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The Construction of Meso-Areas

A new analytical concept proposed by our research and educational project is that of the “meso-area”. Meso-areas are spatially discrete regions such as the Far East and Siberia, Central Eurasia, and Eastern Europe that developed out of the former socialist system of Slavic Eurasia and have gradually become more distinctive over time after the breakup of that socialist system. These regions were not all identical in the socialist era. However, the distinctive characteristics developed by these regions as “meso-areas” are not based on their original particular features. Rather we believe that separate meso-areas emerged in relation to the wide-ranging changes progressing in the neighboring areas of the outside world and through the various political, economic and social forces that developed both internally and externally and developed new spaces. This is the major difference from existing concepts of the region.
In the past the characteristics of a region were already assigned preconditions. The meso-area theory, in contrast, in based on the assumption that regions are formed through contacts with other regions. For instance, this type of relationship is best illustrated by the East Europe Meso-area. The East Europe Meso-area was formed through the pressure of EU integration. In order to join the EU a country must, whether it likes them or not, implement within its borders the huge number of EU rules and regulations known as the Acquis. In other words, countries wishing to join the EU must achieve common behavioral norms across a broad range of areas from political diplomacy to culture. The East Europe Meso-area is an area that shares the objective of meeting these EU norms. Moreover, there is no need for this meso-area to be identical to the former Eastern Europe: it can instead be flexible. The Baltic countries that have decided to join the EU can, of course, be included in this East Europe Meso-area, and in the more distant future we may also include Ukraine and Moldova if they decide to do likewise.

Diverse Regional Unities and Mutual Interactions

Such broad regional unities are in fact diverse. Various such unities are found in the areas surrounding Slavic Eurasia and differences in these unities affect the different formation of the meso-areas. In Europe, for example, the large EU discussed above has extremely inclusive characteristics and is aiming at a union that forms a new society beyond the state. In contrast, the broad unity of the Far East is limited to the economic sphere and moreover this economic union is not a substitute for inter-state relations but can rather be said to have features which are strongly supportive of those relations. Changes in the international environment surrounding Central Eurasia, on the other hand, have been strongly influenced by the Islamic world, and also work to attract influences from China and South Asia. Pressures for unification and cultural, economic and political influences are diverse and display very complex, compound features.
Various types of mutual interactions work toward the production of the major characteristics of the meso-areas. Influences from neighboring regions are not one-way: how the people of a meso-area receive and react to those influences have major effects on future changes in that region. Furthermore, through the formation of understanding in meso-areas or the instigation of broad unities across neighboring regions, the meso-areas can themselves alter the nature of the broad regional unities in the future. For example, in May 2004 eight countries of the former socialist bloc (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia) joined the EU, and it can be predicted that Rumania, Bulgaria, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, and even Ukraine will also join in the future. From the perspective of meso-areas, this can first of all be regarded as more the expansion of the East Europe Meso-area than EU unity. It could be argued that once the process of joining the EU is over, these countries will no longer be part of the East Europe Meso-area. In reality, however, that is not the case. Without exception, the eight countries listed above who have completed their membership negotiations have sought delays in the implementation of the huge range of EU rules and regulations and moreover the legal reorganization required to introduce the EU regulations has in many fields only been completed in name. In other words, even in the countries that have achieved membership, it is no exaggeration to say that the real practical changes to the EU system occur after membership. In the East Europe Meso-area the difference between members and non-members is quantitative not qualitative. It will take a long time before the EU norms become actual norms or objectives to be achieved. Furthermore, on the EU side the massive expansion of members has been associated with a push toward reorganization of the internal structures and with a change away from the previous egalitarian system to one based on the priority of large countries. With regard to agricultural policy, the addition of the many large farms that remain in Eastern Europe has given rise to a contradiction with the existing system based on family-run farms. As part of its expansion to the east, the EU has had to introduce major changes to its organizational principles. In this way, participation in the EU unity has led to major mutual influences in the East Europe Meso-area.


In general it can be assumed that when meso-areas are formed, the ensuing changes are not just within the meso-area but extend to neighboring areas influenced by that meso-area. Furthermore, change naturally occurs in the region to which the meso-area originally belonged. In Slavic Eurasia, for example, the sudden progress toward NATO and EU membership made by the former Eastern European countries, and the fact that the Baltic countries kept in step with those developments, forced Russia to make major changes in its policies toward the west. In this research project we term the regions which influence the meso-areas “mega-areas”. At the same time as analysis of the meso-areas, our approach requires analysis of the mega-areas that influence the meso-area. Slavic Eurasia is one mega-area and through meso-area theory it is possible to paint a picture of the whole of that region.
Based on the framework of the analytical methods of meso-area theory, we will be able to conduct inclusive analysis of the complex changes in system transformation, regional movements, and the advance of broad regional unities through globalization that are currently being experienced in Slavic Eurasia.
Previously areas and area studies were based on the assumption that regions have particular characteristics that differ from other regions. Understanding those particular characteristics was seen as the main objective. For this reason, not much emphasis was placed on relations with other regions. However, regional peculiarities did not exist from the beginning of history; rather they were formed through history and as a result of interactions with other regions. Using meso-area analysis our aim is to clarify what causes and mutual influences give birth to new regions at a time of change and reorganization in the area which is the focus of our interest, Slavic Eurasia. It is to be expected, however, that the methods developed in this work will be widely applicable to area studies in other regions.

The Possibility of Meso-area Analysis

As discussed above, the analytical concept of meso-areas was brought forth from changes in Slavic Eurasian studies, but beyond Slavic Eurasia it can be applied to the analysis of regions influenced by globalization or various large-scale regional unities. Furthermore, with respect to the existing passive or uni-directional understanding of “world areas” in theories of imperialism and colonialism and in world systems theory, we believe it will be possible to develop an analytical framework based on bi-directional, mutual interaction.
In this project, in order to gain global exposure for the above unique analytical methods we plan to set up topics from various viewpoints and to hold international symposia twice a year, as well as frequent seminars. At an international congress in Berlin in 2005, we will also organize an independent satellite symposium on the meso-area concept and hope to actively arouse international debate.


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