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IDENTITY, BOUNDRIES AND CULTURES IN EASTERN EUROPE

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 BACKGROUND ESSAY FOR TEACHERS

In studying the history and development of Europe, Seventh Graders are challenged to understand the unfolding chronicles of history through the successive ages from 1000 BC to 1750 AD.  Eastern Central Europe has been particularly buffeted by invading hordes, each of whom have worked to make their mark on the already existing resident society.  Some of the more aggressive conquering peoples eliminated much of the existing population, others forced them to adapt themselves to the new ways or face elimination, others conquered and only wanted their tribute. 

This lesson plan is designed to assist the students learn about the peoples of Eastern Central Europe with the understanding of the layering of cultures in the area that has resulted in the problems and challenges that are faced by the people today living in those countries.

The peoples, cultures, languages, and lands in the Eastern Central region of Europe have experienced a plethora of subjugating conquerors since the beginning of time.  As each conquering civilization established their presence, elements of their culture were layered onto the resident cultures that had been developed and left by previous civilizations.  As the various civilizations rose to power, expanded, occupied lands as far out as they could effectively control and became established, they each left a cultural imprint on those cultures and regions.  In some areas of Europe, the cultures have melded and meshed into a unique culture, at peace with itself and its neighbors by now in the 21st century.  But in the regions of Eastern Central Europe the difficulties of coexisting with neighboring cultures, religions, languages, customs, and people groups have resulted in unrest, discontent, and intolerance. 

In recent history, most of the area was under the domination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire up until 1918, the end of World War I.  Then the powers that be created two uncomfortable countries known as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.  The geography of the countries is beautiful, but the people groups were of ethnicities that were intolerant of the differences in religion, culture, languages and customs of their neighbors.  With the onset of the problems of World War II, ethnic issues were pushed aside to cope with the more immediate concerns of the times.  With the end of World War II came the “Iron Curtain” an action on the part of the Soviet Union which effectively closed off communication by other countries with Eastern Central Europe.  After the collapse of Communism, which in large part controlled the region communication, commerce as well as the mind-set of the peoples of Eastern Central Europe has been given a more prominent role including autonomy and self-rule.

Going back into times of antiquity, which are included in the Seventh Grade Curriculum, a line-up of succeeding conquering civilizations invaded and occupied the area over time, including: Celts, Romans, Mongols, Huns, Ottomans, Germanic Tribes, Slavic Peoples and the effects of the Crusades.   Each of these succeeding people groups contributed to the culture and character of the ethnicities and nations that exist today.  To begin to understand the countries of Eastern Central Europe, it is necessary to grasp the impact of the changes and influences that have dogged the area throughout time.

The present day country of the Czech Republic has been chosen as the example garden to profile for the students.  The authors, musicians and educators chosen to reflect the culture of the then Czechoslovakia (circa 1923), really reflected the Czech people, not the Slovaks.  Later Slovakia set up its own Garden.  Although politics were to be kept out of the Gardens, there are many indirect political statements present in the choice of which musician or which author to include. The material in each of the Cultural Gardens is sufficient to give a well-rounded experience of what the nationality represented wanted others to consider when the Garden is explored.