.

THE QUESTION

So where is the border between East and West? Many countries have valid claims.

BULGARIA

Bulgaria borders Turkey to the east and Yugoslavia to the west. Bulgarians see Turks as dark, smelly easterners and Yugoslavs as capitalistic westerners. Could Bulgaria contain the East-West border? Bulgarians think so.

TURKEY

Turkey, like the Soviet Union, claims territory in both Asia and Europe. This fact, they feel, establishes them as the bridge between East and West. Hellenistic Thracians might differ, but Turks certainly do have a geographical claim to the border.

YUGOSLAVIA [as it stood unified, in 1989]

Slovenia, in far northwest Yugoslavia, has a culture nearly identical to that of Austria on its north border. Macedonia, in far southeast Yugoslavia, has a variety of cultures similar to those of Albania, Greece, and Turkey. Orthographically, Yugoslavia uses both the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets. Religiously, Yugoslavia incorporates Islamic, Roman, and Eastern Orthodox communities. Economically, Yugoslavia practices a mixed capitalistic socialism. Yugoslavs have several claims to that East-West dividing line.

POLAND

For some 1200 years, Poland has been the battleground between Germanic and Slavic peoples. That particular East-West border has been dragged back and forth across Poland to the point of erasing it entirely three times. By a quirk of history, Poland is Roman Catholic, while all other Slavic nations are Eastern Orthodox. The few surviving Poles can rightly feel they straddle the line.

GERMANY [as it stood divided in 1989]

Travel much in the Slavic countries and in Germanic Western Europe, then go to East Germany. You'll meet the incredible combination of rigid Germanic authoritarianism mixed with the exceedingly relaxed Slavic standards of comfort and neatness. For example, you'll have to fill out papers in triplicate to take a shower in your hotel, but the papers will be smudged and torn.

THE ANSWER

There seems to be more patriotism than objectivity in the determination of the East-West boundary. Nearly every country in the world has a valid claim. So why not salve a few egos? Just agree when they say "Our country is the true meeting ground of East and West."

A QUICK TEST

Of course, we all know the best objective answer to that question is this country, the United States of America. After all, we have millions of immigrants from Europe, thriving Asiatic communities (even before Hawaii became the 50th state), representatives of virtually every world religion, more international folk dance groups than any other country, and worldwide commercial ties. And don't forget, Texas is right in the middle of the USA, and Austin is right in the middle of Texas, and my house is right in the middle of Austin! So my house, in my home town, Austin, Texas, rightfully hosts the boundary between East and West, and does a very unobtrusive job of it, too! Don't you agree?


From the Folk Dance Problem Solver 1989, the annual collection of articles about folk dancing, published by and available from the Society of Folk Dance Historians (SOFDH), 2100 Rio Grande, Austin, TX 78705. The SOFDH is directed by Ron Houston.

Used with permission of the author.