If you are asked who was Charlemagne, or Eleanor of Aquitaine or Alfonso X ‘the Wise’, it is very likely you can say at least a couple of things of each of them. If you are asked, however, who was Vladimir I ‘the Saint’, Queen Ludmila of Bohemia or Tsar Symeon, answers might not come as swiftly. All of them are founding fathers and mothers of modern European nations, but thanks to many centuries of separation, and particularly after decades of being behind the Iron Curtain, our knowledge of our farthest neighbours is very limited.
The enlargement of the European Union in 2004 finally brought the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Estonia back into European geopolitical structures (Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007 and Croatia in 2013), which they had to abandon forcibly decades, if not centuries, before. The majority these countries are inhabited by speakers of Slavic languages, and still, despite being our fellow members of the European Union, our knowledge about their past is very limited, particularly in Spain. This is what this book tries to remedy. The book is a presentation of the history and culture of the Slavic peoples, before they became the Slavic nations of Central and Eastern Europe (in case you are wondering, the only non-Slavic peoples in what used to be the Warsaw Pact are the Baltic Republics (Lithuania, Letonia and Estonia), Hungary, Albania and Romania). Their history since their arrival from the Asian steps to Europe in the sixth century is tied to ours, our kings and queens married their kings and queens, people back in the Middle Ages built the same churches and read the same books as their colleagues of this part of Europe. But then something happened. Other peoples arriving from the East attempted to conquer Europe: first the Mongols, then the Turks, and then the Soviets. And many of these countries became provinces of new empires or satellite states of other more powerful neighbours. Their history, however, was kept and survived, sometimes orally, sometimes as a criminal act of subversion.
Now the majority of these countries have managed to recuperate, in great part thanks to their integration in the European Union, but not only, their rightful place in the international concert of nations. They are peoples who have accumulated centuries of suffering and privation, but who have given us Chopin, Dostojevski and Nikola Tesla. It might be a good opportunity, now that we constantly reappraise what is to be European, to include them as well, their history, their legacy, their feats, in the debate. This book invites you to do so.