Today’s Slavic people originated from central and eastern Europe’s Celtic and Germanic groups, as well as the Slavs.
Early Peoples and Empires:
The earliest Slavs are believed to have settled in the region of Ukraine and Poland after migrating from Asia thousands of years earlier. Also settling in this area were the Celtic and Germanic groups. The Germanic groups and the Slavs started moving southward and westward between AD 400-500.
The Slavic Czechs settled in Bohemia and Moravia in the late 500s and 700s, respectively. They formed ‘Great Moravia’ which covered most of central Europe. The Slavic groups that lived on the Balkan Peninsula formed Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia. The Ottoman Empire continued to rule this area, though, from 1400 to 1900.
Most Slavic groups moved west because of the invasions from Asians, but the eastern Slavs settled in Ukraine and Belarus, where there were many forests and plains. Kiev (Kyiv) was formed on the Dnieper River, and the surrounding region became known as ‘Kievan Rus’, the earliest and easternmost Slavic state.
The Romans conquered the area between the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube River, hence the name ‘Romania.’ Romania wasn’t unified until the 1100s because of frequent invasions.
The eastern part of the Roman Empire was named the Byzantine Empire, and it lasted for about one thousand years after the fall of Rome. Missionaries from Byzantine spread Eastern Orthodoxy (a form of Christianity) around Europe. The Arabs and Turks tried to invade the region, but it was protected until its fall in 1453 when it fell to the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Conflict, Union and Division:
Many countries in eastern Europe struggle with power and ethnic divisions, especially the Balkan Peninsula. The Balkan Slavs overthrew the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s but struggled to unite the region. Although cooperation was challenging, the country managed to form ‘Yugoslavia’. Balkanization, the division of a region into smaller regions that are often hostile, resulted from the Balkan wars.
Throughout World War II, Eastern Europe was frequently occupied and was a constant site of many battles. An underground group in Yugoslavia fought against Germany, and after the war, Yugoslavia became a Communist country. Eastern Europe, at the end of the war, fell under the power of the Soviet Union and became Communist. The resulting division between the western, democratic Europe and the eastern, Communist Europe would result in the Cold War.
In the 1990s, Yugoslavia underwent some changes because of differences in ethnicities. Some of the republics wanted independence, and the hatred between groups started violence in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Hersegovina. Due to ethnic cleansing, Serb leaders had to kill or expel groups in these areas. International efforts to keep the peace enabled many refugees to return to their homes.
A New Era
Revolts against Communism rolled across eastern Europe from the 1950s to the 1980s. The fall of the region’s Communist governments was because of public demonstrations in 1989. Free elections in the 1990s installed democratic leaders, encouraging the rise of market economies. Some of the European countries have grown closer to the rest of Europe, some joining the European Union.
Boehm, Richard G. “Eastern Europe-History and Government.” World Geography and Cultures. Columbus: Glencoe/McGraw Hill, 2012.
“Physical Map of Europe.” Free World Maps – Physical Maps. Web. 23 Jan. 2012.