Canadian Journal of History Author, Victoria Vasilenko, Explores the History of Federalism and the Search for Settlement in Postwar East Central Europe

October 27, 2014

Written by guest blogger, Victoria Vasilenko.

Interest in federalist concepts by thinkers and politicians from the former Soviet bloc has grown following the biggest expansion of the European Union in 2004. Although Western Europe paved the way for the formation of the EU, recent scholarship proved that at times Eastern European concepts were more advanced than federalist theory in the West. In addition, former Eastern Europeans contributed to the development of federalist ideas, as demonstrated by the example of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795), once an important a federalist polity in the region. Considering this context, I decided to examine a more recent attempt to implement federalist concepts. There were many plans that employed federalist thinking, but few were put into practice and even fewer were also non-violent.

I focused on the Polish-Czechoslovak confederation project from 1939 to 1943, which was seen by its proponents as a potential nucleus of a broader organization of states in the region. If realized, it would have provided a completely different settlement of East Central Europe after World War II. The project originated in the difficult conditions of WWII exile when the future of the occupied countries was uncertain. Conflicting political viewpoints and policy emerged, and interwar grievances between Poland and Czechoslovakia were still fresh.

The confederation project might well have gone unnoticed in the international arena like the many similar schemes that had preceded it. But as other scholars and I have noted, the project elicited unprecedented cooperation between the nations of the region; besides, it was of interest to the British government and its Foreign Office. These factors made the confederation project more likely to be ratified. To my surprise, my research on the project helped expose the complexity of British planning for Central and South-Eastern Europe in late 1943, only a small part of which was realized in the actual postwar settlement.

With the privilege of hindsight, one might say that this difficult experience in cooperation contributed to the formation of a sense of regional identity. Following the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia (after 1993 the Czech Republic and Slovakia) cooperated to form the Visegrad Group, which facilitated their entry into the EU. After a decade of membership in the EU this pattern of cooperation is proving its importance, as these countries position themselves as “Central Europeans” whose experience and expertise makes them ideally suited to guide reform in post-Soviet nations.

Victoria Vasilenko’s article, “The Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation Project in British Policy, 1939-43: A Federalist Alternative to Postwar Settlement in East Central Europe” appears in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadienne d’histoire. Read it today by clicking here:

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