The ultimate compromise between “Russia in” and “Russia out” was found when western geographers became aware of the mountain range the Russians themselves called Kameny Poyas(“Stony Girdle”). The Swedish military geographer Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, after years of captivity gave him the benefit of close observation of the Russian geography, proposed these Ural Mountains as the new European border in 1730. The Strahlenberg border soon found acceptance throughout Europe – and Russia itself.
Strahlenberg’s southern bend back via the Volga to the Don (always the Don) was more controversial. Many geographers chose, where the Ural Mountains ended, to follow the Ural River south to the Caspian Sea.By the early 19th century, Conrad Malte-Brun and other French geographers had successfully promoted the Caucasus Mountains, connecting the Caspian to the Black Sea, as the southern border of Europe.This is still considered the most conventional border for the continent of Europe. But the Urals-Ural-Caspian-Caucasus border was (and is) by no means a generally accepted convention. The most expansive vision of Europe was one of many expounded by the founder of the Pan-European Union, the Austrian count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, in 1935. It solved the problem of finding an adequate geographical boundary to Europe by substituting a political one –all of the Soviet Union would be considered part of Europe. Asia would be to its south. That would have made European cities out of Vladivostok and Irkutsk, but also Samarkand and Dushanbe.During the cold war, however, the opposite tendency triumphed more often: All of the Soviet Union, including Vilnius, Riga and other cities that today lie within the European Union, were excluded from Europe entirely. At times even the Soviet satellite states in the Warsaw Pact were left out as well, so much had “Europe” come to be synonymous with “the West” and its associated political values.Today, of course, the border of Europe is rebounding, thanks to the expansive semi-state run out of Brussels. Indeed, if Turkey ever does join the E.U. – and while its prospects look dim today, who knows what a decade or two will bring – it will push the border of Europe further east than anyone but a few daydreaming geographers had ever imagined: from the volcanic shores of Iceland to the mountainous frontier that divides Turkey from Iran.Frank Jacobs is a London-based author and blogger. He writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.
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- Fall '17
- Mrs. Osborne