By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
An octogenarian in Albania watches over the last statue of Enver Hoxha. The dictator rose to power during World War II and helped expel fascists from the country. The Eastern European/Central Asian nations are rife with history.
The image of communist dictator Enver Hoxha used to appear everywhere in Albania in the form of busts and statues, due to his role kicking out Italian and Nazi forces during the Second World War. However, his postwar reign was rife with horrors, including the executions of old wartime allies and often any citizen who tried to leave Albania. Hoxha also isolated the nation from all of its neighbors, calling even Russia and China “too liberal” and failures of communism.
The cluster of Eastern European/Central Asian nations has plenty of history and culture. In his video series Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are, Dr. David Livermore, President and Partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan, explained what influenced them so strongly to become what they are today.
The Orthodox Church
“Some of the countries included in the Eastern European/Central Asian cluster are Greece; Albania; Poland; Russia; and, of course, Mongolia,” Dr. Livermore said. “The countries in this cluster are the ones that were most strongly influenced by the Byzantine Empire, and while the Roman Empire primarily moved west of the Mediterranean Sea, the predominant direction the Byzantine Empire moved was toward the east, and that’s a big part of what formed the shared values across this cluster.”
Some of the strongest evidence for the widespread nature of this cultural movement is the strong presence of the Greek Orthodox Church through most of these nations. The Orthodox Church, Greek or not, is more steeped in ritual and ceremony more than any other sect of Christianity, Dr. Livermore said. He added that 44% of people living in the cluster identify as Orthodox Christians.
Diversity in the Cluster
On the other hand, 31% of those living in the Eastern European/Central Asian cluster of nations claim to follow a more western Christian tradition. Finally, a solid 16% of the cluster identify as Muslim. It’s a minority, but it constitutes nearly one in six people there. What does this tell us about the area?
“The cultural background of the people across this region is far from being homogenous,” Dr. Livermore said. “The histories and languages are quite different—despite the strong influence of the Orthodox Church, there’s significant religious diversity, too.”
The cluster contains Slavic nations like Russia, Slovenia, and Poland. The Greek civilization stands on its own in Greece, while Kazakhstan and Albania have more of a Turk-Muslim heritage.
Albania itself gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1912, marking an early adopter of a noticeable trend in the region.
“Nearly all the countries typically referred to as the Eastern European nations were part of a larger, more powerful empire, and they didn’t really become independent until after World War I,” Dr. Livermore said. “There have been so many powerful and dominant empires that have influenced the nations in this cluster, including the empires of the Ottomans; Prussia; and, of course, the Soviet Union.
“Today, the region faces significant challenges as it transitions from a communist philosophy to a more market-based philosophy.”
The final remaining statue of Enver Hoxha is a perfect example.