LETTER : Prague's claim to centralism

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The Independent Online
Sir: Reading Paul Vysny (letter, 7 February) on Czechoslovakia having been not an east but a central European country reminds me of the joke cracked in Prague in 1968 by Jiri Dienstbier, then a journalist, later a leading dissident and, after 1989, foreign minister.

In the course of a reporting trip for the Daily Telegraph Magazine from the Black Sea to the Baltic, I had found that the Bulgarians talked about their country as a bridge between East and West for a thousand years, the Romanians said they were Latins at the gates of the Orient, the Hungarians talked of being the West of the East, while the Poles saw themselves - in the words of a Warsaw doctor - as "Westerners placed by geographical accident in the East".

Over dinner in Prague, the westernmost capital, I asked Dienstbier what the local expression of this urge to wester was. "We don't suffer from this East European mania about being part of the West," he said, with a laugh. "We are a Central European nation!"

(I hasten to add that I come from eastern Europe.)

Yours sincerely,

Paul Neuburg

London, NW6

8 February